Baselining Your Car

Original Author: Phil Barnett (prb) - 2013

Back to Maintenance

Baselining a car is the process of bringing it to a known state. If you have owned your car from the beginning or have 100% of the service records, you can make better judgments about what your car needs now and what long term maintenance is due.

If you purchased your car used and don't know the maintenance history, you need to baseline it. There are several areas of baselining but we're going to concentrate on the brakes, fluids, engine, drive train, chassis, electrical, NVH, Interior and Trunk.

The idea of this process is that since you don't know the state of your car, you need to assume all maintenance needs to be performed. There is no attempt here to address cosmetics.

For our Miatas, you should spend your first time insuring that the cooling system is up to snuff, second would be to do fluid changes in the brakes, clutch, engine, transmission and differential. After that, start through the list.

Each section is broken into three parts:
  1. Round 1
  2. Round 2
  3. As Necessary


    • Inspect flexible brake lines
    • Lubricate slider pins
    • Inspect brake pads and rotors
    • Adjust hand brake cable
    • Replace brake pads
    • Replace or rebuild calipers
    • Replace rotors
    • Replace Brake and Clutch pedal rubber grips.


    • Engine Oil and Filter
    • Flush Hydraulic Brake Fluid
    • Flush Hydraulic Clutch Fluid
    • Check Coolant Level
    • Change Coolant
    • Transmission Oil
    • Differential Oil
    • Fuel Filter
    • Fuel Pump and Sock
    • Power Steering Fluid
    • Windshield Washer Fluid


    • Check for Harmonic Balancer Wobble
    • Common Oil Leaks
      • Replace CAS o-ring
      • Replace PCV Valve and Grommet.
      • Replace Valve Cover Gasket
      • Replace the Oil Cap Gasket
    • Replace Spark Plugs
    • Replace Spark Plug Wires.
    • Adjust the Ignition Timing and Idle speed.
    • Replace Air Filter
    • Inspect Clean Air Crossover tube for integrity. Insure it is fastened with no leaks.
    • Inspect Throttle Cable and remove slack as needed. Insure it's not holding the throttle plate open.
    • Replace Belts
    • Injector Cleaning
    • Replace Injector Seals
    • Replace Coolant Hoses
    • Check/Recharge A/C
    • Compression Check
    • Thermostat
    • Radiator Cap
    • Inspect IACV
    • Check/Adjust TPS
    • 1.6L, replace the Cursed Coolant Cap
    • Replace Radiator
    • Replace Engine Temperature Sensor
    • Replace Water Pump, Timing Belt, Idler Bearings, Cam Seals, Front Main Seal.
    • Oil, Transmission and Differential Drain Crush Washers
    • 1.6L, replace the unused oil return cap
    • O2 Sensor(s)
    • Refurbish or Replace Injectors

Drive Train

    • Inspect CV bellows for cracks
    • Inspect steering rack bellows for cracks. Inspect rack for leaks
    • Inspect Drive Shaft for play
    • Inspect Clutch Slave Cylinder
    • Replace Transmission Fluid (GL4)
    • Replace Differential Fluid (GL5)
    • Replace Clutch/Assy, engine rear main seal, transmission input shaft seal.
    • Replace Drive Shaft
    • Replace Shifter Bushings
    • Replace Clutch Master Cylinder
    • Replace Clutch Slave Cylinder
    • Replace Clutch Flexible Line


    • Clean Sill Drain Holes
    • Inspect rain rail drain funnels
    • Clean A/C Drain
    • Clean under lower part of front fenders.
    • Spend a day checking tightness of every bolt nut and screw you can see.
    • Lubricate seat tracks
    • Replace torn Shifter Boots
    • Clean under front fenders
    • Replace Windshield Wipers
    • Clean and Lube Window Tracks


    • Inspect operation of all bulbs
    • Clean battery terminals
    • Inspect battery tie down assembly. The battery should be solidly mounted.
    • Insure battery is maintened. Add fluid if necessary.
    • With the car off, measure the voltage at the battery. It should be 12v. With the car running, the voltage should be 13.8 minumum.
    • Clean ignition switch
    • Replace battery
    • Replace alternator

NVH (Noise Vibration Handling)

    • Inspect Tires. Replace if tires are out of date, cupped or worn
    • Tire Pressure (Don't forget the spare)
    • Tire Balance
    • Shock Absorbers
    • Alignment
    • Inspect Exhaust System for leaks, rattles and missing hangers.
    • Replace Bump Stops
    • Replace Stabilizer Bar Bushings
    • Heater Hose Grommets
    • Alignment Bolts
    • Replace Shock Tower Top Hats
    • Wheel Bearings


    • Remove seats and search under them, under carpets, dashboard and any other nooks and crannies for any illicit substances or paraphernalia that could get you detained or even arrested at a traffic stop.
    • While the seats are out, thoroughly vacuum carpets, seats, under the seats and clean and lube the seat track mechanism.
    • Remove console and parking brake cover, vacuum under the area and inspect parking mechanism for any foreign object that could cause impaired operation.
    • Make duplicates of whatever key works best in car. Keep one in a safe place at home or work and carry the other in wallet.
    • Replace the rubber covers on the brake and clutch pedal


    • Remove everything from the trunk and tire tool area and remove the spare tire. Then search for any illicit substances or paraphernalia that could get you detained or even arrested at a traffic stop.
    • Insure spare tire is mounted solidly.
    • Check that jack, crank and lug wrench exist.
    • Lubricate the screw on the jack and check operation.
    • Make sure things in the trunk don't rattle.