Want to save hundreds of dollars a year on automobile 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 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.
Doubt that premise?
Check your owner's manual and see what it says about when to change oil or do other maintenance. The 2005 Honda Civic, for example, calls for oil changes every 10,000 miles. The average recommended oil change interval industry-wide tends to be 7,500 miles.
General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and other manufacturers have added an oil life indicator on the instrument cluster that tells 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, GM says 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.