Want to save hundreds of dollars a year on car maintenance?
Then stop over-maintaining your vehicle.
Sales pitches by fast-and-furious oil change shops and service centers touting all sorts of fluid flushes and lube jobs have Americans wasting wads of cash on unnecessary service items — particularly on newer vehicles.
Top auto maintenance myths
- 3,000-mile oil changes.
- Chassis lubrication.
- The standard tune-up.
- Air filter swaps.
- The transmission flush.
- Radiator drains.
- Fuel injectors need cleaning.
- Warranty validity claims.
Often bewildered by the mass of electronics, wires and hoses that adorn a modern engine, many drivers simply put themselves at the mercy of service facilities that may only be interested in running up your bill.
Of course there’s the flip side to all of this: Some drivers never have their cars serviced and then wonder why the engine seizes after the oil has turned to sludge.
But it’s more likely that you’re one of those drivers who follow the car maintenance advice your dad gave you 30 years ago when you got your first car.
Thanks to computer-controlled ignitions, improvements in filter technology, upgraded suspension designs and other mechanical improvements developed by the manufacturers, today’s vehicles require far less maintenance than the cars our parents drove.
Check manual for car maintenance schedule
Check your owner’s manual and see what it says about when to change oil or do other maintenance. The Ford Motor Co., for example, recommends oil changes every 7,500 miles, or every six months, whichever comes first, for 2008 and newer model-year vehicles.
Many car manufacturers have added oil life indicators on the instrument cluster that tell you when the oil needs changing. The car’s computer keeps track of starts and stops, as well as other factors, and calculates the oil’s useful interval. Depending on how you drive, manufacturers say it’s possible to see 10,000 miles or more between oil changes.
These guidelines are coming from companies that have a vested interest in keeping your car running trouble-free: If you’re happy with the car or truck, you’re more likely to buy another one. And a well-maintained car means the manufacturer has to pay out less in warranty claims.
Even Motor Age magazine — the publication for the automotive service industry (the people who want your service and repair business) — put it succinctly: “Following the factory schedule should keep nearly any car or truck healthy past the warranty period.”
Consider that the average household has two vehicles and drives each 15,000 miles a year. Following the advice of the local change-a-lot fast lube outlet — to change oil and filter every 3,000 miles — the average family would pay for 10 oil and filter changes every year. At, say, $40 a pop, that’s $400.
That same family could cut its oil change bill by $240 by following the manufacturer’s advice to change oil every 7,500 miles.
There are some exceptions that might require more frequent oil changes: Driving in an abnormally dusty climate or taking a lot of short, stop-and-go trips. But the oil change interval for such conditions is again spelled out in the owner’s manual. No need to do it more frequently.
A word of caution about owner’s manuals: Some dealers, in an effort to boost profits, give buyers a “supplemental” owner’s manual or service guide that calls for more frequent servicing. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to follow these recommendations — it’s just the dealer’s way of competing with the fast-lube places for your money.
Beyond oil changes, the basic servicing of a vehicle is becoming less demanding, particularly within the first 60,000 miles of ownership.
Spark plugs typically don’t have to be changed for at least 100,000 miles, and most new cars don’t require any chassis lubrication. With coolant systems that are entirely recirculating and with coolant manufacturers making strides in their products’ chemical components, the seasonal radiator flush is becoming a thing of the past.
Yet anyone who goes to a service facility is likely to get pitched “routine” maintenance services from fuel injector cleaning to coolant flushes to air-conditioner refrigerant replacement.
Just say no — or at the very least compare what they’re trying to sell with what your owner’s manual recommends — and you can avoid hundreds of dollars in unnecessary maintenance costs a year.
Here are seven more of the most common auto maintenance myths:
Un-classy chassis. If someone says your chassis needs lubing, check it out before doing anything. Most cars built in the last couple of decades don’t require lubrication. And if the mechanic says he can put in a fitting so the chassis can be lubed (pumped full of grease), don’t fall for it. Adding grease where none is required could lead to problems.
Looney tune-ups. Computer-controlled engines have made the standard tune-up a thing of the past. It used to be a tune-up called for new spark plugs and ignition parts such as a distributor cap, points and rotor. Aside from spark plugs, cars don’t have points and rotors, and many don’t have traditional distributor caps.
Filter fantasy. There are a plethora of filters — oil, air, fuel, transmission — on modern vehicles, and they all need replacing at some time or another. But not at every oil-change interval. Air filters often can be blown clean with compressed air and then replaced at every other oil change. Check the owner’s manual for recommended replacement intervals for all filters.
Transmission-friction fiction. Flushing the automatic transmission system also is often recommended by service centers as a routine maintenance item. But most manufacturers say it’s not needed until at least 60,000 miles — if then. If your transmission has a filter, check the owner’s manual for when it should be replaced.
Hot flushes. It used to be conventional wisdom that you drained your radiator twice a year at spring and fall. But most cars now have closed systems that don’t lose coolant over time, and modern coolant fluids — antifreeze in our parents’ jargon — can last two years and more before losing effectiveness.
Injection deception. Sometimes cleaning fuel injectors means adding a bottle of fluid to the gas tank; other times it’s a mechanical procedure involving a sort of pressure cleaning and chemical wash, and it can be pricey. Either way, don’t do it unless called for by the manufacturer. Few of them do. Gasoline is required to have a certain detergent component that will keep injectors and combustion chambers clean. If your vehicle is running rough, there are likely other causes and injector cleaning isn’t likely to help over the long term.
Warranty validity. Some dealers will tell you that you have to get the recommended service items done at their shop to keep your warranty in force. They may even tell you that you have to follow their supplemental service list. Not true. You can get service done anywhere; you can even do it yourself. Just keep records and receipts, should any questions arise over a warranty claim. What is true, however, is that doing no maintenance — oil changes and filters at recommended intervals — can void a warranty.