Like everything else that is worth keeping in perfect working condition, you should take preventive measures when it comes to car maintenance. More often than not, people take their cars to the mechanic only when there is something horribly wrong with the ride (i.e. when the engine isn't working anymore or when a small fire has started somewhere under the hood.) These are extreme cases, of course, but it does illustrate clearly how ignoring simple cues can lead to lot of headache for you.
People often cite costliness as the primary reason why they do not take their cars to the local mechanic on a regular basis. However, the simple task of taking your car for a yearly check-up and tune-up can actually save you a bundle in the long run. If you really want to keep a steady eye on your car maintenance expenses, you may want to patronize the services of a mechanic that you can explicitly trust not to rip you off. If you do not know anyone, you might ask a friend or relative to refer someone trustworthy.
Also, by simply taking account the minor changes in your car like a small rattling sound when you start the engine or a slower reaction to turns - and taking your ride immediately to the expert, you may avoid further and more expensive complications.
On your own, you can perform basic car maintenance that leans towards preventive measures:
If you want to keep your car looking exactly like it did when you first bought it, you need to wash your ride regularly, religiously even. You do not even have to buy those really expensive car soaps; there are less costly brands out there that work just as well. Detergent usually found around the house may be used if you are in a pinch, but you must remember that some of these can be harsh to your paint job, so use sparingly. A little waxing once in a while helps keep paint corrosion at bay. If you are extremely pressed for time, we highly recommend that you head on out to the car wash for professional service.
An oil leak (or any pool of liquid, for that matter) on your garage floor is an indication that something is amiss. This may seem like an innocuous thing, but this can actually lead to a whole lot of (expensive) complications in the future. Brake fluid leaks are especially dangerous since with all probability, you would need to brake sometime while using your car. An oil leak, on the other hand, is an indication that your engine is clogged, and if this problem is not resolved quickly, you will be seeing a lot more trips to the mechanic. You can check for leaks by simply parking your car in the same exact spot every night. Any pool of liquid underneath your car should be your cue to take your car to the mechanic.
As for your car engine, you can use a dry cloth to wipe away visible oil spatters or dirt. Never hose down your car engine, because water can get into the electrical connections, which may make everything go hay-wire. Every once in a while, check to see if the oil spatters and dirt reappear; if they do, it would be best to head on out to the local mechanic.