Car Maintenance by the Mile: What Your Mechanic Isn’t Telling You

Celebrate the day the odometer rolls over with these tips for car maintenance at different mileage milestones.

Automotive manufacturers, dealers, and mechanics recommend a lot of mileage-based car maintenance checkups, but do you ever wonder if you really need them? I mean you just got your oil changed, right?

We decided to check out some of the most common mileage milestones and explain why they’re actually needed (along with how often) so you can keep your car running smoothly without spending more than you have to.

(Note: this guide is for a normal, well-maintained car. Heavy-duty vehicles, for instance, may need additional attention. But regardless, if your “check engine” light is on or something isn’t working right … get it checked!)

Oil change

First, let’s talk oil. Although oil should be changed on a fairly regular basis, you probably don’t need to change it as often as you’ve been told. A commonly cited number is 3,000 miles — but that’s a bit overcautious.

For the last few years, manufacturers have been backing away from the 3,000-mile recommendation because that number is based on older, less efficient oils that were used decades ago. Today, because of the improved lifespan of synthetic oils, many manufacturers suggest a change every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. In fact, getting an oil change every 3,000 miles can actually be wasteful.

There are some reasons you might want to change it more often, however. Driving that includes a lot of stopping or slowing, for example, will put more strain on the engine and use up more oil, so if that’s you, you’ll want to get your oil changed more than once every 7,500 miles. But even then, 3,000 is still too often.

Tip: remember to get a new oil filter too. It should be replaced every time you change your oil. It’s $10 — just do it.

Scheduled servicing

Scheduled services are recommended by the manufacturer to ensure that your car doesn’t fall apart before it’s “supposed to,” and you’re often required to stick to this car maintenance timetable to keep your warranty intact.

Each car has a different schedule, though, so when in doubt, check your owner’s manual.

15,000 miles

About 15,000 miles down the road, most vehicles are due for their first service. This initial round isn’t too demanding, but it can still run you around $200. It should include an oil change, air filter, tire rotation, and inspection of key parts like the brake and cooling systems.

30,000 miles

This one will cost you a little more; expect to pay upwards of $500. Why is that? Well, in addition to all of the items on the 15,000-mile itinerary, this service includes new transmission fluid, a fuel filter, and a more thorough inspection.

Your mechanic might also suggest changing your spark plugs at this point. Not necessary! There are different levels of spark plug quality, but few need to be changed every 30,000 miles. In fact, you likely don’t even need to change the transmission fluid at this point.

45,000 miles

This milestone requires pretty much the same servicing as the 15,000 mark. If you haven’t changed the transmission fluid already, do that now.

60,000 miles

In addition to the items included in the 30,000-mile service, at 60,000 miles you’ll want to replace all the belts, valves, and hoses that are wearing thin. Depending on the type of spark plugs you have, now would be a reasonable time to switch those out as well.

100,000 miles

When you finally hit the big 100k, it’s time for the ultimate checkup. It’s a nice round number, your car has served you well, and it’s time to go all-out … right? Well, not necessarily.

There are a few items that generally don’t get addressed until 100,000 miles or more (orange coolant, long-life spark plugs), but 100,000 is nothing special — at least not in terms of car maintenance. If the car’s still running 100,000 miles down the road, you’ve already got the hang of it.

For more inspiration, check out Irvin Gordon’s 3 million mile Volvo. You probably shouldn’t expect to match that, but it’s nice to know that it can be done! Your car can live a long, healthy life if you know how and when to maintain it.

Related post

4 reasons not to panic when your check engine light goes on
6 important types of car fluid

13 Responses to “Car Maintenance by the Mile: What Your Mechanic Isn’t Telling You”

  1. MrO11
    May 16, 2013 #

    quite helpful, thanks!

  2. bruce
    December 22, 2013 #

    Should warn about timing belt replacement around the 100k mark.

  3. Marina
    April 23, 2014 #

    Here's another one from a retired mechanic: Tire rotation! Many shops are VERY aggressive and almost demand that they should rotate your tires at least once a year (which you pay for, plus that you need to pay for all the "faults" they find in the process). This is merely a money-making scheme. Modern passenger cars don't need their tires rotated, like, ever (trucks are another story, particularly if they are used for hauling or towing). If your tires wear unevenly your suspension may be worn out or the wheel alignment may be off; rotating tires won't fix that, just hide it.

    And another one: Suspension! This isn't only for racing mods or sports cars; ordinary, boring going-to-work cars need their struts replaced after about 50,000 miles or so. Some earlier. I can tell very many do not do that, as their cars go around curves like an old sack of rocks, need excessive distance to stop and their tires are excessively worn.

    • Stephen Powell
      May 8, 2014 #

      Tire Rotation is required by all Tire Manufactures to get a wear related warranty claim ,the first thing required is Proof of rotation. Do we do a inspection of all items yes, we call it a Courtesy inspection ,no cost. most common thing found? Low on Fluids, bulb out,torn wiper Blades & under inflated tires

      • Marina
        June 3, 2014 #

        Yeah, because tire rotation is something that can be documented; that tires have been properly inflated at all time cannot. One must have some kind of standards.
        And of course you have a point; most people are so sloppy about maintenance that if they can be duped into thinking tire rotation is absolutely necessary then at least there's some hope a competent mechanic get a squint at the car at regular intervals and can inflate the tires properly and hint at the need to replace worn struts, brakes, and wipers and that the front end need to be realigned.
        Kind of like adult supervision.

      • Anny Body
        August 13, 2014 #

        Many tire sellers (Costco, Walmart, Sears) offer free rotation for life.

      • Stan howerton
        August 16, 2014 #

        My good friends at my local Goodyear dealer rotates my styling 20's on my Tahoe every 5000 miles free of charge,and all I do is pull in the lot and thier on it

    • D. macleoud
      May 23, 2014 #

      I don't agree with you on the tire rotation. On the struts you if feel them being sloppy change them if not why would you spend that amount of cash on something that doesn't need it?

  4. Good tips in the comments, thanks people.
    Trent it sounds like you found a good one. I've been lucky to not have needed a mechanic other than the usual oil change, tires, etc. which are pretty easy to determine if you're getting screwed or not.

    November 12, 2014 #

    Good tips thanks

  6. Tammy Reed
    November 15, 2014 #

    Very useful tips! Thanks!

  7. 911
    November 24, 2014 #

    I work on cars on a regular basis and can tell you from personal experience that tire rotation IS necessary!! I've seen tires on the front worn down so bad that they are mostly bald while the rears are in decent shape. Suspension was fine. Only thing not done – tire rotation. Think of what happens when you brake. All the weight shifts to the front. Even with good suspension your fronts will take a lot more wear than the rears. What about cornering? Your fronts are what turn and take extra wear. Most cars are front engine and not weight distributed so car is heavier in front than back so guess what that means? More wear in front!!

  8. R-man
    December 30, 2014 #

    Thanks for the tip! Yes we need a tire rotation but not as often as what some stupid mechanic out there is recommending. Like what I'm experiencing right now, I got one tire rotation done mid this year and they want another one before the end of the year… How was that? Easy money ha!.. Sorry no time for that, spend the money on milk and diaper rather than on money making recommendation! Car maintenance is a boom business… That's the reality!

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