What, besides scheduled maintenance, should I do to maintain my car?
April 10, 2014 12:37 PM   Subscribe

We recent got a new-to-us used car. Other than following the manufacturer's scheduled maintenance, what should we do to maintain and maximize the life of the car? Examples inside.

The specific car is a '13 Subaru Forester, if that matters. As I mentioned above, we'll follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. We'd like to make this car last as long as our last one (a '99). What, outside the maintenance schedule should we do to make sure the car lasts a long time? For instance:

-- We live in MA, where there are snowy, icy winters, and salted roads. Should we get the car washed periodically in the winter to get the salt off? Is waxing important, or just aesthetic?

-- What should we do with scratches to ensure we don't get rust on metal body panels?

-- One site I saw online suggested checking the oil dipstick weekly to ensure you've got enough. Easily done. Should I be checking all fluids weekly?

-- Checking tire pressure and treads. We have a digital gauge, so we can do this at home. How frequently?

-- Are there any additives or treatments that are important or worthwhile? (e.g., add a can of XYZ to your gas tank once every 1000 miles to ensure the valves stay clean)

We're not big car people, so if there's lore or best practices about how to maintain a car outside the four corners of the owner's manual, we probably haven't heard it. Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Newer cars don't need oil changes as frequently as older cars did. Consult your owner's manual for maintenance.

I'd hose off salt once per week, just on GP.

Scratches that do all the way down to the metal should be attended to, regular scratches...don't worry.

Your car may have a tire pressure sensor in it. But monthly tire checks should do it for you.

Go with what the owners manual suggests, everything else is just vanity.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:40 PM on April 10, 2014

Checking tire pressure and treads. We have a digital gauge, so we can do this at home. How frequently?

I have an '11 Forester and it has a little light that comes on when the pressure is low. Check your manual. I didn't know what it was at first, and was surprised when I looked it up to see that it meant my tire is low.

Every few times at Valvoline for an oil change I have them replace the air filter. I did it myself once but I only saved $5.00 and it was surprisingly difficult to change, taking me almost an hour.

Replace the wiper blades when they're not doing their job. You can put the make-model-side into Amazon and it'll tell you what will fit. Don't buy Anco blades, they suck. I've been happy with Bosch. Wipers take about 20 seconds to change.

Honestly, other than regular oil changes and an occasional tune-up, I've never really done any regular maintenance to my cars and most of them have lasted me 10 years or 200,000 miles until I traded them in.
posted by bondcliff at 12:50 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Checking the oil weekly on a new car is total overkill. If it's leaking oil you'll see it under the car where you park. A monthly review of fluids is not a bad idea, but I wouldn't bother with it any more frequently than that, and honestly on a 2013, even that is probably overkill.

posted by COD at 12:57 PM on April 10, 2014

Washing & waxing gets off the road salt and protects the paint, making the car's body last longer by helping to prevent rust and corrosion. (Waxing is NOT "just aesthetic", it's protective.)

Follow the recommended maintenance schedule; not getting that regular maintenance or getting things fixed when needed is false economy: fix problems when they're small, *before* they have a chance to become BIG problems.

Use the recommended gas..... if the manufacturer recommends high-octane, use that; ditto low-octane. Don't add anything to your gas.

The easiest way to prevent scratches is, don't insist on parking right up close to your destination: park back away from the heavily-trafficked areas. If you park farther away, it'll give you a better chance not to have other cars parked next to you, banging their doors into your car; there'll be less parking-space turnover, which means fewer people near your car possibly scraping it; you'll probably have more space to maneuver into your own space, which'll make any nervous drivers in the family less nervous; and finally, parking farther from the store doors means you get to walk a few extra steps, which is a good thing for most of our fat butts, isn't it? ;D
posted by easily confused at 1:17 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Congrats. Forresters are great cars. I love mine. It sounds like you've got things covered. I would suggest regular car washes (will get more of the crud out of little crudpockets than you would with a hose) and good rubberized floormats to keep the interior looking nice. I'm also a fan of keeping the inside cleanish, either with getting it detailed (if you are fancy) or just giving it a good wipedown on the inside to keep dust buildup down. Same thing with washing the windows inside and out: good for visibility and gives you a peek at places you might not be looking so you can spot early trouble.

An investment in good wipers is worth it. But mostly it's being on top of things when you notice them. Car got a weird rattle or shimmy? Get that shit checked out! Might be nothing or it could be some godforsaken important suspension piece that is important (I have a '99 Forrester, my troubles are not your troubles). Also consider having a pair of snow tires for the winter and regular tires for the rest of the time. Not only is this better for weather-appropriate driving but you get the new tires balanced/aligned when they're put on and you'll also stay on top of some potential issues.

Find a mechanic that you like and trust so that you can ask them about small stuff like this so you get a sense of your car and what's a big deal and what's not. On AskMe's recommendation I got Car Smarts: An Easy-to-Use Guide to Understanding Your Car and Communicating with Your Mechanic and it's a good starter guide, a little basic for me but I've had cars since I was 16.
posted by jessamyn at 1:18 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

> One site I saw online suggested checking the oil dipstick weekly to ensure you've got enough. Easily done. Should I be checking all fluids weekly?

Your owner's manual probably recommends doing a walk-around inspection of the car before every trip, and a fairly frequent check of fluids and tire pressures. Catching problems like coolant or oil loss early can prevent expensive repairs. Modern cars in good repair should lose essentially zero fluids between recommended changes.

I check my tire pressures and look under the hood every time I gas up. Maybe overkill, but it doesn't hurt.

What I look for:
- Tires at recommended pressure (printed on the tire, drivers door, or owners manual). I also look at the tread for general condition, as well as the brake pads and discs.
- Engine oil quantity, color, and smell. Oil starts brown and gets darker as you near an oil change. It should smell warm and oily, not burnt.
- Automatic transmission fluid, levels and color. Starts pink, goes to dark red as it gets older. If it is brown / black, a change is probably overdue.
- Coolant level. Look at the marks on the coolant bottle. DO NOT OPEN THE COOLANT BOTTLE ON A HOT ENGINE. It will boil over and burn the hell out of you.
- Power steering fluid. Depending on the car, this may be a dipstick or bottle.
- Brake fluid level. This level will decrease as your brake pads and discs wear. It isn't a problem as long as it is between the min and max marks on the bottle.
- Belts and hoses condition.
- Unexpected fluids, signs of leaks.
posted by indyz at 1:49 PM on April 10, 2014

If you get the windows tinted, don't use ammonia-based glass cleaner on the inside. Some tints are ammonia-safe and some aren't. I've had good luck with Clorox Green Works Glass & Surface for all hard interior surfaces.
posted by workerant at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2014

If you haven't already, you may want to poke around Subaru enthusiast forums -- it's a good way to get a sense of the quirks and common problems particular to your make/model, and an indispensable resource when something does go wrong -- I've saved hundreds of dollars by doing minor repairs and maintenance according to step-by-step guides on these forums rather than just automatically taking the car in to the mechanic.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 2:27 PM on April 10, 2014

Keep it clean! I was really negligent with my first car and by the time I realized what a mess it had turned into, it was too late. Throw out garbage. Wipe down the leather/vinyl parts regularly, vacuum the seats, shake out the floor mats. Brush leaves off the hood and trunk (these will get moldy and gross eventually). Spot-clean any bird poop so it doesn't eat at your clear coat. And of course do a full washing on a regular basis as well.
posted by radioamy at 2:51 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of rinseless car wash products (I like Optimum No Rinse). You'll be able to swab down your vehicle nice and clean in the comfort of your own garage. Look online for how-to vids.

And you probably already know this, but: if your car gets super grubby, and you can't do a wipe down at home, please don't take your car through one of those automated drive-thru car washes; nor should you fall prey to the damn scrubby-brush / foaming-brush at the coin-op car washes. Those will scratch the living daylights out of your car.

Enjoy your new ride!
posted by nacho fries at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rotate tires every other oil change - so approximately every 10k miles. With an all wheel drive, when it's time for new tires you have to do all four. So make them last. This means not going to Jiffy Lube, by the way. Find a real mechanic.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:04 PM on April 10, 2014

Specific to Subarus:

1) It is very difficult to check the oil. This has been true on my two Legacys. Park the car on a level surface, pull the dipstick out, remove every trace of oil, put it back in, walk away. Come back in five minutes. Pull the dipstick out, remove every trace of oil, put it back in. Count to fifteen. Pull out and read the dipstick. Never let the oil get low, and some of these cars will burn it. View the oil change interval as a maximum.

2) Use the Subaru coolant. There is a "normal" coolant and an "extended life" coolant. With the normal stuff you are (unless they have finally fixed this) supposed to add a bottle of coolant treatment to protect the head gaskets. It's worked fine on my '05 Legacy GT.

3) Change to synthetic oil when you can and use only synthetic oil thereafter. It helps a lot. Changing the oil is easy, learn to do it so you know it's done right.

4) Ignore the recommendation on the oil filler cap. Use 10W30 in the winter and 10W40 in the summer. The recommendation is there at the behest of the US government who don't care if your engine dies early, they want you to Save! Fuel!. In the rest of the world, 10W30 and 10W40 are recommended.

5) Use OEM oil filters exclusively, unless you can find aftermarket ones with a 25 psi bypass pressure.

6) Check the boots on the front right half-shaft religiously since the outboard one is right under the catalyst. Have the boot replaced proactively if it cracks. This design flaw has been there since at least 1993. They're not going to fix it.

7) Learn the function of the "P" button on top of the steering column shroud. It is the parking lights switch. If your parking lights won't go off, flip this switch.

8) Make sure your tires are wearing evenly front to rear. Rotate them religiously, every 5k miles, if your driving style results in uneven wear front to rear.

9) Hie thee to subaruforester.org and NASIOC.com, enthusiast boards.

Foresters, and Subarus generally, are marvelous cars and you should think your car's broken in when it finally rolls over 200,000 km - remember, they are a product of Fuji Heavy Industries whose ancestry brought you the Nakajima Kate and which now makes constant-power transmissions for Case NH / Steiger. The Subaru guys are what happened to Nakajima, it's an aero organization that happens to design cars. Like airplanes, Subarus rattle a little and they look a bit odd, but dammit they work, they're safe and they feel good to drive.
posted by jet_silver at 9:04 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Edmunds says that oil changes commanded by the car's alert system (either oil lights or electronic displays) average around 7800 miles between changes, rather than the mythical 3000mi. That link examines 6 other myths relating to oil changes, including the one I nearly posted, about the break-in oil change.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:17 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a Subaru from 1998 that I bought used around 2004 and is still running well (heh, there are my credentials).

I think it's important to find a mechanic you trust, and then take the car in every 6 months or so to get the oil changed. The oil itself may last longer than that, but in my experience with a good mechanic, they check all of the important bits while they change the oil, so they can catch other problems before they get too bad. I think, as in many cases, preventative maintenance works a lot better than trying to fix something after it's already very broken.

Other than that, I think it's important to just pay attention to your car while you're driving. Get a sense of how it feels to drive it when there aren't any problems: how it handles and what it sounds like. Once you have a sense of that normal base line, any time you notice a change, mention it to your mechanic the next time you bring it in to get the oil changed. If it's a big change (for example, if it is suddenly much more difficult to brake quickly) then bring it to the mechanic immediately.

I don't think you need to check the oil every week or frequently check the tire pressure. I think it's better to just do a walk-around once a week or so: before you get in the car, walk around it. Look underneath to see if it has leaked any fluids onto the ground (cars aren't supposed to do that, by the way). Look at the tires: do they look like they're well-inflated and in good shape? Look for any scratches or dents that you might not have noticed before, and if there are any, decide what you need to do about them.

And, I wanted to mention this just because you say you're not car people, and it might seem so obvious to other people that no one thinks to mention it to you. So: get snow tires! If you live in a place with a serious winter, they are totally and completely worth it.
posted by colfax at 8:04 AM on April 11, 2014

6) Check the boots on the front right half-shaft religiously since the outboard one is right under the catalyst. Have the boot replaced proactively if it cracks. This design flaw has been there since at least 1993. They're not going to fix it.
Foresters too ? Our 07 Outback had both axle boots go, but the passenger/right side went first - being that close to the exhaust pipe with no shielding ..

I do oil changes myself (with sube filters), and go to the dealer every 30k for service. 90k coming up soon. Other than new tires at 65k, it's been a good car.
posted by k5.user at 8:06 AM on April 11, 2014

We live in MA, where there are snowy, icy winters, and salted roads.

Specific to this: how are the current tires you are rolling? If they are the OEM ones, you might want to think about replacing them with a really nice set. Not sure if Subaru has improved in recent years, but they used to equip their wagons with really bleh/meh tires. Upgrading to really niiiiiiiiice tires makes such a huge difference in general, but it will also keep your particular car alive longer if you have tires that keep you better glued to the road during your winters. It might feel wasteful to replace tires with good tread remaining, but I think it's so worth it.
posted by nacho fries at 9:11 AM on April 11, 2014

sunburnt, my previous mechanic damaged my engine and I had it rebuilt (elsewhere). As part of the break-in I was told to change my oil at 200, 500, and 1000 miles.

The first oil change provided four quarts of extremely pearly (tiny, tiny metal flakes) oil - it looked almost like milk. The second provided moderately pearly oil. The third - well, it was a little bit pearly. I told the (world recognized) builder about that and he said "that's why we require those oil changes".

In a related world: when I bought my Kubota tractor the dealer made engine and hydraulic oil changes -free- after 20 hours' use. They said changing the oil after a short break-in was so important to reducing warranty claims that they made a ton of money, even though there are twenty liters of hydraulic oil in the system and it goes for fifteen bucks a liter when you buy it in 5l jugs.

There are too many people who know a lot telling me that low-interval break-in oil changes are beneficial to ignore. Save a few bucks on the short-term, risk long-term damage.
posted by jet_silver at 8:20 PM on April 14, 2014

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