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.

2 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.

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