Reliable transportation in an emergency is a must have for any prepper or survivalist. After all, the best laid "bug-out" plans will fail if your bug-out vehicle simply won't go. Although break-downs can occur anytime, following a regular auto maintenance schedule will go a long way to make sure your vehicle is ready to go when you really need it. Here is a suggested maintenance schedule for most vehicles (check your owners' manual for specifics relating to your vehicle). You may also need to adjust this schedule if you drive a lot more than normal, or engage in a lot of hard-driving (off-roading, mountainous terrain, extreme weather, etc.). If you don't know how to do any of this maintenance, please take the time to learn how to do so safely and correctly.
Before Each Trip (no matter how short)
Take a moment to walk completely around your vehicle. Look at each tire (is one going flat?). Glance under the vehicle (is it leaking fluid? Or, in the case of many older vehicles, is it leaking more fluid than normal?). Is there an obstacle in the way of your path (a bike, toy, fallen tree branch, sleeping pet)? When you start your vehicle, make a habit to immediately check the gas gauge. I recommend that preppers never let their tanks fall below half-full. You might have to fill up more often, but you never know when an emergency will hit. You don't want to have to bug-out with your gas gauge approaching E.
1) Check the vehicle's fluid levels. Top off as necessary.
>> Engine coolant
>> Brake fluid
>> Transmission fluid
>> Power steering fluid
>> Windshield-washer fluid
2) Check your tire pressure (also a good time to make sure your spare tire and jack are in the vehicle and in good condition).
3) Check the lights and turn signals.
NOTE: Fluids are the life-blood of any vehicle. Many breakdowns occur because fluids are allowed to get low or dirty. Check all fluids weekly, and get them changed on a regular basis (follow the specific recommendations for your vehicle, if different from what is listed here).
1) Visually inspect the battery cables, clamps, and terminals. Is any corrosion starting to appear? (If so, learn how to safely clean the terminals yourself.) Notice any damage or fraying of the battery cables? (If so, get them replaced.)
2) Check the vehicle's belts and hoses. Are any damaged, frayed, chipped, or loose?
3) Check the air filter.
NOTE: Deal with any dashboard indicator lights (warning lights) as soon as possible. Yes, you can often continue to drive with the warning light on, but it may worsen the problem. Dealing with a problem sooner, rather than later, is usually cheaper.
Every Three Months
1) Change the oil and oil filter.*
2) Check the tread on your tires.
3) Check windshield wipers.
4) Inspect your radiator and cooling system.
* Due to a recent experience, I am now a firm believer in using a quart of Marvel Mystery Oil with each oil change, particularly if you have an older vehicle. Just a suggestion.
NOTE: Many modern vehicles require the engine to be puled in
order to replace the water pump or timing belt. If you have to replace
one, you might consider replacing the other at the same time to save
money in the long run.
Every Six Months
1) Check/rotate tires.
2) Check chassis lubrication
3) Inspect battery and charging system.
4) Inspect muffler and exhaust system.
REMEMBER: Presented here is a general schedule for
maintenance. Specific recommendations vary according to vehicle, so
consult your owner's manual. Your driving style and conditions may also
impact your needed maintenance. Consult your mechanic if you have
questions or concerns.
1) Check/adjust the brakes.
2) Check differential fluid.
3) Replace fuel filter.
4) Check wheel alignment.
5) Inspect steering system.
6) Inspect exhaust system.
NOTE: Check the antifreeze level in the vehicle's coolant each autumn to make sure it is ready for a harsh winter.
Every Two Years
1) Service the transmission (change fluid & filter).
2) Service the power steering (change fluid & filter).
3) Repack wheel hub and bearing grease.
4) Replace spark plugs and spark plug wires.
Again, if you don't know how to do any of the maintenance listed here, please take the time to learn how to do so safely and correctly. If you don't want to learn, or don't have time to do it yourself, it is worth paying a mechanic to do your maintenance. In my opinion, you are likely to save a lot of money in the long run by avoiding costly break-downs.
Want to learn how to do your own vehicle maintenance and repairs? There are lots of videos on You Tube. Most community colleges offer courses in basic (and advanced) auto maintenance and repair. A good, easy-to-understand book is Auto Repair for Dummies.
NOTE: Information presented in this article is based on a variety of sources, including the manufacturer's recommendations for my Nissan Pathfinder, recommendations from a couple of auto repair books and websites, and my own personal experiences with other vehicles I've owned over the years.