My Home and Auto Maintenance Checklist

One of my earliest popular posts on The Simple Dollar was a home and auto maintenance checklist that I put together with the help of my parents shortly after moving into our house and becoming a homeowner for the first time. I knew, even then, that maintaining one’s home and automobile not only extended the lifespan of your home, the things in it, and your car, but it also improved functionality and efficiency and decreased the odds of a major unexpected breakdown.

Ten years in, I still use a maintenance checklist like this, but it takes on a different form. After mentioning the value of home and auto maintenance a few times recently, several readers have nudged me to update this older list with my current home maintenance checklist and cover not only what’s on it, but how I actually use it.

So, let’s do that! Here’s my home and auto maintenance strategy and full checklist.

How I Use This Checklist

This checklist currently exists in Omnifocus, which is a task management program that I use for all of my tasks. While I’ve tried other programs over the years, I always wind up coming back to Omnifocus, and the current version of Omnifocus is just about perfect for my needs.

I keep an ongoing project in Omnifocus called “Home and Car Maintenance” – yes, a very creative title. Within that project is a long list of tasks, each one scheduled to repeat on a certain pattern. Some tasks repeat monthly. Others repeat quarterly. Some repeat yearly.

It’s worth noting that I don’t have them all repeat at once. I don’t have a giant pile of monthly, quarterly, and yearly tasks all repeating at the same time on January 1 – that would be a giant headache.

Rather, I have my monthly tasks repeating throughout the month. I generally have it set so that two or three repeat at once, but those bursts of repeats appear throughout the month. So, I have two or three tasks that repeat on the 5th, then two or three that repeat on the 7th, and so on.

With quarterly tasks, those repeat on the 3rd of a month, but the month changes. Some quarterly tasks are on a January/April/July/October pattern, while others are on a February/May/August/November pattern, and still others are on a March/June/September/December pattern. Again, this is so I’m not slammed with 15 maintenance tasks all at once.

My annual tasks are similarly spread out, but they always repeat on the 1st of a month. Some tasks repeat on January 1, others on March 1, whatever. I just try to keep them spread out so, again, I’m not slammed with a ton of tasks on one day.

In terms of practical use, I usually spend some time about once every two weeks going through everything that’s “past due” on my home and auto maintenance project and taking care of anything due to show up in the next week or so. This usually amounts to a healthy handful of tasks – a half dozen to a dozen or so, each of which usually just takes a few minutes, though some can end up spawning other tasks that I need to do later on (like going to our mechanic for some car maintenance tasks I don’t want to deal with myself).

It’s worth noting that I’m not perfect at this by any means. These maintenance tasks sometimes fall way behind schedule when life is really busy and I end up, at times, almost feeling overwhelmed by them. Sometimes, I’ll just skip a maintenance reminder. I’m far from perfect, but I find that this system keeps me closer to staying up to date with everything than any other method I’ve tried.

So, let’s take a look at the tasks. Rather than grouping them by “home” or “auto,” I’m grouping them by “monthly,” “quarterly,” and “annually.”

Monthly Checklist

These are tasks that I aim to do each month as part of our home and auto maintenance. A quick reminder here that these are spread out all throughout the month. I don’t have them all pop up on the 1st. They’re on different repeating cycles, meaning I do some of them early in the month when I have time, others in the middle, and so on, as described earlier.

Check the tire pressure on all cars and air them up to the recommended maximum I keep a tire pressure gauge in the glove compartment and simply use the “free air” at the gas station the next time I’m filling up.

Check external exhaust vents for blockage I’m referring to where the dryer and the bathrooms and the range blow air to the outside. I simply go around our house and check each vent to see if there’s dust buildup on the inside and clear out anything that I find. This takes about five minutes.

Test all fire/smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in the house I go through and hit the “test” button on each of them. I also check the expiration dates on the alarms themselves and replace ones that are outdated, and I replace backup batteries annually (that’s listed as an annual task).

Check all faucets for dripping water If any are dripping, then I’ll fix it – 90% of the time, the fix is simply replacing a washer. This doesn’t take long at all!

Flush all toilets, run all sinks, run all showers, and run all bathtubs to check for problems This mostly applies to the ones we don’t use nearly as often – the downstairs shower and sink and toilet, for example, and one of the bathtubs. I usually wind up checking them all, though. I’ve never seen a problem other than slow drains (fixed by clearing the drain with a drain-clearing tool and some baking soda and hot water) and a toilet that kept running. I immediately clear out any drain that seems even remotely slow.

Quarterly Checklist

These are tasks that I aim to do each quarter as part of our home and auto maintenance. I don’t have them all pop up on the 1st. They’re on different repeating cycles, meaning I do some of them in January, some in February, and some in March, and this cycle repeats throughout the year.

Check the fluid levels in every automobile I either do this myself (or have someone do it) about every three months. The fluids I watch are the engine oil, the coolant, the power steering fluid, the brake fluid, and the windshield washer fluid. The “how-to” is spelled out in the manual. I’m mostly just checking for levels, just to make sure there’s not a leak; for replacing the fluids, I follow the maintenance schedule in the manual. This takes maybe ten minutes.

Check and replace the air handling filter We buy filters that need to be replaced annually these days, but I still check it every quarter just to make sure it’s still in place and it’s not clogged up. So, I have this as a quarterly task, but part of it is simply checking the date I wrote on the installed filter and replacing it with a new one. If I notice we’re out of new ones, I add another task to my to-do list: “pick up new air handling filters at hardware store.” Peeking at the filter takes maybe thirty seconds; replacing it adds another thirty seconds or so.

Examine the foundation for any cracks I do a “walkthrough” every three months looking for problems and this is part of that walkthrough. I just look at every part of the foundation that I can see and look for cracks that I haven’t seen before or have grown. If I see one, I usually mark it in some fashion to see if it’s growing. So far, I’ve never seen anything that seemed problematic (thankfully).

Examine exposed wood for weather or insect damage This is also part of that walkthrough. I just look for spots where wood is exposed and see if there are weather or insect issues. Again, I’ve never seen a real problem with this.

Check all vents for obstructions Again, this is part of that walkthrough. I check all inside and outside vents to see if they’re blocked in any way and remove anything blocking them.

Check your sump pump for any issues I simply lift the lid off of the little crock that contains our pump and see if I notice anything visually wrong with it. If it looks fine, I pour some water in there until it kicks on – over the years, I can tell exactly when it should kick on. I’ve never had a problem here, thankfully, but if this didn’t go right, I’d immediately start investigating a fix before our next rainfall.

Check all of the window and door locks I just go through and lock and unlock every door and window and make sure that they’re working fine. There are some doors and windows that we basically never open, so they’re worth a check; others are locked and unlocked and opened and closed regularly, so I usually just skip them.

Check the gauge on all fire extinguishers Do they appear properly pressurized? If not, there’s a leakage issue and the extinguisher needs to be replaced. We keep one under the sink and another in the garage, so this doesn’t take long.

Check all gutters for blockage and clear as needed I don’t like heights very well, but I’ll do this little task on our tall ladder. I just climb up and check the gutters – is there anything blocking them, like a pile of leaves or a bird’s nest? If there is, I remove it. I also peek into the downspouts to make sure they’re not blocked.

Check all visible pipes for leaks This mostly involves looking under the sinks at the pipes there and also checking the pipes in the utility room.

Evaluate unused stuff This takes a couple of hours, but it’s a really good quarterly project. I just go through the closets and other storage areas and ask myself whether we’re really using this stuff. If it’s something I’m unsure about, I put it in a big box in the garage with a date one year in the future on it. I then look for similarly-dated boxes out there and if I find any, the stuff inside is sold off or donated, no questions asked. If I was unsure to begin with and then didn’t look at it for a year, it needs to go. This keeps clutter from taking over.

Reorganize the pantry and cupboards This also takes a couple of hours, but in doing so, I almost always find the ingredients for meals that were planned but didn’t get made and other forgotten items that end up making up a big part of meal plans for the next couple of weeks. Reorganization also makes it far easier to find things (for a while, at least) and usually frees up quite a bit of room, as well as helps us discover any items that have gone bad.

Reorganize the freezer This doesn’t take nearly as long. Generally, the goal here is to move all of the older stuff to the front so that it gets used soon and intentionally add that stuff to meal plans sooner rather than later. This prevents us from having to chuck stuff due to freezer burn.

Clean out the fridge completely, then restock I literally pull everything out of the fridge, wipe things down, throw away anything that’s scary, and then put everything else back in there in a more sensible fashion.

Review the car maintenance schedules in the car manuals and make sure we’re up to date on everything Car manuals are very clear on what maintenance needs to be done and when. Spending a few minutes just to review the schedule, do the things you can do, and schedule appointments to handle things that are out of your pay grade will greatly extend the life of your car.

Clean the garbage disposal with ice, hot water, and baking soda I just stuff a bunch of ice cubes into the garbage disposal, run it for about ten seconds, then pour some hot water and baking soda in there and run it for another five. This keeps it smelling good and in good working order.

Annual Checklist

These are tasks that I aim to do each year as part of our home and auto maintenance. The timeframe for each is mentioned in the description.

Winterize the lawnmower This is penciled in for mid-October. This involves a few steps: siphon the gas out of the gas tank, disconnect the spark plug, remove the blade, drain out the oil, clean the underside, replace the spark plug, and change the air filter. I break this up into two tasks – one involves getting an air filter and spark plug at the hardware store and the other, a week or so later, for actually doing the tasks. It takes half an hour or so.

Summerize the lawnmower I usually pencil this in as an annual task in early April. I usually sharpen and reattach the blade, reattach the spark plug cable, put fresh gas and oil in the mower, and then start it to make sure it works. Again, I have an earlier task for late March that involves picking up mower gas and oil. It takes maybe fifteen minutes, all told.

Check the filter in the range hood and clean it Our range hood has a little filter in there that’s behind an easy-to-remove panel. I just pull it out and wash it and put it back in there. Some Dawn and baking soda on a soft brush makes this task easy. Five minutes or so does the trick.

Remove grills on forced air system ducts and vacuum inside the ducts This is on my list twice a year, in March and October, so it’s two different annually repeated tasks. This takes maybe fifteen minutes; I just go around the house and remove vent coverings and vacuum in there a little to clear out dust blockage.

Check the breakers I flip each breaker on and off individually and make sure that it works. I’ll just make sure there’s nothing that can’t lose power for a couple of minutes in our house, then I’ll flip off a breaker and make sure what I expect is powered off, then I’ll flip it on and make sure things in that area are back on. This takes about ten minutes.

Clean all windows and window wells and dry them This involves removing screens, washing the windows on the inside (and outside if I can), washing the wells, and then drying everything off. I also check the caulking while doing this and if I notice loose or weathered caulk, I either fix it right then or add a new item to my to-do list.

Drain off some water from the bottom of the hot water tank The goal here is to remove sediment, which can cause the tank to run poorly. I usually drain it into a pan, then turn the valve back off and let that pan of hot water sit for a while to cool down. It’s usually got a bit of sediment in it, but nothing much. This greatly extends the life span of the hot water tank and keeps it nice and efficient.

Do a fire drill In the late evening, I’ll hit the test button on the fire alarms near bedrooms and have everyone follow the standard fire drill.

Check and clean refrigerator and freezer coils This involves turning off the power to the fridge, pulling it out, and dusting off the coils on the back, then sliding it back into place. It takes maybe twenty minutes. Then, I do the same with the freezer in the garage, with a slightly shorter timeframe because it’s easier to move.

Final Thoughts

While this might seem like a lot of tasks, they’re each really short (for the most part) and they repeat really infrequently, which means that it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to take care of these things. Doing them ensures that everything continues to last and last around our home. We must be doing something right – we haven’t had any major repair issues in a long time around our home.

Having said that, the most powerful strategy for home maintenance is something you can be doing all the time – using your senses and paying attention to your house. Listen for new sounds. Look for anything that’s changed in color or texture. Figure out any new aromas. If you see something that you haven’t used in a while, use it and make sure it works and seems in proper working order. That’s helped us to avoid a lot of potential problems over the years, as we’ve been able to fix natural wear and tear issues before they become a real problem.

Are we perfect at this? Absolutely not. I’ve skipped things on this list many times. However, when those things do pop up on my to-do list, I make an effort to take care of them almost always, and I know that doing so has helped extend the life of our home, our cars, and our large appliances.

Is this list perfect? Absolutely not. There are always things that could be added, plus there are definitely some things that are more relevant to some houses than others depending on size and location. Treat this list as a good starting point for your own list.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.