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Car-care basics for first-time owners


How to keep your new car in top shape

As a first-time car owner, odds are good that you don’t have a new car, but rather one that’s new to you. If so, you’re not alone, since every year about three-quarters of all car sales are used cars. But new or old, every car needs to be cared for and this guide can help.

The good news is that some important tasks, like checking the tire pressure, polishing the car, and installing new windshield wipers, are simple and can be done in your driveway. Other jobs, like oil changes or new brakes, are better left to a pro, and for major repairs you’ll definitely need a trained mechanic.

For new and almost-new cars still covered by warranty, repairs can be readily handled by the dealership, where warranty work is free. But when you’re facing an expensive out-of-pocket repair or service, it pays to phone around to several repair facilities and get more than one estimate. (Try our car repair estimator for a location-based estimate.)

Check out the owner’s manual. Few people bother to read the owner’s manual unless they’re forced to, but this is a mistake. Owner’s manuals explain in simple language all of a car’s features, including some you probably didn’t know you had, what specific oil or fluid to use, and what maintenance schedule to follow. If the owner’s manual didn’t come with the car, you can probably find one free online.

Use your common senses. Be alert for any unusual noises, smells, or fluid leaks. Likewise, be attention to changes in performance, such as diminished braking, acceleration, or steering abilities. Nipping problems in the bud can often prevent huge repair bills that result from ignoring the warning signs.

Tire pressure. No routine maintenance task is more important than keeping your tires properly inflated. Under-inflated tires wear faster, waste gas, and degrade your car’s handling. Check pressure at least once a month and before any long trip. The correct inflation pressure is printed on a placard usually found inside the driver’s door jamb, and it is sometimes printed on the inside of the glove-box or fuel-filler door. Keep a tire pressure gauge in the car. We prefer digital gauges with an illuminated readout. (See our tire-pressure gauge buying advice and ratings.)

Paint pampering. Regular car washing and waxing help preserve a car’s paint from corrosive salt, bug splatter, bird droppings, and road grime. Despite what the ads may say, though, no wax job lasts more than a few weeks at best. Paste wax is not necessarily better than liquid polish, either, and premium brands don’t necessarily outlast lower-priced alternatives. (See our car wax buying advice and ratings.) 

Take periodic service schedules seriously. It’s important to follow owner’s manual recommendations for oil-change intervals and major services as having the timing belt replaced. But you don’t need to have that work done more often than the book says, regardless of what a service shop may tell you.

Join a motor club. A motor club such as AAA and Better World can be a lifesaver. They supply 24-hour roadside assistance if you break down, get a flat, or need to be towed. Plus, there are often various discounts associated with membership, such as for rental cars or hotels. Your auto-insurance company may be affiliated with a motor club, as well. Call your agent for details.

To read the rest of this article please go to ConsumerReports