Your Computer Is Like Your Car: 7 Ways to Keep It Running Smoothly

By George Otte

Your car gets you from Point A to Point B. Your computer puts a world of information at your fingertips.

At first glance, the two couldn’t be more different. Your car is mobile, while your desktop computer is stationary and your laptop only goes where you carry it.

Yet your computer and your car have more in common than you realize. Both require regular care and maintenance to remain in good working order. If used improperly or left to languish for too long, both can fail before their time.

Every car owner has a basic understanding of their vehicle’s maintenance needs, even if they don’t feel comfortable getting under the hood themselves. Every computer user deserves to have the same basic breadth of knowledge about maintaining their machine, even if they don’t know a circuit board from a CPU.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven straightforward computer maintenance tips and tasks that can extend your computer’s lifespan and improve its performance for years to come.

1. Physically Clean Your Machine

Unlike cars, computers don’t need oil changes; however, they do need physical care from time to time. This is doubly true if your computer lives in a room with more than its fair share of dust, you have shedding pets such as cats and long-haired dogs, or you eat regularly around your computer. Proper physical care includes:

  • Using an approved screen cleaning solution and soft cloth to clean your monitor
  • Using a gentle cleaning solution to polish your computer’s hard surfaces
  • Using dampened cotton swabs to remove crumbs from your keyboard
  • Use a dampened cloth or air compressor to clean dust from your cooling fan outlets

2. Implement a Cord Management System

Depending on how much equipment you have in your computer area, you may have more cords than you can comfortably manage. If that’s the case, you need an effective cord management system that organizes all those wires and keeps them from impeding your workflow. There’s no one right answer here—you can use twist ties, string, wall fixtures or even fast-drying putty to keep your cords in a tight, untangled bundle.

3. Buy (And Update) Anti-Virus Software

If you’re not already using an anti-virus or anti-malware program, start researching your options. The digital world is crawling with potential threats to your computer, and many don’t immediately make themselves apparent.

When you first install your new program, run a full system scan to identify any threats already “living” on your computer. Then, run periodic scans (your program may do this automatically) and set your program to auto-update as new patches become available. You may have to pay for a quality anti-malware app, but you’ll thank yourself if and when your program thwarts a serious threat.

4. Delete Duplicate or Junk Files

Just as your car’s gas tank has a finite capacity, your computer’s hard drive can only hold so much information. Make sure you’re maximizing your available space by periodically deleting duplicate files, files you rarely or never use, and large files that you’ve backed up elsewhere. You may need to call on a professional to help, as it’s important not to delete essential files whose absence can threaten your system.

5. Continue Auditing Your System

Even if you don’t regularly delete programs and files, you want to check up on your computer system at regular intervals—just as you check your oil levels in between oil changes or scheduled maintenance visits to the garage. Also, if you’re using an older machine with a mechanical hard drive, you’ll need to periodically defragment your hard drive to boost its performance. (If you have a newer machine with a solid-state drive, you may still need to defragment, but many SSD computers do so automatically.)

6. Back Up Your Data

Your data is too precious to store in a single place. Instead of relying solely on your computer’s hard drive, you should back up your most important documents and bits of personal information to a secure cloud storage system and a physical storage device, such as a thumb drive. If you have concerns about backing up your data in the cloud, speak with a computer maintenance professional—while cloud storage is generally secure, the occasional breach reminds us that you can’t be too careful.

7. Reinstall Your Operating System

If your computer’s performance is really substandard, a defragging session might not be enough to restore the machine to its former glory. A complete uninstallation and reinstallation of your operating system may be warranted. If you’re not technically proficient, don’t attempt this on your own, as there’s a lot to keep straight during the process. A computer repair professional can easily assist.

Technologies Existent or Heretofore Created

In legal contracts, it’s commonplace to see vague language about “technologies existent or heretofore created,” or some variation thereof.

That’s not just legalese. The point is that technology is unlikely to stay the same as it was when the contract was signed. If new, pertinent technologies (or modifications to existing technologies) are developed while the contract remains valid, the contract’s terms must cover those technologies as well. Otherwise, the agreement has a glaring loophole: It applies only to gadgets that exist in the present, not gadgets that may arise in the future.

It’s like having one set of rules for the iPhone 6 and a completely different set for the iPhone 7. That’s not fair, is it?

By the same token, the tips and tricks outlined above pertain mainly to desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices. They don’t cover certain other, newer technologies that already exist in the marketplace, such as smartwatches, or products that remain in development, such as augmented reality glasses. It’ll be exciting to see how those new technologies develop in the years ahead—and to learn all the unique strategies their users can employ to keep them running smoothly and effectively.