How Important is Regular Vehicle Maintenance?
All new cars come with a vehicle maintenance log, and many new and used car dealers offer maintenance service plans, but what’s the big deal? Is “regular vehicle maintenance” just another way for dealership service centers to get another dollar out of your wallet, or is there something more?
After buying a new or used car, some owners rarely put another thought into vehicle maintenance, other than filling the fuel tank and washing. Of course, these things are necessary to get from place to place and to look good – washing the car also prevents corrosion, though. What about that maintenance log?
The Cost of Vehicle Maintenance
In addition to car payments, refueling costs, and car insurance premiums, be sure to set aside time and money for maintenance service. Still, how much does vehicle maintenance cost? The answer depends much on what vehicle you drive and where and how you drive it, but here is a general guideline:
- Engine Oil and Filter Change – $25 to $75, depending mostly on oil type and quantity;
- Tire Rotation – $0 to $50, because some shops won’t charge if you bought their tires;
- 30K Service – $175 to $600, depending on year/make/model;
- 90K Service – $250 to $1,300, depending on year/make/model (Timing Belt and Water Pump can significantly inflate costs);
- Other service items – you can check Auto City’s pricing on core maintenance items to have an idea of general costs.
Unfortunately, a recent AAA study revealed that fully one-third of car owners don’t have money set aside for maintenance or unexpected repairs, some 64 million drivers. Judging by typical maintenance service costs, AAA went on to suggest that drivers set aside $50 per month in a separate account for just such an occurrence, though you may need to adjust your savings plan, depending on your vehicles and driving habits. Warranty status and high-mileage vehicles might require $80 to $100 per month to make sure everything is covered.
The Cost of Ignoring Maintenance Service
While the price of vehicle maintenance may seem daunting, the cost of ignoring maintenance logs can be even higher. The average automobile is made up of some 30,000 parts, making up a complex electrical, electronic, mechanical, chemical, and hydraulic system. Over time, lubricants and coolants break down, belts and tires wear out, and light bulbs and spark plugs burn out. Failing to maintain these systems might save a couple hundred dollars per year in maintenance, but could end up costing thousands of dollars in unexpected repair bills, not to mention money lost to fuel economy losses. So, how much could ignoring vehicle maintenance cost? Here are a few examples:
Skipping Engine Oil Changes might save the average driver $60 to $180 per year, but lubricant breakdown would lead to internal engine wear and catastrophic engine damage. Considering a major engine rebuild could cost $1,500 to $3,000 every other year, we can’t see where the savings is.
Skipping Tire Rotations and Wheel Alignments might save the average driver $50 to $250 per year, or a couple hours in the waiting room, but abnormal tire wear would quickly ruin a set of tires. Some vehicles and tires are very sensitive to rotations and alignments and, with annual tire replacement running from $500 to $800 on average, any savings in time and money is quickly eliminated.
Skipping the 90K Service, on a vehicle with a timing belt, might save $600 to $1,300 dollars every 7.5 years, or $80 to $175 per year, but a broken timing belt could be disastrous. At a minimum, a broken timing belt might leave you stranded, holding a tow bill, and paying for a new timing belt. At worst, on interference engines, bent valves would add an additional $600 to $1,500 to the tow bill and timing belt replacement. Again, there’s just no good reason, financial or otherwise, to skip maintenance services.
A Typical Vehicle Maintenance Program
The typical vehicle maintenance program covers three basic areas: fluids, adjustments, parts. Because things wear out over time, they need to be constantly brought back into alignment, so to speak. For example, engine oil lubricates moving parts and routes heat away from the cylinders, but also slowly oxidizes over time. Similarly, brake pads wear ever so slightly every time you apply them, and tire pressure varies, depending on the weather.
Of course, this is just a general guideline, and most manuals and shops offer service “packages,” combining multiple services into a single visit. A typical “30K Service” might include: Engine Oil and Filter Change, Engine Air Filter Replacement, Cabin Air Filter Replacement, Wiper Blades Replacement, Fluid Inspection and Top-Off, Tire Rotation and Pressure Adjustment, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) Reset, General Lubrication, General Inspection, and a Car Wash. Here are some of the typical maintenance items that most cars require, depending on year, make, and model (YMM).
- Engine Oil – Changed periodically, usually between 5,000 and 10,000 miles, depending on YMM;
- Transmission Fluid – Inspected periodically, but many new cars do not recommend replacement;
- Engine Coolant – Inspected periodically, usually replaced somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 miles;
- Brake Fluid – Inspected periodically, often ignored. Experts suggest complete replacement every 20,000 miles;
- Differential Lubricants – Inspected periodically, especially all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles;
- General Lubrication – Hinges and latches require periodic light application of lubricant;
- Windshield Washer – Inspected and topped off regularly, depending on usage.
- Tire Pressure – Suggested to check and adjust monthly, depending on weather and TPMS activation;
- Parking Brake – Adjusted periodically to account for cable stretch and shoe wear;
- Drum Brakes – Cleaned and adjusted periodically to eliminate dust and account for shoe wear;
- Alignment – Adjusted periodically to keep maintain directional stability and prevent abnormal tire wear;
- Tire Rotation – Swap tire positions periodically to spread wear patterns over the whole set of tires;
- Valve Clearance – Periodically adjusted to reduce noise and maintain engine power and efficiency.
- Spark Plugs – Replaced periodically, from 60,000 to 120,000 miles, to maintain engine power and efficiency;
- Cabin Air Filter – Replaced periodically, from 6 to 12 months, depending on dust and pollen collected;
- Engine Air Filter – Replaced periodically, from 15,000 to 30,000 miles, depending on dust and pollen collected;
- Drum Brakes – Replaced when worn;
- Disc Brakes – Replaced when worn;
- Wheel Bearings – Inspected periodically, adjusted or replaced when worn or loose;
- Lights – Inspected periodically, replaced when blown;
- Wiper Blades – Replaced periodically, from 3 to 6 months, to maintain forward visibility;
- Drive Belts – Inspected periodically, adjusted or replaced when worn or loose;
- Timing Belt – Replaced every 90,000 to 100,000 miles, to prevent breakage and possible engine damage;
- Water Pump – Inspected periodically for leaks, replaced worn or leaking or every 90,000 to 100,000 miles;
- Shock Absorbers – Inspected periodically, replaced when worn or leaking;
- Suspension & Steering – Inspected periodically, parts replaced when worn, leaking, or broken;
Each vehicle has its own maintenance service schedule, usually included in the owner’s manual or owner’s manual supplement. If your vehicle didn’t come with a maintenance manual, ask your dealer for a copy or download it, free, from JustGiveMeTheDamnManual.com.
No matter what conspiracy theorists and naysayers might claim, there is a very good reason to set aside time and money for vehicle maintenance. A well-maintained vehicle, inside and outside, looks better, runs better, performs better, and consumes less fuel. It’ll also break down less often, saving you time. When it comes time to sell your car, a well-maintained vehicle keeps it value. Talk with one of our experts at the service department to set up a vehicle maintenance schedule for you and your vehicle.