We all know that regular car maintenance will keep your car running well, but it also keeps your car’s resale value high, which means more money for you when it comes time to sell. Still, the debate exists on what the right maintenance schedule is. If you’re not sure about how often you should change your oil, rotate your tires and wash your car, read on.

how to maintain your car
Maintaining your car will pay off when it comes time to sell. (Westend61/Getty Images)

Regular maintenance inside and out is going to make a difference when it comes time to sell your car. “You might be tempted to take a spin through the car wash on your way to get your vehicle appraised. Save your time and cash - a car wash or last-minute maintenance will not impact the overall offer on the vehicle. What’s most important is the long-term maintenance and care of your car,” says Cliff Wood, executive vice president of stores at CarMax. He adds, “To determine an offer on a car, most appraisers will look at mileage, the condition of the vehicle, the vehicle’s accident history, and how well it’s been maintained, inside and out.” Check out our used car appraisal tool to get an idea of what your car is worth.

Mechanical Maintenance

Lauren Fix, an ASE certified technician and spokesperson for the Car Care Council, says there's a simple way to set up a schedule of regular maintenance: Reach into your glove compartment and unearth your owner’s manual. Follow its maintenance schedule and your car should run problem free.

However, Fix concedes not everyone cracks open the owner’s manual. If your owner’s manual is buried beneath a pile of Burger King receipts, Fix says your senses are an effective means for determining when maintenance needs to be done. “But I don’t recommend licking your car,” she says. Instead, rely on your sense of smell. Fix suggests smelling your oil at least once a month. “See if it smells burnt. If it doesn’t smell right, you know there’s a problem. You know you have to go after it,” she says.

Matthew Wright is a repair and restoration facility owner and expert on automotive repairs for About.com. He also recommends following the owner’s manual for scheduled maintenance, but adds that the Internet can be just as handy as an owner’s manual. He suggests researching your vehicle to see what its potential problems are and then tracking them.

Both Fix and Wright say oil changes are important. “Years ago the accepted wisdom was to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Over the past decade that has been revised despite oil company pushback. It’s still mostly around the 5,000- to 7,000-mile mark for new vehicles. If you’re going to be selling your car soon and have a nice stack of record, stick with manufacturer recommendations,” Wright says.

Another important area of maintenance is tire rotation. Wright recommends having it done seasonally. He says that will provide maximum life for your tires. It also helps spot problems such as uneven wear or baldness. Fix says uneven wear points to a suspension problem.

Transmission fluid is another key area for maintenance. Fix says you should check it according to the maintenance schedule, but Wright cautions against fluid and filter changes unless there are indicators the transmission isn’t working well or is overheating. “A transmission place … might recommend a full flush regularly but it’s just not necessary. Only do it with a car notorious for transmission problems,” he advises.

Of course, any money you make from maintaining your car can be lost if you’re paying too much to do it. You can use our owner’s tools to find out how much car maintenance and repairs should cost you.

Interior Maintenance

Both Fix and Wright agree an important area to keep maintained in your vehicle’s interior is the steering wheel. That’s especially important when it comes time to sell. “The steering wheel is the biggest collector of germs and gunk in the whole car,” says Fix. Wright adds, “Regular cleaning will stop it from splitting. Anything that comes off your hand goes onto the steering wheel.”

Another aspect of the interior to focus on is leather surfaces. Wright says leather treatments could help restore problem areas. “You don’t need to maintain the leather the way you used to. Now if you see a problem, you can add the moisturizers and sealers and prolong the life, especially on things like steering wheels,” he says. Fix suggests using an all-in-one cleaner and conditioner product to maintain leather surfaces but recommends being vigilant because leather can be expensive to replace once it cracks.

Exterior Maintenance

When it comes to exterior maintenance, regular car washing is a great way to spot problems, Fix says. “It gives you the opportunity to investigate the body and fix chips with touch-up paint,” she adds. Don’t use household products to clean your car, however. Fix advises that specific car wash products are best.

Wright says those who live in cold weather climes should visit all-weather car washes with high-pressure hoses at least five times during the winter months to clear away road salt and other grime. “Pay attention to the wheel wells and undercarriage - especially cars with lots of plastic. It’s usually on top of sheet metal. That’s a perfect place for wear and moisture to wear through paint and start rust,” he says.

Fix says the wheels deserve special attention throughout the year – not just in cold weather. You need to remove brake dust to protect the clear coating found on your vehicle’s wheels. She also says to keep the car’s undercarriage clean as part of regular car washing.

Keep Accurate Car Maintenance Records

Fix and Wright both say just as important as regularly maintaining your car inside and out is keeping accurate records that show the work has been done. “Save every receipt that has to do with your car. Keep a maintenance folder that shows you fixed problems when broke and did the maintenance. It will help buyers trust you,” says Wright. That trust can go a long way toward getting you the price you want – and more money in your pocket – when you sell your car.

Once you have all that extra cash from selling your car, check out our new car rankings and our used car rankings to find your next one. When you’re ready to buy, use the U.S. News Best Price Program for guaranteed savings on your new vehicle. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.