Basic car maintenance checklist: what you should be doing but aren’t

Nobody wants to do it, most of us ignore it, but it’s as essential to car ownership as flossing is to your teeth. Without it you will spend more on fuel, tyres and repairs, and are likely to end up back at the mechanic for your next service sooner than you’d hoped.


In years gone by, the service station attendant would come out of his little cubicle, fill your tank for you, have a look under the hood and clean your windscreen. Unfortunately that good, old-fashioned service is long gone. Today, we’re on our own.

But it’s not all bad. The reality is a few simple checks every one to three months will take you about three minutes and everyone can do them. You won’t even have to lift your bonnet.

The reason why these checks in between services are so important is your car will experience some level of wear and tear during the six to 12 months between seeing your mechanic. Tyre pressures will reduce, globes can blow, your air-conditioning might not be used (especially during winter) and your wipers can get dirty. As things wear further, they will inevitably cost you money unnecessarily and could lead to a costly repair.


Take our customer Sharon. Sharon took her 2006 Subaru to a workshop complaining of a loss of power, as her car wouldn’t exceed 40km per hour. The workshop misdiagnosed the problem as a blocked exhaust and charged her $1,200 for the privilege. She then tried Blue Toro who found two blown brake light globes and replaced them for $8 — fixing the problem. A simple regular check of her lights would have picked this up.

Here are some more examples of issues that could have been avoided with regular check-ups:

Tyres, 2008 Toyota Corolla: Ran on average 12psi below specifications, resulting in an average $40 per month extra on fuel and reduced the life of the tyres by 50%, replacing them for $480, 18 months sooner than expected.

Air-conditioning, 2009 Mazda 6: The air-conditioning was not used for about five months over winter. When it was finally turned back on, the owner noticed a strange smell and less air. The problem was a blocked cabin filter, which required replacement 14 months earlier than scheduled, costing $180. The unknown was the amount of bacteria that had accumulated as a result, negatively affecting the owner and his family’s health.

Wipers, 2010 VW Golf: The car was frequently parked under trees, resulting in sap, leaves and other residue accumulating on the windscreen. The owner did wash the windscreen regularly but didn’t think to check the wipers. The result was a number of hairline scratches in the windshield that started to accumulate and get worse over time. This started to impact the driver’s visibility (and, hence, safety) and eventually required a complete windscreen replacement, costing $450.


The solution is simple: do a 3-minute monthly check-up. You can do this every time you wash your car, every second time you fill up at the servo, or on a set day of the month. Assign someone in your household and use an alert on your phone to make life easier. You should aim for every one to three months as a general rule, depending on how much you drive.

(Of course, this assumes you’re sticking to your regular service schedule as well.)


If your car has had some problems or is particularly old, your mechanic may suggest additional checks at the service station, such as checking your oil or radiator fluid.

If you’d like step-by-step instructions, you can check out our how-to video. You could even watch this on your phone at the service station, which will mean we’ll be there with you every step of the way.


As a general rule, once your car is out of warranty you should be servicing it every six to 12 months or 10,000–20,000kms (whichever comes first). The difference largely depends on the type of car you drive and your driving conditions. Japanese cars tend to be every six months (Toyota’s and Mazda’s), European’s tend to be every 12 months (VW’s). If you do this, your mechanic will catch any issues and larger wear and tear items, and it will mean you should never have to lift the bonnet if your car is under 10 years old (with the exception of obsessive windscreen washers!).


Regular check-ups are the key to keeping your car running smoothly and ensuring you avoid any surprise bills down the track. These check-ups will help all parts of your car run more efficiently and last for longer, including tyres, filters, wipers and more.

Download your free checklist or watch our how-to-video to do your own 3-minute service station check-up.

Or watch our step-by-step video:

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Elvio is a seasoned Motor Mechanic with 25 years experience in the automotive industry. Well-known for asking the most obvious questions and his bizarre obsession with Datsuns (having owned more than 10), he seems to think the 70s was the golden era of motoring. Current rumours suggest he owns more than 100 caps, prefers Belgium bier to Australian and has been confused with the real Speedy Gonzalez. Well-known at the racetrack for getting maximum performance on a budget and his obsessive attention to detail, he is now taking his passion for all things with an engine to help his customers in his blog. Ask Elvio.