Are Car Maintenance Interval Suggestions Completely Bogus?

In light of our recent used van purchase I thought I would brush on a topic that I feel is very important; proper vehicle maintenance.

It’s very important to keep your car maintained well, be it old, new to you, or even brand new. Keeping up with maintenance on your car will not only help you daily as you will get better gas mileage, but it will help your car last as long as intended by the manufacture and keep you and your family safe when you are out there on the roadway.

As for who is doing my car maintenance, I have been using the same mechanic for some time and although I have had a few weird things happen there (I’ll go over those a little later), I do trust the regular guys  at the shop and know they are looking out for my best interest.

More than once have I been without my wallet (I don’t carry a conventional wallet and far too often forget it at home or at the office, I know that’s really bad!) and they don’t hold the car ransom or anything, even when I had some major break work done and the bill was quite large. They let me take the car and trust that I will get them paid as soon as possible. Once they under-billed me and basically gave me a free service visit and when I noticed and brought it to their attention, they told me not to worry about it. I’m really glad these guys were confident enough in their service that they took an out of the ordinary approach to building a customer base.

Here’s where I put a little spin on things. I was reading online about oil changes for some reason, I can’t recall, and I came across a thread discussing the many variations on the mileage requirement placed on vehicles and at different vehicle service centers before service is required. You know, those little stickers they put on your window telling you when to come back for your next oil change.

I thought that the standard maintenance interval was every 5,000 miles between oil changes and that’s what I’ve been doing since I first started driving. I stuck to that and always ignored the little sticker that service centers put on my window, assuming that the sticker read 5,000 miles as well, but when I actually did look at the sticker and did the math, I realized that they were putting my next visit at 3,000 miles, not 5,000.

What I found online was even more shocking! I saw many variations to this ranging from 2,000 miles before an oil change to 10,000 miles. The only real constant I saw was that you should consult your vehicles owner’s manual, so when we got our new car, that’s exactly what I did.

Here’s what I found: Two completely different sets of maintenance guidelines.

The first one was for ideal conditions, probably only fit for California residence with good road conditions, perfect weather and exceptional driving habits. This schedule said that for our 05 Kia Sedona in these conditions, you should get the oil changed every 7,500 miles.

The second set of guidelines was for anything out of the perfect conditions, and specifically for areas known for conditions that make your car squirm; those that salt roads when it snows, have higher altitudes, and don’t maintain their roads. They could have just put my address on these guidelines as each of them described the conditions that I drive in day in and day out. The maintenance schedule for these conditions was 3,000 miles!

So my question to you is, do you follow your mechanic’s guidelines, consult your owner’s manual, or follow your instincts when it comes to vehicle maintenance?

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15 People have left comments on this post

» KevinNo Gravatar said: { Oct 6, 2010 - 09:10:42 }

My mom always told me to do 5000 miles so that's what I do without any problems. I always noticed the sticker say 3000 but I've never followed that advice. That would be way too much money and I don't think it would do anything positive for my vehicle.
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Since I have been driving the same car my whole adult life, and bought it brand new, I can actually feel when it needs some work. We are one 🙂 but I agree, I never start to feel the car acting a bit sluggish till about 4500 miles which is also around when my mileage starts to dip a bit, then I book my next service appointment.

» [email protected]No Gravatar said: { Oct 6, 2010 - 12:10:56 }

I tend to keep oil changes at every 3000 miles regardless. That seems to avoid a lot of problems. But I think we can get carried away with scheduled maintenance too. There's the part of me that thinks there's also the dealer revenue stream embedded in that schedule as well. For example, some books will recommend changing belts and hoses every so many miles, but if they aren't worn or cracked what's the point?

I'm with you on the "feel' of the car, that tells a lot. No matter what you do or don't do on the maintenance side, somethings will still wear out or break, more on some vehicles than with others.
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Yea, I wonder what actually went into the recommendations in the owner's manual originally. How much research, what road conditions, or was it all just about making more money?

If it aint broke, don't fix it, right?

» Money FunkNo Gravatar said: { Oct 7, 2010 - 10:10:29 }

I was doing 3K when I put the regular stuff in. Now I am using Synthetic, but you're right…the car shop still puts the sticker for 3K, because that is what is under my 'cars guidelines'.
I guess if they put different than what is stated from your car guide instead of holding to what the oil guidelines, they could be held liable? But now that I am using synthetic, I change it every 5-6K. My husband's car only needs to be changed every 10K! Would love that, especially with all the driving I do. And yes, I do keep my car maintained like clockwork. Never had any major problems with it so far (knock on wood).
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

That brings up another point, is Synthetic worth the cost? It is what, twice the cost of regular oil? and if you are paying twice the cost per oil change, but visiting half as frequently, I wonder if the benefit to the car is enough?

Of course, even if the cost is the same in the end, the cost of the time it takes to get the car worked on is a factor. I would prefer to visit the mechanic less if possible 🙂

What kind of car does your husband drive?

PS I bet they would be held liable, good point!

» BruceNo Gravatar said: { Oct 8, 2010 - 01:10:59 }

Notes from a mechanic
Your questions about oil change frequency and Synthetic vs. Regular oils are very common, and hopefully I can explain them in simple terms, without resorting to techno-babble.
Oil in your engine does two things, reduces friction and seals the microscopic imperfections between the pistons and the cylinders. The lubrication is accomplished when the oil leaves a microscopic film between two moving, metal parts. Oil helps seal the combustion chamber by providing a thin, frictionless sealing material between piston rings and the cylinder walls.
Regular oil, being a refined "natural" product, is comprised of different, but related, molecules of different sizes. Synthetic oil is manufactured compound that is comprised of molecules that are all the same size. This allows synthetic oil to coat the parts more evenly. It also allows manufactures to design engines that have closer tolerances, because less oil is needed to maintain the level of lubrication. Older engines have more space between the metal parts to allow for enough regular oil to coat the parts where it is needed.

BruceNo Gravatar Reply:

Oil breaks down when it absorbs the by-products from the cylinder walls, typically the acids and other nasty things that do not get expelled through the exhaust. Most of these by-products are created when the engine is running in "non optimal" conditions, like you noted, not travelling at highway speeds, on a level road in California, and not being brought up to operating temperatures first. When the level of toxins in the oil goes up, the efficiency of the oil goes down. That is why oil change frequency is based on driving patterns and conditions, and not just mileage.
In vehicles that have been designed for synthetic oil, the closer tolerances mean that less of the oil is exposed to the by-products (thinner film required to seal things) and therefore the oil takes longer to break down, and needs to be changed less often. Note this is due to the engine design and not the oil, so you shouldn’t base your oil change intervals just on the type of oil you happen to be using either.

BruceNo Gravatar Reply:

In vehicles that have not been designed with tighter tolerances, synthetic oil is just a waste of money, because it is exposed to just as much acid and stuff as the regular oil and will absorb just as much. (Maybe, just maybe there is synthetic oil that has an additive in it that will absorb the toxic by-products better than regular oil, but why wouldn’t they put it in regular oil as well?) Likewise, putting regular oil in a vehicle designed for synthetic is not good as the oil does not have enough room to lubricate the engine properly, and that will shorten the life, or increase the repair bills, of your vehicle.
Hope this answers you questions.

Sorry I couldn't answer in shorter form 😉

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Thank you Bruce! I love when someone like you comes along with a background in the discussion topic and sheds some serious light on our questions! That is really helpful to know.

» BobNo Gravatar said: { Oct 8, 2010 - 03:10:27 }

My newer Civic has a computer that tells me when to change my oil – after 2 years I am averaging about 5,100 mi per oil change. Sometimes more, but I just do it every 4 months (3X a year) and do it myself (avg about 4,400 mi per change). Other than cost, there is little downside to changing your oil more frequently. Clean oil lubricates better and keeps your engine cleaner.

I use synthetic and buy enough for a couple of changes whenever it is on sale. Combined with a premium filter I can change my oil for $20-$25. Local shops would be $50+++ for full synthetic change, so the savings are significant.

If I used conventional oil, I would change it every 3 months. I did that on my last car and at 200K miles it was still going strong!

And always recycle your oil properly if you DIY

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I've thought long and hard about doing my own oil changes. The place I take it too changes a fair price and does it very quick, but they are right there on my threshold so that if they start to do things differently, I may be trying my own hand at it.

I hope that my little Corolla can last another 100k miles!

» KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Oct 8, 2010 - 08:10:54 }

I've always read that with newer cars you can extend those intervals. Actually my 98 Cavalier suggested every 5,000 miles and 100,000 between tune-ups!
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Ya I thnk each car has it's own specifications. You would think newer cars would extend the interval, but who knows! 🙂

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