The 5 best car care habits to form in 2021

It’s the start of a new year and a great time to form new habits. Most of us set goals around taking care of ourselves, but why not our cars as well? Here are some things to start doing in 2021 to keep your car running and looking its best.

1. Keep it clean

The most obvious way to care for your car is to wash it regularly and keep the interior clean. (Link to detailing article)

Try to give it a good wash every couple of weeks. You can take it to a car wash, or you might find you enjoy the ritual of doing it yourself. If you’re wondering where to start, check out our tips on what you need to wash and detail at home.

Washing your car at home is easier than you think, and can even be fun!

Try to wipe down the interior and vacuum your floor mats every month or two. (If they’re really dirty, a good automotive carpet shampoo can usually make them look like new again.

A good coat of wax each year also goes a long way toward protecting your car’s paint for the long haul.

2. If you see (or hear) something, say something

You know your car. And you know if something isn’t normal for it. So if one of your gauges is registering a higher temp or pressure than usual, or you hear a strange noise that wasn’t there before, please do something about it!

Have a mechanic (or a car-savvy friend) check it out. Or, ask people on the internet. We know that sounds crazy, but really—find a forum dedicated to your car’s make and model, and search it for the symptom you’ve noticed. You’ll probably find that it’s been discussed before, and will find some guidance on what to do. If you can’t find anything, then go ahead and post and ask for advice. 

People will usually be glad to lend their wisdom and be helpful. (Just be sure you searched thoroughly first—forum types tend to be impatient with newcomers who ask questions that have already been covered ad nauseam there.)

3. Don’t ignore warning lights

Sometimes one of those warning lights on your dash goes on. Maybe it’s an obvious one, like the oil light. Maybe it’s a cryptic one, like the dreaded check engine light—which could mean nothing much or total catastrophe. (If you’re not sure exactly what each light means, check out our guide to dashboard warning lights.)

The dreaded ‘check engine’ light

Most of the time, when these lights go on it’s probably something relatively minor. But the key is not to let them stay on. For example, if your oil light goes on, it’s best to check your oil. If you ignore it too long, and run out of oil, your engine could seize and potentially sustain serious damage.

4. Keep up with your tires

Tires are one of the most important parts of your car, for both safety and performance. So it’s important to maintain them, and make sure they’re still in good working condition.

First, get out your tire gauge and make sure that they’re always inflated to a PSI (pounds per square inch, which is how tire pressure is measured) within the recommended range. (It’s easy to find the recommended range; it’s right there on the sidewall!) While you’re checking pressures and inflating as necessary, also make sure they’re inflated to matching pressures within the recommended range. If they’re all within range, but several pounds different from each other, you might sacrifice some stability and also have uneven wear.

You can look for your tire’s ‘wear bar’ to make sure it still has sufficient tread.

It’s also important to rotate your tires regularly (for most cars, that’s about every 5,000 – 10,000 miles. A good way to keep track is to do it every time you have your oil changed.

5. Regular oil changes (and other service)

Keeping up with your car’s recommended maintenance schedule is also important. You don’t need to take it to the dealer for that, and you’ll usually save a lot of money finding a good independent mechanic instead.

Make sure you get your oil and fluids changed, and belts and hoses checked and replaced as needed, on the recommended schedule. If you’re interested in doing some of this maintenance at home, we have a guide to some of the car maintenance tasks that are easy to do yourself.

Doing these things will help your car hold up and run better for many years, as well as retain its value whenever you decide to sell it. Treating it with care in general, and not driving it too hard will also make it last longer and minimize wear and problems.

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