Advice from Intellichoice: Maintenance Overview

Automakers do sometimes build cars that should have “headache” written on the side. But happily, most modern cars, no matter the make or model, are darned impressive machines - especially if they’re given periodic care. Though new cars are expensive to buy these days, the good news is that they’re capable of lasting longer than ever.

With frequent oil changes - perhaps the most important maintenance task of all - most modern car engines are capable of going 150,000 miles or more without major repairs. Tires are sometimes warranted for 80,000 miles and exhaust systems for the life of the car. Even minor maintenance and tune-ups are required much less often on new vehicles. Most automakers build engines that shouldn’t need a tune-up for 100,000 miles!

Regular maintenance includes all services required to maintain the car’s warranty, services suggested by the manufacturer to ensure trouble-free operation, and other regular service, such as tune-ups and replacing brake pads, tires, fluids and filters.

Extended Service Intervals: In the (really) old days, cars required routine service every few hundred miles. During the '60s and '70s, 3,000 mile oil and lubrication service intervals were the norm. Today, some automakers have stretched recommended oil changes to 7,500 miles or more, while chassis components are sealed so they never need lubrication. There’s no question that technology has eliminated or reduced the need for several routine service chores.

Electronic ignitions, for instance, have greatly prolonged the life of spark plugs. But when it comes to oil, many mechanics question the whole business of extended service intervals. They still prefer to see the oil changed every 3,000 miles or so; after all, oil is an engine’s life-blood. Automaker recommendations can be tricky. In the fine print of the owner’s manual, some automakers specify extended intervals for cars used in “normal driving,” which they define as high-speed, highway driving. They classify puttering around town as “severe driving,” to which the extended intervals don’t apply. Extended service intervals certainly have one drawback: If your mechanic sees your car less often he has fewer opportunities to spot potential problems, which makes it all the more important for you to inspect your car frequently.

(See “The Ten-Minute Technical Inspection”)

Maintenance Warranties

Several manufacturers include maintenance warranties on either some or all of their models. Maintenance warranties cover the services required to maintain a new vehicle’s overall warranty - typically, oil changes, spark plugs, cooling systems, air filters and air conditioning filters. Additionally, most four-year maintenance warranties will cover brake pad replacement (if necessary). However, no maintenance warranty covers tire replacement. Maintenance warranties can span from one to four years. The actual dollar value of a maintenance warranty ranges from nothing (if you don’t take advantage of it) to several hundred or a thousand dollars for four years of maintenance. Most of the really costly maintenance services occur after three years, e.g. brake pad replacement, cooling system repairs and battery replacement. This is important to remember when comparing a three-year maintenance warranty to a four-year warranty.

Wax and Polish
Many a love affair with a vehicle is based on appearances. Today, thanks to automobile detailers, the affair doesn’t necessarily have to dim with age. With a combination of skill, elbow grease and the right products, a professional detailer can keep a car looking like new almost indefinitely. Of course, if you have the time and the inclination, you can detail your car yourself. But whether you hire a professional or do the job yourself, detailing your car once or twice a year should be part of your routine maintenance program. It isn’t an extravagance; it’s protection for your considerable investment. An old car that looks new will have the highest resale value.