General service intervals and guidelines
One of the most important, and often overlooked, subjects for car owners is preventive maintenance. Drivers know that they are supposed to change their oil or get a tune-up in order to keep their car running, but usually they will not take a car to a shop unless they notice a problem. That is the whole point to preventive maintenance--to keep the car or truck serviced so major problems do not occur.
The purpose of this page is to advise drives as to what they can do and when in order to avoid more expensive repairs.
Keep in mind, much of the information here is subject to driving conditions, habits and manufacturer's recommendations. There is information contained in every owners manual about their vehicle's requirements. What kind of oil to use in the engine for example.
Some engines can be damaged if the wrong SAE rating or "weight" oil is used. There is also an API rating that tells if the oil is suitable for use in a gasoline or a diesel engine:
Generally, a higher second letter in the API rating supersedes previous ones, so a car requiring SC-rated oil can use SJ.
- SH or SJ for gasoline engines
- CF for off-highway IDI diesels
- CG for on-highway IDI diesels
- CF-2 for two-stroke diesels
- CF-4, CG-4 or CH-4 for high-speed four-stroke diesels
- CI-4 for diesels with cooled EGR sysytems
- CJ-4 for diesel with exhaust particulate (soot) filters
Most vehicles today use automatic transmission fluid for automatic or manual transmissions, but some manuals require special lubricants. Todays computer-controlled transmissions are more sensitive to fluid break-down and contamination, so it's imoportant to keep up with the recommended service intervals.
Not all power steering systems use ATF. Using the wrong lubricant can be as bad as not servicing the system at all.
Tire pressure should be checked when the tires are cold as the pressure do increase as the tires get hot. Maximum air pressures listed on the side wall of a tire is just that, the maximum for that tire, not necessarily the correct pressure for the tire when installed on your vehicle.
As the vehicles suspension settles and components wear, the alignment is going to change, so it does need to be checked periodically. Of course, driving off road, on rough roads or "curb-hopping" is going to affect the alignment as well, requiring more frequent checks.
Extreme driving conditions shorten service intervals as the vehicle is subject to increased stress. Examples of extreme conditions can be constant stop and go traffic driving, driving in hills, towing, dusty or off-road driving, and constant hot ambient temperatures. The fluids in your vehicle are affected by these conditions, and break down faster necessitating more frequent servicing in order to prevent a mechanical failure.
Enough about service guidelines, on to a basic service interval schedule. Mine contains some things that are overlooked by many drivers which I see almost on a regular basis, as well as personal recommendations.
Click HERE for the following in Check List form.
- Once per month: Check all fluid levels under the hood. Automatic transmissions and most power steering fluids need to be checked hot with the engine running, check the coolant in the overflow bottle, do not remove the radiator cap. Note any signs of leaks or abnormal conditions--flapping drive belts, bulging hoses. Check tire pressure and look for abnormal wear. If you own a diesel, drain the water seperator, if equiped.
- Every 3000-6000 miles: Lubricate, Oil and Filter. Harsh conditions require more frequent service than highway miles. Even if you put very little mileage on a vehicle, it still should be done twice a year. A running engine produces gases in the crankcase that break down the oil, even while the vehicle sits. I do mine on 5000 mile intervals to coincide with:
- Every 5000 miles: Tire rotation. Front tires usually wear faster than rears because they get some side slip from cornering and have more up and down movement than the rears. It's best to rotate the tires before abnormal wear becomes apparent. When rotating, cross the tires from one axle left to right while rotating the other two front to back. This ensures that the each tire ends up on a different corner of the vehicle than previously, matching the wear patterns on all four. It is acceptable to have a radial tire rotate in a different direction than before providing its tread is not designed to rotate in one direction only. Some high performance tires are directional, as well as some dress wheels. It's easier to remember to rotate your tires if you have it done with another service. If you feel your vehicle needs the oil changed every 3000 miles, then rotate your tires every other time.
- Once a year: Have all the lights, the windshield wipers, battery and cables, charging and starting systems, belts and hoses checked and serviced as needed. Have the radiator and air conditioning condenser fins cleaned out. If you can find a shop with a policy of giving credit for any refrigerant recovered from you vehicle's air conditioning system, have the system recovered, evacuated to remove moisture and recharged. Have the entire vehicle inspected for leaks, and the cooling system and radiator cap pressure tested.
- Every 15000 miles: Complete vehicle inspection including brakes, chassis fluid levels and steering and suspension components for wear. The wheel bearings, if servicable, should be cleaned and repacked and the brake caliper slides cleaned and lubed. Have the wheel alignment checked. Have the cooling system ph checked to prevent leaks due to gasket or hose deterioration from electrolysis. In areas with highly alkiline water have the cooling system chemically treated and flushed.
The air and fuel filters should be replaced and if you own a very old car (conventional ignition or carburated), it's time for a tune-up. Diesel vehicles should have a special conditioner added to their cooling system at this time. The additive prevents deterioration of the cylinder walls. The amount depends on cooling system capacity, but the minimum recommended is 4 oz per gallon (does not apply to vehicles filled with extended- or long-life antifreeze).
- Every 30,000 miles: This should be the first really major service for your vehicle. The services listed above should be done as well as the following. If you have green (non-extened or long life) coolant, it should be drained and replaced, possibly the system flushed. The trans fluid should be drained and the filter cleaned or replaced. Even if the engine is running fine, at least have the computer system checked for trouble codes and the engine scope analyzed for potential problems. If your vehicle is five years or older, its probably time for a tune-up including an injector service. If you own a diesel, consider having the injection pump timing and glow plug system checked. Diesels also need to have the conditioner added to their cooling system during the service--4 oz per gallon total cooling system capacity is the minimum, 9.6 oz per gallon maximum (does not apply to vehicles filled with extended- or long-life antifreeze).
- At 60,000 miles: It's pretty much the same as a 30,000 mile service, except that cars newer than five years old should have the spark plugs changed and the fuel injectors serviced. Most of these vehicles don't have the ignition components of the past, and the spark plugs are the only parts
that wear. If the throttle body is not deposit resistant, it and the idle by-pass ports should be cleaned as well. If the hoses and belts are original, it would be a good idea to replace them at this point. If your car has a timming belt, it may be time to have it replaced.
- At around 100,000 miles you should have the axle lube changed if your vehicle is a rear or four wheel drive, as well as manual transmission fluid drained and replaced. Vehicles with extended- or long-life antifreeze should have the cooling system drained and flushed, and refilled with new antifreeze of the same type and color along with distilled or demineralized water.
If the timing belt has not already been replaced, this is about the maximum mileage recommended by most manufacturers, so have it done to prevent being stranded or causing major internal engine damage. If the car has a timing chain, have it inspected for wear or loosness.
The above services
can be done by yourself (excluding those requiring special equipment) or by any shop, not necessarily the dealer. Some shops offer free multi-point inspections and services that cover many of the above items. However, it is a good idea to check with the dealer service department as they have access to bulletins and recalls that others may not know about.
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