Your engine may be running fine now, but it’s important to perform regular maintenance to prevent damage and keep it running efficiently. As any good mechanic will tell you, with engines, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Here are some of the most important things you can do to protect your engine.
1. Don’t Ignore Warning Lights
This may be self-explanatory, but don’t ignore your car’s warning lights. Anytime you see a warning light come up on the dash, you want to get it checked out. If the check engine light comes on, many auto shops offer a free scan so you can find out more information. Check out our warning light indicator guide to brush up on each warning symbol and what they mean.
2. Regularly Check and Change Your Engine Oil
We all know the importance of oil changes, but many modern cars need oil changes every 3,000-5,000 miles. Using synthetic oil rather than conventional can stretch that out even longer, typically from 7,500-10,000 miles. Just make sure you check your manual for the specific oil recommendations for your car.
When you do replace the oil, be sure to get a new oil filter as well. Oil filters trap debris and other contaminants to keep your engine running smoothly.
For step-by-step instructions on changing your oil, check out the following guides:
3. Maintain the Cooling System
One of the worst things you can do to your vehicle is let the engine overheat. This can cause a blown head gasket, which could lead to you needing a new engine. Always keep your eye on the engine temperature gauge to make sure it doesn’t get too hot.
You should also check the engine’s coolant levels regularly to make sure there’s enough fluid in the system. It’s generally recommended to flush the cooling system every five years or 30,000 miles to clean any grime or dirt buildup. Faulty water pumps and rubber hoses could cause coolant leaks, so be sure to get your vehicle checked if you notice the levels dipping or see any puddles under your car.
4. Check the Air and Fuel Filters
Both air and fuel filters can get clogged over time, prohibiting the flow of clean air and fuel to your engine. Changing these filters regularly will help improve engine efficiency and longevity.
Air filters help trap dirt and contaminants from your air intake so they don’t reach the engine. It’s always a good idea to check the air filter when you change the oil to make sure it’s clean. Check out our car air filter guide for details on the types of engine air filters and how they differ from cabin filters.
Fuel filters trap all the gunk in the fuel system. The fuel filter is a lot easier to miss than the air filter since it can be harder to see and reach. Some fuel filters may need to be swapped out during professional servicing due to this.
5. Keep the Battery Charged
This doesn’t pertain to the engine directly, but you're going to have a hard time starting the car without a charged battery. If you don't use your car often, be sure to start it every few days to ensure the battery maintains its charge.
If you store your car for long periods of time, it’s better to disconnect the battery to prevent it from draining. While jump-starting is always an option, it can cause damage to the electrical system. Here are some other common reasons why car batteries die.
6. Check Spark Plugs and Wires
Spark plugs and wires may not be the first, or even the last, thing you think of when it comes to maintaining your engine. But they have an important job.
Spark plugs set off the combustion process by igniting the fuel-air mixture. If the spark plug doesn’t work properly, it can cause a misfire and possibly damage the engine.
Spark plugs and wires sometimes need a good cleaning, but replacing them isn’t too difficult or expensive. Some manufacturers recommend changing them every 30,000 miles.
7. Look and Listen for Damaged Belts
Belts run a lot of the components under your hood, from the air conditioner to the power steering. They’re often made of rubber, so they can wear down, or dry out and crack, over time.
Screeching noises under the hood could indicate you have a bad belt. The good thing is that belts aren’t too expensive to replace. The biggest cost is labor, as the more complex replacements (like the timing belt) typically need to be done by a professional.
8. Check for Leaks
There are lots of important fluids in your car, from antifreeze to engine oil. Many of these fluids travel through rubber hoses, which are likely to fail over time. Cracked hoses are a common culprit, but they’re not the only ones. Damage such as a hole in your radiator, a blown head gasket, or worn brake pads can also cause leaks.
While a minor leak may be a quick fix, it can turn into a bigger problem if left unchecked. Look under the hood and underneath the car every so often to make sure your car isn’t leaking. If you notice or suspect any leaks, you should get the car checked out at a shop.
9. Don’t Run on Empty
Do you wait for the low fuel indicator to light up before stopping for gas? Well, you may want to rethink that strategy.
Sediment and sludge tend to build up at the bottom of the gas tank. So when you get really low on fuel, that’s what gets pulled into your engine. The fuel filter will catch most of it, but not everything.
Keeping your tank half-full is a good strategy, but if that’s too crazy for you, at least start heading to the gas station when you’re down to a quarter tank.
10. Don’t Rev Up Unnecessarily
We all know how fun it is to crank the engine at a stoplight, especially if the driver next to you is egging you on. Revving up is definitely tempting, but there are serious consequences to over-revving your engine
It’s best to try and keep the RPMs consistent. Try not to start and stop too suddenly, although that may be hard in cities and towns where there are multiple stoplights. This is even more important when it’s cold outside as revving the engine before it’s warmed up can cause more damage. Not over accelerating can help keep your engine running better for longer. It’ll also help your fuel economy.
How to Tell If Your Engine Needs Servicing
Here are some tell-tale signs that your engine may need servicing by a professional:
- Persistent warning lights (like the check engine light)
- Screeching or loud engine noises
- Fluid leaking from underneath the car
- Smoke coming out of the hood or vents
- Trouble starting the car
- High engine temperature or low coolant levels
- Oil loss or unusually low oil levels
- Rough idling or misfiring
If you see any of these indicators, it’s better to get your engine serviced sooner rather than later. Delaying it could lead to an even bigger problem down the road.
Importance of Engine Maintenance
The engine is one of the most important parts of the car, and one of the most expensive. Keeping your engine well-maintained improves gas mileage and efficiency, prevents engine damage, and helps you get the most miles out of your vehicle. A little maintenance every now and then will save you a lot of heartache and money in the long run.
For more vehicle-specific maintenance guides, check out the following:
Sources: Ford, HowStuffWorks, The Drive