Understanding Your Car's Maintenance Schedule: A Guide for New Car Owners
Congratulations on your new vehicle! A new set of wheels is always exciting, whether you’re new to driving, have just made your first-ever purchase or have traded up to a new ride. Or maybe the folks are letting you take the car to campus and – yay! – you’re in charge of its ongoing care now.
We at your Mullinax dealership want you to enjoy your precious automotive baby for as long as possible. We can answer any questions you may have, but the best way to achieve that goal is to pay close attention to your maintenance schedule. It helps ensure that your vehicle will look great, run great and take you to wonderful places until you are ready to say goodbye and invest in your next truck, car or SUV.
Here’s what should be on the maintenance GPS for anyone behind the wheel of a new (or new-to-them) vehicle:
Step 1: Read the owner’s manual.
Seriously – READ. THE. OWNER’S. MANUAL.
Your owner’s manual is specific to your vehicle and contains a detailed maintenance schedule that you and your mechanics can follow to ensure optimum performance. It spells our when you should have oil changes, tire rotations, brake inspections, filter replacements and other tasks done. It also addresses service schedules for extreme conditions: weather such as severe heat or cold, but also hauling heavy loads, travel on rough or mountainous roads, driving in dusty, salty or muddy conditions or in areas where corrosive materials might be on the roads.
Following the maintenance schedule ensures that your vehicle warranty remains valid and in effect. If you miss recommended service and something goes wrong, you can be out of pocket for the fix. Potentially expensive repairs often can be avoided by performing regular maintenance and practicing safe driving habits.
One thing you can learn from the manual is that your vehicle needs both regular and scheduled maintenance. What’s the difference? Regular maintenance includes work that needs to be done on an ongoing basis, such as:
- Oil changes. Most vehicles today run on synthetic oil, so they can go 5,000 to 10,000 miles between oil changes. Check your manual to se what the manufacturer recommends for your vehicle. The place you go for oil changes will usually put a reminder sticker on your windshield with more the mileage and date of your next visit. But… that doesn’t mean you have no responsibility. Check the oil level every couple of weeks and before any long road trips.
- Tire rotation. Tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, on average – again, check the manual for your specific vehicle and equipment – and you can discuss the schedule with your mechanic and have this done at the same time as an oil change. You should check your tires regularly, however, to make sure they are not over- or underinflated and that you still have sufficient tread depth.
Scheduled maintenance is work that is recommended at certain mileage intervals, including:
Before 30,000 miles
- Change the air filter. Clogged air filters affect how your engine breathes, which in turn can lower performance. Most manufacturers recommend changing the air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles and, as will a tire rotation, can be scheduled during an oil change appointment.
- Change the fuel filter. Clogged fuel filters can make the vehicle run rough or stop it altogether. Some manufacturers suggest replacing the fuel filter as early as 30,000 miles. Your owner’s manual will should have specifics for your vehicle. You can also ask your mechanic to perform a pressure test to determine if/when you need a new filter.
Before 60,000 miles
- Replace the battery. Batteries are designed to wear out and their warranties are based on time, not mileage. Most will last four or five years – about 50,000 to 60,000 miles, on average – though age, extreme temperatures and periods of non-use can affect battery life. Ask your mechanic to test the battery to see how well it holds a charge. Oh, and ask the mechanic to make sure the terminals are free of dirt and corrosion too.
- Replace brake fluid. Your brakes work on a hydraulic system. When water gets in, it contaminates the fluid, lowering its boiling point and turning it into a gas. The gas is compressible, and the result is “squishy” brakes. For best performance, the brake system needs to be bled and replaced with new fluid. Most manufacturers recommend doing this task every 20,000 to 45,000 miles.
- Replace brake pads and shoes. These items are designed to wear out, usually at or before 50,000 miles and often screech when they need to be replaced. Ask your mechanic to check them on a regular basis.
Other systems to replace around this time include:
- Brake rotors – at roughly 60,000 miles.
- Coolant – plan to replace it at 60,000 miles and ask your mechanic to flush the cooling system at the same time.
- Transmission fluid – low fluid levels here can cause shifting problems and even burn up the transmission. Automatic transmission fluid can last from 30,000 to more than 100,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual and talk to your mechanic about this one.
Before 90,000 miles
- Check the power steering fluid. Low power steering fluid will cause problems with steering. Have the power steering fluid flushed around 75,000 miles, or when problems arise.
- Check the timing belt or chain. Most vehicles these days have timing chains rather than belts – which is good, because a broken timing belt could cause catastrophic damage and leave you on the side of the road. Chains are more durable and can last more than 100,000 miles. But the links can stretch, so ask your mechanic to take a look at it when you get close to this mileage point.
These are some checks that drivers should take care of themselves on a regular basis:
- Lights. All of them – fog lights, turn signals, brake lights and parking lights. Non-working headlights are usually obvious, but the others… not so much. Once a month or so, take a walk around the vehicle and make sure they’re all working.
- Windshield wiper fluid. There are few things more annoying – and potentially dangerous – than a dusty/dirty windshield and no wiper fluid. Check the reservoir regularly and fill it up when necessary.
- Belts and hoses. Check the serpentine belt and other belts in the engine compartment for glazing, cracking or fraying. Ask your mechanic to replace any that have cracks or bulges. You can also ask the mechanic to check the hoses during an oil change.
- Wiper blades. Worn wiper blades can be a safety hazard. Inspect them seasonally –or more often if you live in extreme weather areas – and have them replaced if they are damaged or can no longer clear your windshield.
Finally, when you’re driving, stay alert to your warning systems and the way your vehicle is responding. Seek service immediately if your check engine or tire pressure lights come on. Visit your mechanic if you notice any softness in the brake pedal; if your car stalls or has trouble starting; if you feel the vehicle shaking during starting, turning or stopping; or if you notice changes in acceleration or shifting.
Remember that maintenance, performed at regular or specified intervals, can keep your vehicle in good shape and on the road for a long time. Contact us with your maintenance concerns - -we’re here to answer your questions during or after the sale and to help you make the most of your new vehicle.