One question always going through my mind is, “What is the right amount of vehicle maintenance:” Too much, and you’re wasting money; not enough, and the vehicle’s dependable life flies out the window.
The owner’s manual has great information on what to do and when. But – and this is a big but – are the maintenance recommendations enough to ensure the vehicle last a long time?
On one end of the spectrum is the “up sell” of fluid changes; oil or fluid wiped on a white rag showing how dirty it is; shocks that are seeping slightly; or the air filter that is somewhat dirty.
(Remember, a slightly dirty air filter will NOT affect your fuel mileage. Advanced electronic engine controls compensate for this on vehicles made since 1995. A truly plugged air filter should be replaced, however, because it will cut engine power.)
At the other end of the spectrum is inadequate maintenance: oil service every 20,000 miles; no recommendation of transmission services; never having to change fuel filters; no brake fluid changes; and lifetime antifreeze. These are all wrong in my opinion.
Some automotive gurus feel this is the way to make sure vehicles wear out sooner so that you will have to buy a new one. We deal with a lot of major engine repairs due to oil sludge, where it either plugs the oil pick-up screen or, more commonly, clogs the solenoids that control valve timing.
Now mind you, air filters and most fluids should be changed in a vehicle. The question is how often. This is not an easy question to answer. My automotive “bible,” Consumers Report, and I part company on this. They recommend, for the most part, following manufacturer recommendations. Not enough for me.
On the other hand, some service centers recommend oil changes every three months, which is way too often in my opinion.
So what is the answer? A very strong “depends.” It depends on your driving style, the vehicle you drive, your risk tolerance, how long you plan to keep your car, and , finally, if you want the vehicle to last even if you plan to sell it.
My recommendations are below. Note this is for the person who drives 10,000 to 12,000 miles per year in a normal vehicle under normal driving conditions:
Oil service every 5,000 miles. Or, if synthetic oil is used, service every year or at between 5,000 and 15,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Air and cabin filter, inspect at between 15,000 and 20,000 miles, and replace as necessary. Transmission service, 30,000 to 60,000 miles. External fuel filter, 60,000 miles. Brake fluid change, every two years. Power steering fluid, 60,000 miles. Coolant, 60,000 miles or every four years. Spark plugs, as per manufacturer’s recommendation.
So what is the bottom line: Talk to your favorite shop, come up with a plan and then stick to it.
More tips to save money
There has been a trend towards replacing gaskets, O-rings, and shocks or struts when there is a trace of oil on them. In the automotive world, leaks that drip to the ground need to be repaired soon, for many reasons. The most important is if you lose enough oil, it will ruin your engine. Second and just as important, all oil that leaks in the street ends up in storm water drains, where it runs untreated into our rivers, streams and then into the ocean. Not good for the environment.
The second is what I call an oil “seep.” If this seep is dripping to the ground, get it repaired for the reasons noted above.
The third kind of oil leak is the presence of a small amount of mist around gaskets or on the top of the shock or strut. It’s more like a very small film: If you wipe your finger on it, it will not leave much residue on your finger. This film does not call for a repair, because it is not leaking to the ground.
Oil does not have a service tension, so it will “mist” areas like the top of a strut, which is the cylindrical rod that goes in and out of the oil reservoir. The strut can pick up molecules of oil, leaving a light film on top. My guess the oil film is less 1/1000th of a teaspoon.
So if you are told you have an oil leak and find no oil under your car, it might be a good time to get a second opinion, or take a look yourself.
Tips by George
Open windows for the first three minutes of driving in a hot vehicle. The interior can be as hot as 140 degrees after sitting in the sun, and the air conditioning will take more than 20 minutes to cool. Get rid of the hot air by lowering windows.
Be sure to check your tire pressure monthly. Check pressure when your tires are cold, that is, driven less than a mile. Recommended tire pressures are set by the manufacture and will be on your doorjamb or noted in the owner’s manual.
Check oil level at least monthly. We have replaced three engines in the past few months due to insufficient oil reserve.