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Should I follow the car maintenance schedule for normal or 'severe' driving?

Tara Baukus MelloDear Driving for Dollars,
I've read comments off and on about how it's no longer necessary to change your car's oil every 3,000 miles.

I recently replaced my old car with a 2012 model, and I was reading the owners manual to see how often I should be going between oil changes. There were 2 recommendations for oil and other car maintenance: 1 called "normal" and 1 called "severe duty."

I take a lot of short trips, a circumstance listed under the severe schedule, but I don't know if it's really abnormal. Which maintenance schedule should I be following?
-- Scott

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Mechanic working under hood of car | iStock.com/kupicoo

iStock.com/kupicoo

Dear Scott,
It's great to hear that you are reading your owners manual. It's a terrific source of information, yet it seems very few car owners actually consult it in advance of a problem.

Deciding which car maintenance schedule to follow can be somewhat confusing. Reasons to follow the severe car maintenance schedule include extreme temperatures, lots of stop-and-go driving or short trips, and towing or hauling something heavy.

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To determine whether your short trips qualify as severe, think about the percentage of your total driving that those short trips represent.

  • If your short trips (generally considered fewer than 5 miles) are the majority of your driving, then that probably qualifies your car for the severe schedule.
  • Similarly, if your typical driving is made of longer rides but involves a lot of time with the engine idling, such as in heavy commuter traffic, then that, too, would qualify for severe.

Think also about the typical weather in your area. Climates with very high humidity (generally the southeastern U.S.) and very high (about 90 degrees) or very low (below 10 degrees) temperatures also are considered severe.

If your typical driving includes a mixture of these things, then following the severe schedule is probably a good idea.

See how keeping up with scheduled maintenance could help your car last for the long haul.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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