Use a notebook and a pencil to keep your car running smoothly

February 21 2013 | Guest post by Dootsie Bug

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 7.16.29 PMLeft to my own devices, I'm not the best at keeping up with regular car maintenance. Since most automotive repairs are timed in mileage, it's easy to let a deadline zoom right past.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't have a mental alarm that goes off when I hit 3,000 miles, so I'm going to share my Baskets! system for keeping my car on the road.

I got this idea from the previous owner of my mom's powder blue '88 Oldsmobile, that we call "Etta May"…

When we bought her in '00, we found a little spiral bound notebook in the glove compartment that detailed every oil change, tuneup, and major repair ol' Etta May had undergone. It was a simple setup — the previous owner had just written the date, what service the car had received and the car's mileage. I also added a column with the cost of the repair to help me budget for future repairs and tuneups.

That covers what work the car has already had, but what about what it needs? I did a little snooping through my owner's manual and online to find recommended service intervals and made a chart of what needs looking at and when. I keep that in the front of the book. Whenever I'm getting started on a long trip, I'm sitting in my car for a minute, or anytime I have something to add to the book, I look over the chart and see what's coming up.

My final tip? Keep a sharpened pencil with the notebook. You're way less likely to steal the pencil for other writing needs.

  1. love this idea! a super organized family member of mine buys an extra calendar every year and marks out things that need serviced each month but this sounds way better with the budget column and chart in front!

    2 agree
    • My major problem with doing things by time is that I suck at actually going and doing the things that need done when they need doing. I find it much easier to argue with a date than the mileage.
      My car manual suggests changing oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. I never hit 3,000 miles in three months, but I still just go by the mileage. (I actually change it around 5,000 miles or so–I've checked the dipstick and filters a ton and 5,000 seems to be my car's ideal oil change window.)

      1 agrees
  2. You call this a Baskets! moment. I'm calling this a "Duh, Tina!" moment. LOL. I'm such a list maker and I am missing this prime opportunity.

  3. My husband and I just bought a new car a few months ago (sooo exciting!). Mazda has this fabulous set-up where they email you to remind you that you're getting around the likely time that you'll need to have maintenance done, so if you've forgotten to schedule an appointment, you have a nice little reminder that it's time to get some work done.

    Also, a habit developed when we had my husband's dad's old car: keep a little notebook in the car to note when you fill up, how many gallons, how many miles travelled, etc. I guess it can be used to check how your mpg is (though again, new car tells us this already), so if it starts dropping, you can tell sooner so you know that there's a problem. Also it's an interesting way to track gas prices, if you're ever curious…

    1 agrees
    • I do this because I wanted to see what my MPG was, and how it compared to my old car. I just need to add this whole service to my little notebook!

  4. Bonus with the pencil: it can't freeze like a pen will in cold climates!

    My family used to track every gas fillup we did, along with mileage, in each of our cars. It wasn't until my early 20s when a friend asked me, "Why are you doing that?" that I realized I didn't really know. Turns out my parents didn't have a good reason, either. We all quit doing it. BUT it could be good for tracking gas mileage as a way to alert you to changes and problems. This is probably most useful if multiple people drive one car, and therefore may not be aware of when it's being a gas-hog.

    1 agrees
  5. My prius came with a little light that turns on when it needs maintenance (as in, after an oil change, the people at Toyota set it to turn on when I hit the next mileage landmark), so that's how I remember. But the notebook is a great idea for cars that don't do that. 🙂

    • I have a Corolla that also has this feature, but I change the oil myself so then I had to learn how to manually turn off the maintenance required light (thanks Google!). I don't know if the way Google taught me is different from the way the mechanics do it because last time the light went off 3,000 miles AFTER the 5,000 miles between oil changes so that the car was already 3,000 miles into a new oil change. But I keep an old flattened oil filter box where I record dates and mileage of oil changes, which has the added bonus of me always remembering what oil filter I need to buy.

      1 agrees
  6. Even better, get the Car Maintenance (CMR PRO) app on your smartphone and skip the paper altogether. The app will remind you when you need to get things done (based on mileage and/or date, whichever you prefer), you can keep track of maintenance and fill-ups, and you can export all the info if you decide to sell the vehicle. I love having all of my vehicle info at my fingertips.

    4 agree

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