Cars need a lot of maintenance to keep running smoothly, and you can cover a good chunk of that by checking the fluids regularly. Here are the five fluids you should check on a regular basis.
A large portion of your car's maintenance is preventative. Regardless of your skill level, anyone who can lift a bonnet can check the fluids. Doing so on a regular basis keeps your car running well and your repair costs down. Knowing the basics also empowers you: when you're getting any maintenance on your car, you're less likely to be swindled into flushing and replacing fluids unnecessarily.
All you need to know is where to look and what to look for. Keep in mind that every car is a little different, but the below dates should apply universally.
The first thing you probably ever learnt about on your first car was how to check the engine oil. In most cars, you just need to pop up your bonnet, find the oil dipstick, pull it out and wipe it down. Repeat that again, and you'll have your oil level. If it's in the safe level, continue on your merry way. If it's not, you need to add more. Depending on the age of the car, you may or may not need to add oil frequently. If your car burns through a lot of oil, it's worth going to a mechanic.
How often to check it: It was once recommended that you check your oil every time you fill up, but it's safe to check modern cars once a month.
How often to replace it: This depends on the car, manufacturer and year. The "5000km or every six months" saying doesn't really apply any more. Instead, check your owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendations on when to change your engine oil.
Your transmission fluid is what keeps the gears on your car moving smoothly. You can check your transmission fluid the same way you check your engine oil, except the car should be running when you do it. Unlike your engine oil, transmission fluid is part of a closed system, so it should never be low. If it is, take it to a mechanic. Instead of volume, you're looking at the quality of the fluid. The fluid should be red. If the fluid is brown or smells burnt, it's time to replace it.
How often to check it: Monthly.
How often to replace it: This varies from car to car and depends on transmission type, but it's typically between every 80,000km and 160,000km.
As the name implies, coolant, or antifreeze, keeps your car running cool. If you ever run low on coolant, your car is at risk of overheating. The coolant is inside you radiator, and you can check it by removing the radiator cap when the car is cool (never check it when it's hot or your car is running) and looking inside. Once you remove the cap, you should see a line that indicates where the coolant should come up to. If it's low, you can add more, but make sure you add the same type of coolant currently in the car.
How often to check it: Twice yearly.
How often to replace it: Every two to three years.
Just like the transmission fluid, your brake fluid is part of a closed system, so your car shouldn't ever run out of it. However, it's still worth checking to make sure it's clean. Brake fluid keeps your brakes working properly, so if they ever feel a little off, checking your brake fluid is usually the first step. You can do this by checking the brake fluid reservoir on the driver side of your car. You can usually check the level just by looking at the outside of the container. The fluid should be a golden colour. If it's brown, it's time to replace it.
How often to check it: When you change your oil.
How often to replace it: Every two years.
Power Steering Fluid
Your power steering fluid helps keeps your steering smooth and easy. When the power steering fluid starts to get low, you might feel a "creaking" in the steering wheel or hear some weird sounds. To check it, all you need to do is pop the bonnet and find the reservoir. Usually, you can check it visually by looking at the reservoir. Power steering fluid doesn't usually drop too much, so it's worth taking your car into a mechanic or looking for a leak if it does get low.
How often to check it: Once a month.
How often to replace it: Between 80,000km and never. Typically speaking, most car manuals recommend keeping the power steering fluid levels topped off, but you'll rarely need to flush and replace it. Double check your owner's manual to make sure you can ignore yours.
So set up those calendar reminders and make those notes. If you're checking your car's fluids regularly, it will last a heck of a lot longer.