When was the last time you read through your car owner’s manual?
If it’s been awhile—say, since the day you drove your car off the lot—it’s a good idea to thumb through it again. Along with listing how to program your radio presets, your car manual contains important details on what needs to be serviced and maintained, and when it needs to get done.
“Right within the book it breaks down the maintenance and services,” says Todd Ehrsam, shop manager at Bullitt Automotive in Tempe, Arizona. Here’s why that’s important: Service requirements can vary significantly from one car make and model to another. Depending on your car, your service appointment may be at 5,000 miles—or 15,000.
Skipping service appointments can be inconvenient, dangerous, expensive, or all three. So grab that manual out of the glove box, and let’s break down the ins and outs of keeping your car in great shape.
When to Schedule Service Appointments
Typically, service appointments are scheduled either by time (how long it’s been since your last appointment) or miles (how many miles you’ve driven since your last appointment). The manual will tell you the specific time or mileage windows, and most new cars come equipped with dashboard alerts to jog your memory.
“Usually I recommend going by mileage versus time, because some people don’t drive as much as others,” says Kyle Lint, certified Toyota mechanic, Advanced Level Master Technician, and owner of Lint Automotive in California’s Orange County.
Whichever rubric you turn to, make these maintenance appointments a priority. “Regular service is the single most important thing you should do if you depend on your vehicle for work, pleasure, or really anything,” says Lint.
During the service appointment, your mechanic will work through the checklist provided by your manual. The newer your car—and the fewer miles it has—the less service it’ll require. For your car's first 30,000 to 60,000 miles, simple services suffice: oil changes, tire rotations, and other low-cost inspections and updates. With more miles, more involved servicing becomes necessary. Your 90,000-mile service is usually the first big one, says Lint, requiring spark plugs, transmission fluid, and axle fluid, as well as replacements for the cabin filters (if your car has them).
The specifics for your particular car are outlined in the manual, so take it with you to your appointment. Or, write down a list before you head into the mechanic’s shop. (Lost the manual? Just search online for a PDF version using your car’s make and model.)