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How Important is It to Follow My Car's Maintenance Schedule?

Published May 19, 2022
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This article has been reviewed by licensed insurance industry expert, Moshe Fishman.

Maintaining your car is an essential part of owning a vehicle. Routine maintenance is not only crucial to your car’s safety and reliability, but it’ll also save you money in the long run by preventing issues before they happen. 

Basic maintenance can save you as much as $1,000 per year on gas. If that’s not enough of an incentive, if you plan to resell or trade-in your car someday, keeping it maintained will protect your investment and ensure you get top value for it. 

How much maintenance does my car need?

For people who don’t know much about cars and are dependent on someone for routine maintenance, this can be difficult to answer. If you asked the service department at your car dealership, a chain repair shop, and an independent auto repair shop, you’d get three different opinions. 

The best way to find out exactly how much maintenance your car needs is by reading your car’s owner’s manual, to see what the manufacturer recommends. The people who manufactured your car are naturally the experts on what it needs. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, you can easily find one online by Googling the make, model, and year of your vehicle. In it, you will find the vehicle service or vehicle maintenance schedule.

Recommended Maintenance

Recommended maintenance for vehicles falls into two main categories depending on how many miles your drive annually, type of driving, conditions of driving, and how you use your vehicle.

Normal/Standard Maintenance 

Normal or standard car maintenance is best for vehicles that aren’t subjected to demanding or extreme driving conditions. This regular schedule of maintenance is ideal for those who commute less than 12,000 miles per year and don’t incur many stops and starts in their commute.

Severe Maintenance

Severe maintenance is recommended for vehicles that are subjected to demanding or extreme driving conditions such as long-distance driving, heavy towing or hauling, constant stop-and-go traffic, or off-roading. Vehicles subject to these conditions will require more frequent routine maintenance checks.

When should I schedule maintenance for my car?

When to schedule routine car maintenance will vary depending on how you drive your car and its year, make, and model. Oil changes and oil filter replacement is a regular service that should be done more often than other car maintenance services. The number of miles driven in between each oil and filter change will depend on the car you drive and is typically stated by the vehicle manufacturer in the owner’s manual.

What does routine maintenance include?

During routine inspections, specific parts and areas of the vehicle are checked and inspected to be sure it is running optimally and safely. These include parts and items that sustain wear and tear and need periodic replacement or have been damaged. Fluids will need to be replaced as well on a regular basis. The parts and items inspected include:

  • Spark plugs and plug wires.
  • Air, fuel, and oil filters.
  • Brake, transmission, and coolant fluids and topping off as needed.
  • Tire rotation and tire pressure.
  • Timing belt.
  • Brakes and pads.

Oil Change

There’s a good reason why there’s a sticker on your windshield reminding you when it’s time to have your car’s motor oil changed. Getting your engine oil changed regularly is very important to your vehicle’s health.

Automobile manufacturers agree that changing motor oil regularly is one of the most important preventive maintenance steps you should take.

It will keep your engine running smoothly. Consult a trusted mechanic to find out exactly how often your car’s oil should be changed. Here is the general rule:

  • Cars made prior to 2010 usually require an oil change every 3,000 miles. 
  • Cars made since 2010 tend to use synthetic motor oils and can go 5K to 10K miles between oil changes. Most cars also have a sensor that will alert you when it’s time for an oil change. 
  • Have your auto service technician check the engine air filter when they change your engine's oil. If it is dirty, have it replaced.
  • For older vehicles with hydraulic power steering systems, make sure your tech checks the fluid level of the power steering pump.

Tire Replacement

A simple step you can take to mitigate repairs down the road is to make sure your tires are properly inflated. Tires with low air pressure may lead to excessive wear, lower gas mileage, and poor handling. Correct tire pressure can be found in the owner’s manual or on the doorjamb sticker.

  • Rotate tires every 5K-8K miles to promote even wear.
  • Have tires replaced when the tread is visibly worn down and thin, or if your tires are more than 10 years old.
  • All wheel drive vehicles usually require all tires to be of nearly identical diameter. So, make sure to replace your tires as a set, or at least in pairs.

Brakes (Discs/Pads)

Brakes will need to be replaced somewhere between the 25K and 70K mile mark. Why such a wide range? It varies depending on how you drive your car. Brakes will wear out sooner under frequent stop-and-go driving conditions and with repeated hard braking. 

Front brakes usually need to be replaced before the rear brakes because the front brakes provide most of the stopping power. Splurge on high-quality brake parts to reduce the frequency that brakes need to be repaired or replaced and for a smoother driving experience.

Spark Plugs

Spark plugs aren’t usually replaced until the 100K mile mark. Be sure to get the exact type recommended by your car’s manufacturer. Inferior or incorrect spark plugs can cause engine damage and lower your fuel economy. 

Timing Belt

For cars that have timing belts, the usual replacement mark for a timing belt is 60K-100K miles. Timing belt replacement can be expensive, especially if it is a serpentine belt. But delaying or skipping it entirely may result in major engine damage if the belt breaks. The water pump, belt tensioners, and pulleys may need to be replaced at the same time.

Shocks and Struts

Shock absorbers and struts absorb road bumps and potholes and are usually replaced after the 80K mile mark. The life span of shocks and struts depends on how well the roads are maintained where you drive. Aggressive driving and rough, uneven roads contribute to faster wear and tear. High-quality replacement parts that meet manufacturer specifications will last longer than cheap parts.

Battery

Just like shocks and brakes, your commute and how you drive will affect how soon your battery needs to be replaced. Batteries are usually replaced at the three to five year mark. Short commutes and driving distances mean the battery will not fully recharge, contributing to a shorter lifespan. Hot weather, letting the vehicle sit unused for extended periods, and missing or loose hold-downs will also shorten its lifespan.

Overall maintenance

Most auto manufacturers utilize a 30K/60K/90K maintenance schedule. This schedule refers to the number of miles driven. At these designated intervals, it’s likely that certain items will need to be inspected and replaced once the car has been driven 30,000, 60,000, and 90,000 miles. 

Maintenance at 30K Miles

Maintenance is usually limited to regular oil changes, brake inspections, tire rotations, and new wiper blades. Save money by replacing items such as wiper blades on your own.

Air filters should be changed at 15k to 30K miles. The fuel filter should be changed as early as 30K miles. Air and fuel filters help your engine run smoothly by keeping it free of dust and debris.

Maintenance at 60K Miles 

In addition to regular maintenance, new tires are likely to be needed. Brake pads and rotors should also be inspected and replaced if needed. Brake, transmission, and coolant fluids as well as battery inspection and timing belt will need replacement.

Maintenance at 90K Miles 

Once you hit 90,000 additional areas will need inspection and replacement including suspension parts such as shock absorbers and struts. Spark plugs and coolant hoses will also need replacement. Other items that will take place during maintenance will include flushing or replacing fluids, drive belts and timing belts inspection/replacement, tire alignment, and cleaning and adjusting brakes. 

Identify problems before they occur

Following your car’s recommended maintenance will not only protect your investment, but it’ll also keep your car in tip-top shape, ensuring a smooth and safe driving experience. According to Kelly Blue Book, proper mechanical maintenance is needed to prevent potential problems by identifying issues before they happen. Avoiding problems with preventive maintenance is better for your vehicle and your wallet. The alternative is having to pay for unplanned repair services.

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