You've bought your car, and whether it's new or used—um, pre-owned—there's a lot more to know about ownership than how much your monthly payment costs. There's maintenance to consider; take care of your car and it'll take care of you. What kind of upkeep will it require, and what can you—and should you—do yourself? Sooner or later your ride will need new shoes, and you'll need to make a decision on tires. And there are simple ways to make your car's current set of donuts last longer. If it's an older model, you might just need a jump start when the battery begins to run down. How do you do that safely? A clean, shiny ride will make you feel good—and help you maintain your car's maximum value—so what's the best way to keep it looking sharp over the long haul? You can find the answers to these questions—and many more—about owning and maintaining your vehicle right here. Plus, we've included a host of tips that'll help you be a better, safer driver in all manner of weather and road conditions.
Maintenance and Repairs
Don't be afraid of the word "maintenance." You don't have to be a certified auto technician, have a vehicle lift in your garage, or own a tool chest full of expensive wrenches to handle the simple tasks that will keep your vehicle running reliably and safely for years to come.
For simple things, like fluid checks, you won't need tools. But once you start taking care of your vehicle, you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish by following simple directions like those in these accompanying how-to stories. And as you get more adventurous you can try a couple of the more advanced operations that do take a few tools. Doing it yourself will save you money as well.
Oil and Other Fluids
Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle's engine. If your engine's oil level is properly maintained and the oil and filter are changed at the recommended intervals engines can last an amazingly long time. Your car's other fluids—including brake fluid, antifreeze, and diesel exhaust fluid—need to be maintained and occasionally replaced as well. Here's everything you need to know about how to maintain your vehicle's oil supply and its other key fluid levels.
It's easy to take your car's tires for granted. Today's rubber lasts for tens of thousands of miles and rarely fails, so tires don't need to be top-of-mind. But understanding how and why to keep them properly inflated, when they should be rotated, and how to change them safely should you have a tire failure out on the road is knowledge every driver should be armed with.
When you're ready for a new set of tires, there are several important things to consider above and beyond cost. Our New Tire Buying Guide explains the different types of tires, and what each has to offer in terms of performance and wear. We even have some recommendations for tires that we can vouch for from our own experience and testing.
Battery and Jump Starts
Everyone knows what happens when a car's battery dies, and more than a few of us have experienced that annoying situation firsthand. But not everyone knows exactly how to jump-start a car with a dead battery safely. And if you vehicle needs a new battery, you'll want to know how to choose the right one and how to install it.
Driving a car is complicated. That's why companies that have spent billions developing cars that drive themselves—and have yet to perfect them. Knowing how to drive safely in snow and on wet, slippery roads, how to parallel park, or how to use high beams politely—and all of the other things it takes to be a good driver—takes time and experience to learn. We have some shortcuts for you here born out of our extensive experience driving and testing automobiles in all kinds of conditions.
If you're a new driver, we recommend taking more than just the standard driver's ed classes. If at all possible, we encourage parents to send their kids to a defensive-driving course where they can get experience with accident avoidance techniques—including how to use anti-lock brakes—in a safe track environment.
Modifications and Accessories
If you're the kind of person for whom a car is more than just transportation, or someone who needs their car to carry the gear it takes for adventures, there's no end of stuff you can add to your ride. You can accessorize your vehicle to transport your bikes and boards or even give you a place to crash for the night.
You can also dress your vehicle up to your own taste and equip it with accessories beyond what the factory can supply, with things like tinted windows and full-body wraps that change its color. You can even make it smell, well, not like a car and fill it with interesting electronic gizmos. Here are a few things we've investigated that will help you individualize your ride.
Keeping it Clean
The final ingredient in car ownership can be both the easiest and most satisfying: keeping it looking great. Beyond the local automatic car wash, there's an entire industry devoted to supplying you with cleaning supplies, paint-restoring-and-enhancing polishing compounds, waxes, and protectants—and all of the associated paraphernalia needed to keep your car gleaming brighter than when new.
That goes for those cleaners and machines that work on the interior of your vehicle as well. As car nuts we use these products ourselves to keep our personal rides buffed and pretty. From waterless car wash cleaners to waxes to car vacuums, we've also tested several of these products and have recommendations about how to most effectively use them.