AUTO SERVICE & CAR REPAIR: Maintenance Guide

Courtesy of:  The Car Care Council

This maintenance guide is designed for the motorist who drives their car an average of 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year in a city like Dallas or Fort Worth where the typical daily commute consists of some stop-and-go driving in heavy to moderate traffic situations ( Note:  All driving in the Dallas/Ft Worth area is considered “severe driving conditions”, when you are reviewing your owner’s manual. )  This maintenance schedule is designed to minimize your auto repair expenses while maintaining your year model 2000 or newer car, truck or SUV so that it will achieve a lifetime of over 150,000 “trouble free” miles.  You can compare this to your vehicle manufacturer’s maintenance guide but be aware that the vehicle manufacturer is concerned about your maintenance schedule as long as you are under warranty When the warranty period expires the manufacturers hope that you will trade in your car for a new one as soon as possible They are not interested in your car, truck or SUV lasting for 150,000 miles, they want to sell you a new car.

Oil Changes: Change your oil and oil filter every 3,000-4,000 miles if you use regular (conventional) multi-viscosity motor oil such as 10w30 or 5w20.

Change your oil and filter every 5,000 to 6,000 miles if you use full synthetic or synthetic blend motor oil Remember most vehicles produced since 2003 specify the use of synthetic or synthetic blend motor oils.**

This is an area when our recommendation will almost certainly not be in sync with the manufacturer’s recommendations.  For example, BMW tells its customers that they should go 15,500 between oil changes.  This is the perfect case of a manufacturer is interested in the car during the warranty period but wants to sell you a new car after that.  It is inconceivable that, even if the synthetic oil required in this car could go 15,500 miles, no filtering system can.

**Due to manufacturing (refining) capabilities, full synthetic oil may be less expensive than synthetic blend oil and is always better for your car.

Tires and Suspension: Rotate and balance your tires every 6,000-8,000 miles and have your front and rear brakes checked for wear when they are rotating the tires If your mechanic advises you of uneven tire wear you should have the alignment checked and adjusted.  A vibration in the steering wheel or in the seat is often caused by an unbalanced tire and wheel.  A cupped tire is caused by a bad strut or shock and you should have all four of them (shocks and struts) replaced at the same time.  Always get your car aligned when you buy new tires.  This will ensure that you will get the maximum life out of your tires Have your car’s alignment checked annually

Fuel Injection System: If you buy gas wherever it is the cheapest you should have your fuel injectors cleaned at least once a year or every 15,000 miles.  If you buy gas from one of the name brand providers like Texaco, Chevron, Mobil, Exxon, etc… You should have your fuel injectors cleaned every 20,000 – 25,000 miles, you should also replace your fuel filter and air filter at this time.

Radiator/Cooling System: Flush the cooling system (radiator) every 40,000 miles or a minimum of every two years.  Inspect the belts and hoses that are used in the cooling system and replace them at the 60,000-75,000 mile interval if not before.  A lot of people have the hoses changed when they do their cooling system flush to save money on the labor charges.

Transmission: Flush your automatic transmission fluid every 50,000 miles Replace the transmission filter (if you have a serviceable filter) at the same time so that everything that operates the transmission is new.  Do this service religiously and you should never have to go to the transmission shop.

Power Steering: Flush your power steering system every 30,000-40,000 miles. This system is one of the most neglected systems on your car and is one of the most costly to fix, if it has to be repaired.  Often the entire rack and pinion system will have to be replaced if the fluid is neglected or you have a leak in the system and run low on fluid.  There are many different types of Power Steering fluid from transmission fluid to mineral fluid to fluids formulated specifically for a certain manufacturer.  Make sure you use a mechanic who knows which fluids to use.

Brakes: You are probably going to need front brakes around 40,000 to 50,000 miles depending on the amount of stop and go driving you do. (You may get fewer miles on a performance vehicle due to softer material used for better stopping or more on a light, small engine car.)  If your mechanic checks your brakes and tells you that they are 50-75% worn, don’t worry.  You still have plenty of brake pad life available.  You don’t need to replace them until they are 80% worn Your back brakes should normally last twice as long as your front brakes if the brake system is working properly.  Whenever you have a brake job done make sure that your mechanic flushes the entire brake system with new fluid, if it has not been flushed with in the last 20,000-30,000 miles.  You will generally needs rotors when you let the pads get too low, or you had to use the brakes in a very hard manner, or after the rotors have been turned at least once.  Rotors are often required more frequently on a high performance car.

Brake Flushes: Brake fluid is hydroscopic and will absorb moisture in the normal course of driving.  Moisture will enter the brake system from a reservoir cap being loose or left off, air leaks in the brake lines, a faulty seal or even calipers being underwater or driving in a lot of water.  Brake systems should be flushed no less often than every 30,000 miles and the fluid replaced with the type required by the manufacturer.

Gas Mileage: You need to have a tune-up done at 50,000 – 60,000 miles It should include the replacement of spark plugs, spark plug wires (if there are any), a fuel injection system cleaning, an air induction system cleaning, replacement of the fuel filter, the air filter and the cabin air filter (if equipped) You should also have the oxygen sensor(s) replaced if you have noticed that your gas mileage is decreasing

Differential Services: If you pull a trailer, drive a 4 wheel drive and go off road, or drive through high water you need to have the differential and transfer case serviced on you light truck or SUV every 30,000 miles at the minimum Be sure your mechanic uses the right replacement oil and puts in the additives if you have a locking differential.

Filters:

  • Air filters should be replaced routinely, normally about every 15,000 miles.  A dirty air filter will negatively affect engine performance and mileage.
  • Fuel filters should be replaced at the same interval as air filter.
  • Cabin air filters clean the air you breathe in your car.  It is possible for dust and even mold to affect your health and comfort.  They should be changed at least as often as recommended or as you feel in necessary.  (IE: you may be affected by dust or you notice a strange, dirty, smell in the vehicle).

Timing Belts: If your vehicle is equipped with a timing belt, it must be changed at the manufacturers recommended interval, generally about 60,000 or 90,000 miles, depending on the engine and manufacturer.  If a timing belt breaks while driving, especially at higher speeds, it is not only dangerous, but can also cause severe engine damage, up to and including the need to replace the engine.

Belts and Hoses: As mentioned with the need to regularly change radiator coolant, belts and hoses will wear out, crack or break often due to the high heat in the system.  Have your mechanic check them regularly.

Warning Lights: A lot of people panic when the yellow Check Engine light comes on.  Don’t panic, If any warning light comes on and it is yellow in color. These warning lights are simply indicating that one of the car’s computers has received a signal that a condition exists that is beyond the tolerances set by the vehicle manufacturer and that the vehicle should be brought in for service as soon as possible.  Most high end repair shops can handle this problem.  Unless your vehicle is still under a manufacturer warranty, you do not have to take the vehicle to the dealer.  Even then, a warranty cannot be invalidated if a repair or service is performed at non-dealer location.

If a warning light comes on that is red in color you should pull over, stop the car and shut off the motor immediately. A red warning light indicates that damage may occur to the car or the driver if you continue to operate the vehicle.  Contact your repair center and make arrangements to have the car towed in immediately.