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Car Maintenance 101

Today's cars may be a complex collection of computers, sensors and other techy elements, but there's still room for good old-fashioned, do-it-yourself car maintenance.

The automotive experts at Titan Insurance suggest regularly checking these 10 areas to help avoid an expensive visit to the repair shop:

1. Engine oil

Keeping the oil at its proper level is critical to keep today's engines running properly and efficiently. Follow manufacturer guidelines for changing – generally, every 3,000 miles or 3-6 months.

Check the oil level with the engine off and the car parked on a level surface. Open the hood, remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, and then return it to the oil reservoir.

Take it out again and see whether the level is within the acceptable range marked on the dipstick. If you add oil, don't overfill, which can damage the engine.

2. Tires

A car tire inflated to 35 pounds per square inch (psi) can lose one psi every month or for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit of temperature change, so check your tire pressure regularly. You'll find the recommended psi level in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb.

And don't forget the spare.

Rotate tires every 6,000 miles to prevent uneven wear, replace them when they become worn and have the alignment checked if the car pulls to either side when driving or if you notice uneven tire wear.

3. Battery

Most of today's car batteries are maintenance-free, sealed and can last 3 or more years. The first sign your battery should be replaced is often trouble starting the engine.

4. Windshield wipers and wiper fluid

Replace the blades every 6-12 months or whenever the rubber becomes worn. Check the wiper fluid reservoir every week or so and keep it full.

5. Transmission fluid

Look for a reservoir under the hood marked ATF (automatic transmission fluid) and follow the same steps as monitoring the oil level. But this time, with the engine running. Follow manufacturer's recommendations for change intervals, about every 30,000 miles.

6. Engine coolant

To check coolant level, turn the car off and wait for the engine to cool. Locate the coolant reservoir (usually a translucent plastic tank) and eyeball the level of the coolant against the full and low indicators. Replace most engine coolant or antifreeze every 30,000 miles – or every 2-3 years. Newer formulas, however, may last up to 50,000 miles.

7. Power steering fluid

Change power steering fluid every 3 years or 50,000 miles. If you have a power steering fluid reservoir, check the level visually; otherwise, follow the dipstick method. Low power steering fluid may indicate a leak, so have your mechanic take a look.

8. Brakes and brake fluid

Check to ensure that brake fluid levels are within tolerance. How often you need to replace brake pads or other components depends on how you drive and typical driving conditions. Warning signs of a brake problem include noise, vibration or "grabbing" when you apply the brakes. Working on your brakes is a job probably best left to the professionals.

9. Air filter

A good rule of thumb is to change your air filter annually or every 12,000-15,000 miles. A clean air filter can help your engine "breathe" better, improve gas mileage and reduce harmful emissions.

10. Headlights and brake lights

With your car turned on and parked, have someone walk around to see that your lights are working – headlights, brake and tail lights, turn signals, etc.

Replacing bulbs in today's vehicles can be a challenge. Have a mechanic do the job, particularly replacing and aiming headlights. A pro also knows if the problem is a blown fuse, not a burned out bulb.

The provided information and safety suggestions were obtained from sources believed to be reliable and is intended for informational purposes only. Titan and its affiliates assume no liability in connection with providing it or your use of it. Your circumstances may not warrant or require some or all of the safety suggestions, and there may be additional available safety procedures that are not referenced on this webpage.

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Titan Insurance, design, superhero and Savings without the Sacrifice are service marks of THI Holdings (Delaware), Inc. Nationwide Insurance is a service mark of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. Price based on March 2010 analysis of available national data for liability-only policies. Subject to underwriting guidelines, review and approval.

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