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Every Car Needs a Little R&R
Car Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to get my new car serviced at the dealer? Absolutely. YOU CAN


The new-vehicle warranty is designed to protect both the manufacturer and consumer. It warrants certain parts of the vehicle for a specified period of time or a specific number of miles. It also limits the manufacturers’ liability beyond those points.

Knowing what’s covered, and what’s not, is important for all concerned. So the specific coverage, detailed in the warranty statement that comes with each vehicle, is important information for both consumers and repair shops alike.

Some owners fear that they’ll void the warranty if the manufacturer’s dealership doesn’t service their new vehicle. According to the federal Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, you can have your vehicle serviced by any competent independent service station, shop or garage and still maintain your warranty.

In addition, you can use any brand-name quality parts to service the vehicle; the manufacturer cannot require you to use original equipment brand spark plugs, filters, oil, belts, hoses, brakes, wiper blades or any other parts unless they’re supplied for free.

All you have to do to keep your warranty in force is have the vehicle serviced at the intervals specified in your Owner’s Manual or Warranty Booklet, and keep careful records. Note that the manufacturer’s definition of “severe service” (which requires more frequent maintenance) may be what you consider normal driving.

Service receipts should list the date, odometer reading, make, model and vehicle identification number, and show all parts used. If there’s a service log in your Owner’s Manual or Warranty Booklet, fill it in for each service visit.

If your vehicle breaks down and the defective parts are still covered by your warranty, the dealer should make the repairs. Manufacturers rarely reimburse customers for warranty work done at independent shops, other than in emergency situations where one of their dealers is not readily available. But make sure the part really is covered by the warranty before you bring your vehicle to the dealer.

Many warranties are a package of different coverage’s for different time periods. The Basic Warranty covers most parts on the vehicle. Separate Emissions System Warranty programs exist for many makes and models, which may vary from state to state. See your Warranty Booklet for the specific emissions system warranty details for your vehicle.

A separate Powertrain Warranty may cover the engine, transmission and driveline for a longer period. It may have a $50 or $100 deductible that the vehicle owner must pay. Other equipment groups may be covered for varying periods of time.

The Corrosion Warranty pays for the repair of body parts, but only if rust eats a hole all the way through the metal. Paint bubbles, “cosmetic” rust or damage from paints scratches and industrial/environmental fallout is not usually covered.

Many imports offer a roadside assistance program – often provided by a car club such as AAA. These typically provide free towing, jump starts and other emergency services.

Read your owner’s Manual to find what is covered and what is your responsibility.

How do I communicate with my technician? Good communication between you and your R&R technician is

vital. Today’s cars, light trucks, and sport-utility vehicles are high-tech marvels with digital dashboards, oxygen sensors, electronic computers, unibody construction, and more. They run better, longer, and more efficiently than models of years past. But when it comes to repairs, some things stay the same. Whatever type of repair facility you patronize–dealership, service station, independent garage, specialty shop, or a national franchise–you want to know how to communicate with the technician working on your car.

The following tips should help you along the way: Read the owner’s guide to learn about the vehicle’s systems and components Follow the recommended service schedules. Keep a log of all repairs and service.

When you think about it, you know your car better than anyone else. You drive it every day and know how it feels and sounds when everything is right. So don’t ignore its warning signals. Use all of your senses to inspect your car frequently. Check for:

  • Unusual sounds, odors, drips, leaks, smoke, warning lights, gauge readings.
  • Changes in acceleration, engine performance, gas mileage, fluid levels.
  • Worn tires, belts, hoses.
  • Problems in handling, braking, steering, vibrations.
  • Note when the problem occurs. Is it constant or periodic?
  • When the vehicle is cold or after the engine has warmed up?
  • At all speeds? Only under acceleration? During braking? When shifting?
  • When did the problem first start?

Professionally run repair establishments have always recognized the importance of communications in automotive repairs. Once you you are at the repair establishment, communicate your findings. Be prepared to describe the symptoms. (In larger shops you’ll probably speak with a service writer/service manager rather than with the technician directly.)

Carry a written list of the symptoms that you can give to the technician or service manager.

Resist the temptation to suggest a specific course of repair. Just as you would with your physician, tell where it hurts and how long it’s been that way, but let the technician diagnose and recommend a remedy.

Stay involved. . . Ask questions.

Ask as many questions as you need. Do not be embarrassed to request lay definitions.

Don’t rush the service writer or technician to make an on-the-spot diagnosis. Ask to be called and apprised of the problem, course of action, and costs before work begins.

Before you leave, be sure you understand all shop policies regarding labor rates, guarantees, and acceptable methods of payment.

Leave a telephone number where you can be called.

How do I know when I need brake service?

You need a “brake Service” when your brake linings are worn down to the minimum acceptable thickness specified by the vehicle manufacturer or the applicable state agency in areas that set their own requirements.

The only way to determine if new linings are required, therefore, is to inspect the brakes. You may also need a brake service if you’re having brake problems such as grabbing, pulling, low or soft pedal, pedal vibration, noise, etc., or if some component in your brake system has failed. But if the problem is isolated to only one component, there’s no need to replace other parts that are still in perfectly good working order.

There is no specific mileage interval at which the brakes need to be relined because brake wear varies depending on how the vehicle is driven, the braking habits of the driver, the weight of the vehicle, the design of the brake system and a dozen other variables. A set of brake linings that last 70,000 miles or more on a car driven mostly on the highway may last only 30,000 or 40,000 miles on the same vehicle that is driven mostly in stop-and-go city traffic. As a rule, the front brakes wear out before the ones on the rear because the front brakes handle a higher percentage of the braking load — especially in front-wheel drive cars and minivans. So many service facilities advertise brake service “specials” that replace the linings on the front brakes only. Doing the front brakes is okay and can save you money as long as the rear brakes are in good condition. But if the rear brakes need attention, they should be relined too.

One of the problems with the brake specials you see advertised in the newspaper is that the price is very misleading. The price of a brake service depends entirely on the work that needs to be performed. So any advertised special is not a firm price, but only an estimate of the least amount of money it might cost you to get your brakes fixed. A price should not be quoted until after the brakes have been inspected. Then and only then can an accurate determination be made of the parts that actually need to be replaced.

What are CV Boots?

Constant Velocity (CV) Boot’s

Axles transmit the power from the transmission to the wheels. There are two axles on a front wheel drive car, one on the left and one on the right. Front wheel drive axles have two CV joints, one on either end of the axle. CV stands for “constant velocity”, which refers to their ability to smoothly transfer power at an angle. The inner CV joint slides in and out so the axle can increase and decease in length when the car goes over bumps. The outer CV joint allows about 45 degrees rotation so the front wheels can turn to go around corners. CV boots protect the CV joints. They keep dirt and grit out of the joint and keep the grease that lubricates the joint from flinging out. Most CV boots are made from rubber although there are some made from a harder plastic like material that seems to last longer. CV boots have a large end and a small end (see picture below). The large end is clamped to the CV joint and the small end is clamped to the axle. They have folds like an accordion to allow the CV joint to flex without tearing the boot. Over time the CV boots fatigue and tear from bending back and forth every time the car goes around a corner. Most of the time the outer CV boot is the one that tears, the inner CV boot usually lasts the life of the axle because it does not have to flex as much as the outer. CV boots can also be damaged by road hazards since they are close to the ground. When a CV boot tears it allows the grease to get out and the dirt to get in. The dirt and grit from the road mix with the grease to form an abrasive paste that ruins the CV joint. If a torn CV boot is noticed and repaired soon enough, then it can be replaced to prevent damage to the CV joint. A torn CV boot is the most common cause of CV joint failures.

If the outer CV joint is damaged the usual symptom is a clicking noise around corners. If the inner CV joint is damaged the car may vibrate or knock during acceleration. To test for CV joint noise we drive the car in circles in both directions with the gas and brake applied at the same time. This applies a load to the joint which usually makes the joint click louder if it’s bad. If you’re going to try this, be very careful because no drivers around you will be expecting you to make a U-turn to the right! If you hear axle noise when turning to the right, then it’s most likely the left outer joint that’s bad. If you hear noise when turning to the left, then it’s most likely the right outer joint that’s bad. If you hear axle noise in both directions it could be that both outer CV joints are bad, or it could be one outer CV joint that is very bad. You’ll have to try to listen to hear which side it sounds like the noise is coming from. If a CV joint makes noise then it’s too late for a reboot –the axle must be replaced. A rebuilt axle is cheaper than a new CV joint so we normally replace the whole axle.

The best way to prevent the CV joints from becoming damaged is to ask about the CV boots during oil changes. It’s an easy visual inspection and does not cost any money. Here at R&R we will normally mention torn CV boots automatically, but it never hurts to ask.

Tips for Improving Your Gas Mileage

With today’s high gas prices, it’s worth taking a few minutes out of your day to make minor modifications that will improve your gas mileage. ASE certified technicians have developed 22 effective tips for reducing the amount of gas you use while driving your vehicle:

Vehicle Tips

  • Keep your tires properly inflated, and check them frequently.[1]
  • Keep your front suspension and steering in proper alignment.
  • Use the thinnest viscosity oil that your car’s manufacturer recommends (5W-30 for most newer cars).
  • Keep your engine in proper mechanical condition.
  • Keep your engine in tune and make sure the air and fuel filters are clean.
  • Make sure your brakes are not dragging.
  • Repair body damage. That crunched front fender adds aerodynamic drag – just ask any race car driver.
  • Don’t use premium fuel if your car does not require it (check your owner’s manual); using it is an unnecessary expense.
  • Don’t waste your money on those late night “as seen on TV” products that are supposed to increase your mileage.

Driving Tips

  • Avoid excessive warm-up time. Modern engines do not require it.
  • Don’t idle your engine for long periods. Turn off your engine when you leave the car or have to wait a long time. [2]
  • Avoid jack-rabbit starts.
  • Keep your speed at 55 miles per hour or less whenever possible. [3]
  • For newer vehicles with aerodynamic designs, close the windows and turn on the A/C when driving on the freeway.
  • For older cars with inefficient A/C compressors, use the ventilation system and close the windows, temperature permitting.
  • Anticipate merging traffic and stoplights – decelerate and accelerate smoothly.
  • Plan your trips wisely. If you need to go several places, plan a route that allows you to run most or all of your errands in one outing.
  • Empty the trunk! Extra clothes, overdue library books, tools and the bag of aluminum cans that you have been meaning to take to the recycler all weigh down your car unnecessarily. [4]
  • Car pool whenever possible or practical.
  • Listen to radio reports for alternate routes around congested areas.
  • Drive in the highest gear possible (without lugging the engine).
  • Try to keep your speed constant. Use cruise control when on long stretches of road.


[1] According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly four million gallons of gasoline could be saved nationwide each day for every one pound per square inch (psi) of tire under-inflation, compared to the mileage if ALL vehicle tires were kept inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

[2] The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for 145 million passenger vehicles idling five minutes per day, approximately four million gallons of gasoline are consumed without going anywhere.

[3] According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a vehicle loses about one percent in fuel economy for every one mile per hour above 55 m.p.h. that it is driven. A passenger car that averages 30 miles per gallon at 55 m.p.h. could typically get 28.5 m.p.g. at 60 m.p.h., 27 m.p.g. at 65 m.p.h. and 25.5 m.p.g. at 70 m.p.h. Remember, however, that for different speeds, the changes in fuel economy will vary by vehicle model.

[4] Each 100 pounds of needless weight will cost up to one-half mile per gallon, on the average.

What is a catalytic converter?

Catalytic Converter

If a car burned fuel with perfect efficiency, its only exhaust products would be carbon dioxide and water. Unfortunately, not every hydrocarbon molecule burns to completion. Because of inadequate mixing with air or just bad luck, some molecules don’t react with enough oxygen and thus exit the engine intact, or as carbon monoxide. To make matters worse, the violence of combustion combines some of the air’s nitrogen molecules with oxygen, producing noxious nitrogen oxides. To eliminate these pollutants, exhaust is passed through a catalytic converter. The inside of this device is composed of an array of tubes, each coated with a porous ceramic. Embedded in this coating are tiny particles of two precious metals–platinum and rhodium–that serve as catalysts. Once the engine exhaust heats the converter above 300 degrees Celsius, unwanted molecules bind temporarily to the catalysts and are converted into innocuous chemicals.

Why is my “check engine” light on?

The engine appears to be running okay when suddenly a ‘check engine’ light or an engine icon illuminates the dash panel. What’s going on? Is the engine about to pack it in? Probably not, however something is wrong. The warning light generally indicates that the engine management computer has detected a malfunctioning fuel or emissions component or a system failure.

Most vehicles today have an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) Level 1 or Level 2 (1996 and newer) computer that self-tests the emission components and system operation. Isolated or one-time fault signals are eventually wiped from its memory, but persistent or serious faults are stored and trigger the warning light. Automotive technicians use a scanner or scan tool to retrieve fault codes and diagnose these computerized vehicles.

The oxygen sensor is probably the most common cause of a “check engine” warning. However, it can be a gradual deterioration of the sensor and the driver may not notice the resulting reduction in overall engine performance. Maintenance schedules generally recommend an inspection or replacement every 50,000 to 80,000 kilometers if it’s an “unheated” 1 or 2-wire sensor or every 100,000 to 160,000 kilometers if it’s a “heated” 3 or 4 wire (OBD2) sensor.

A degraded oxygen sensor can increase fuel consumption by 10 to 15 percent. Definitely not what you want when fuel prices are as high as they are. Other signs that the oxygen sensor is worn out include excessive exhaust emissions, engine surging or hesitation, even premature failure of the catalytic converter.

Other problems may trigger the engine warning light to come on as well. They include:

a failed sensor such as oxygen, coolant temperature, MAP (manifold absolute pressure) or airflow meter.

engine problems such as poor performance, faulty spark plugs and wires, or clogged fuel injectors.

emissions problems such as a loose or cracked vacuum hose, loose or missing gas cap, or a failed EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve.

electrical wiring that has a short or open circuit.

How you should react to the warning light depends on how the light behaves:

If the light comes on for a little while and then goes out, you may have a momentary problem in the system. Once the light goes out, the problem is no longer occurring but it may have caused the computer to store a diagnostic trouble code in its memory. This isn’t cause for immediate action, however, you should take the vehicle in as soon as you can and have it looked at.

If the light comes on and stays on, it indicates an ongoing problem. It may not be a major problem however it may affect your car’s performance, gas mileage and emission levels. Definitely take your vehicle to a repair shop as soon as possible.

If the light flashes on and off, the vehicle has a severe problem that will cause additional damage. If your repair shop is nearby, take the car in immediately. If not, shut off the car and call for assistance.

Your owner’s manual is the best source of information on maintaining your car’s performance and dashboard warning lights.

How to buy the right tires?

Buying new tires can be confusing. A major influence on tire life is how the tire is used, your driving style, the type of car you drive, where you drive and the tire maintenance you perform regularly. There are, however, several things you can do to select the best tires and take care of them.

You need to know the right size, type, and tread.

  • SIZE: The vehicle owner’s manual or the label inside the glove box, or on the door post, will give you the proper tire size. This is important information, because putting an undersized tire on your car can overheat or overload the tire, while an over sized tire can rub parts of the car.
  • TYPE: This information is listed in the owner’s manual or a dealer can tell you the type of tires your vehicle needs. Almost all vehicles today come equipped with radial tires. Generally, radial tires provide better performance and durability. The other types of tires available are bias-ply and bias belted.
  • TREAD: There are several kinds of treads. “Mud and snow” tires (with the m+s symbol) are all season tires, capable of providing good traction in snow, slush, rain, and mud. “Snow” tires are for areas with heavy or frequent snowfall. Standard highway treads are for normal driving conditions. Ask your tire dealer for advice on the best tread for your type of driving.

Tire Quality Grading

All tires must meet Federal safety standards. In addition, all new vehicle tires, except snow tires, temporary-use spares, and tires for off-road use, have three ratings on a paper label and molded on the tire sidewall. These ratings are tread wear, traction, and temperature resistance. The grading system is designed to help buyers make relative comparisons among tires. It is not a safety rating and not a guarantee that a tire will last for a prescribed number of miles or perform a certain way. It simply gives tire buyers additional information to combine with other considerations, such as price, brand loyalty, and dealer recommendations.

Tire quality grades can be used to pick the best tire for your needs. Grades are assigned by manufacturers after performing tests designed by the government. All tire dealers are required to provide you with a booklet explaining these grades and showing the grades of the tires they sell.

  • TREAD WEAR: The tread wear grade lets you compare how long different tires would last if driven by the same driver under the same road conditions and if the tire is maintained properly. A tire rated 100 will last approximately twice as long as one rated 50.
  • TRACTION: The traction rating, scored A, B, or C, tells you how well the tires can stop your vehicle on wet roads. An “A” has the best traction.
  • TEMPERATURE RESISTANCE: This rating, also scored A, B, or C, measures how well the tire will resist overheating during sustained high speed use. In general, the lower the running temperature, the less likely the tire will fail. A tire graded “A” represents the best performance, and is better than a “B” tire.

A Consumer Guide to Uniform Tire Quality Grading, is available free from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This guide lists the grades of all tires and will help you compare various brands. To obtain a copy, write to: NHTSA, General Services Division (NAD-51), 400 7th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., 20590.or go to

Maintenance & Driving Tips

Maintain the proper air pressure in the tires. Check pressure every week for routine driving. Also check pressure before taking any long trips. Measure the pressure when the tires are cold.

Keep your tires at the recommended inflation pressure. This can be found in your owner’s manual or on the label either in the glove box or near the door latch on the driver’s side. The maximum inflation pressure is shown on the side of the tire. With the recommended air pressure, tires will last longer and be less likely to fail, and the car will use less fuel. Serious injury may result from tire failure because of under inflation or overloading.

When you check tire pressure, make sure there is enough tread on the tire to operate safely and that the tires are wearing normally. All grooves should be visible and deep enough to at least touch the top of Lincoln’s head on a penny.

Look for even wear. If you see the tread wear warning bars across the tire, it’s time to replace that tire. Bald tires are unsafe. If some spots on the tire seem to be wearing faster than others, see your service station or mechanic. You could have miss-aligned wheels, worn shock absorbers, or other potential problems.

Make sure your wheels are balanced and aligned properly.

Avoid “jack rabbit” starts and stops and fast, tire screeching turns.

Never overload your car. Your car and tires are designed to operate safely only up to their load limits. These limits are shown in your owner’s manual and on the certification plate on the edge of the driver’s door.

Why do we rotate tires?

Tire rotation is an important maintenance duty that extends the life of your tires and ensures safe driving. Whether you plan on doing the job yourself or having it performed by a certified mechanic, it’s important to know why we rotate our tires.

So why do it in the first place? Simple. The front and rear tires wear at different rates. Think about it. All that parallel parking. All those three-point turns. With each turn of the steering wheel, pressure is bought to bear on the front tires. (This is even more accentuated in front-wheel-drive cars, where the front wheels also supply the main motive power for the vehicle.) Resistance causes friction, which in turn produces heat. The result? The front tires wear quicker than the rears. Because of this, it’s necessary to rotate the tires front-to-rear several times during their life cycle to 1) equalize tread wear and 2) maximize the life of the tires.

This is what we refer to when we say “rotate the tires.” Rotating generally does not refer to either of the following actions: Exchanging tires on the same axle — for example, swapping the rear tires left to right Criss-crossing tires — moving a tire from the passenger’s side rear to the driver’s side front There’s a good reason for this. Tires develop wear patterns as they age. Some of these patterns are tied to the suspension system and the alignment. That’s why we keep the tires on the same side of the car.

One more thing. How often should you rotate your tires? That depends. Refer to your owner’s manual for exact guidelines, but most manufacturers recommend rotating tires roughly every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Again, see your owner’s manual for specifics.

What is a timing belt?

By ignoring this out of sight, out of mind “maintenance free” component, catastrophic side-of-the-road failure is not a question of “if”, but of “when.” Most of us are familiar with the rubber belts used to transfer power from the engine to the cooling fan, alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioner. In most cases these belts can easily be inspected periodically for fraying or excessive wear, and are relatively easy to replace. If they do break you can usually still make it to the repair shop or a telephone. But many vehicles are equipped with another belt, the engine timing belt, that is not easily viewed. If neglected, it can cause far more damage than any of the other belts. Timing belts keep the valves, pistons, and other internal engine parts properly synchronized. The good news about rubber timing belts is that they don’t actually stretch, which means there is no need for periodic adjustments. The bad news is that they eventually will weaken and break. The “cost” of a broken belt can be much more than simply being stranded on the side of the road. Many of today’s high tech engines are manufactured to such extremely close tolerances, that a broken timing belt will allow the pistons to hit the valves, bending them and possibly destroying the pistons or even the complete engine as a result. Timing belts often fail from the inside out, making visual inspection somewhat unreliable. This is why vehicle manufacturers recommend replacement of timing belts, typically every 60-90,000 miles, although this varies among manufacturers. Timing belt replacement intervals can easily be found in your owner’s manual, or any garage or dealership service department can look it up for you. This once every four or five years investment is a small price to pay considering the alternatives, because when it comes to keeping your internal engine parts internal, timing is everything!

How often should I change the coolant?

For “ordinary” antifreeze, the vehicle manufacturers generally recommend coolant changes every two to three years or 30,000 miles. Others say it’s not a bad idea to change the coolant every year for maximum corrosion protection — especially in vehicles that have aluminum heads, blocks or radiators. Several antifreeze suppliers have just recently introduced “long life” antifreeze formulations that claim to provide protection for four years or 50,000 miles.

CAUTION: These new long life coolants provide extended life only when used in a clean system mixed with water. If mixed with ordinary antifreeze and/or old coolant in a system, the corrosion protection is reduced to that of normal antifreeze (2 to 3 years and 30,000 miles).

Corrosion Inhibitors

The life of the antifreeze depends on it’s ability to inhibit corrosion. Silicates, phosphates and/or borates are used as corrosion inhibitors to keep the solution alkaline. As long as the antifreeze remains so, corrosion is held in check and there’s no need to change the coolant. But as the corrosion inhibiting chemicals are used up over time, electrolytic corrosion starts to eat away at the metal inside the engine and radiator. Aluminum is especially vulnerable to corrosion and can turn to Swiss cheese rather quickly when conditions are right. Solder bloom can also form in copper\brass radiators causing leaks and restrictions. So changing the coolant periodically as preventative maintenance is a good way to prevent costly repairs.

The basic idea is to change the coolant before the corrosion inhibitors reach dangerously low levels. Following the OEM change recommendations is usually good enough to keep corrosion in check, but it may not always be the case. That’s why more frequent changes may be recommended to minimize the risk of corrosion in bimetal engines and aluminum radiators.

Checking the antifreeze

One way to find out if it’s time to change the antifreeze is to test it. Several suppliers make special antifreeze test strips that react to the pH (alkalinity) of the coolant and change color. If the test strip indicates a marginal or bad condition, the coolant should be changed.

Changing the Coolant

A 50/50 mixture
of antifreeze and water is recommended and will protect against
freezing down to -34 degrees F and boilover protection to 263 degrees F.

The concentration of antifreeze in the coolant also needs to be
checked prior to the onset of cold weather. For maximum protection, up to a 70% mixture of antifreeze can be used
for freezing protection to -84 degrees F.

CAUTION: Do not use more than 70% antifreeze, and never run straight
water in the cooling system because it offers no corrosion, freezing

or boilover protection.

Know your fluids

Oil is the lifeblood of every engine. It not only lubricates the engine, but it also cools, cleans and protects it. However, oil itself can’t do all of these jobs without some help. Every quart of motor oil contains nearly half a pint of various additives to improve the oil’s ability to resist heat, friction, oxidation and contamination.

Short trip driving is especially hard on oil because the engine never warms up enough to boil off the moisture that accumulates inside the crankcase. The moisture comes from combustion gases that blowby the piston rings (the older the engine, the greater the amount of blowby). Most of these gases are removed by the Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) system. But, in a cold engine, much of the moisture condenses and ends up in the oil. Water reacts with oil to form sludge and acids, and the result is accelerated engine wear. The viscosity of the oil also changes over time as the additives become depleted – a condition called “viscosity breakdown.”

The only way to get rid of the accumulated moisture, acids and sludge and to restore the oil’s viscosity is to change both oil and filter periodically. The filter only removes suspended solids such as dirt, carbon and metal particles – not moisture, acids or sludge.

Changing the oil every three months or 3,000 miles for preventive maintenance is recommended.

Many vehicle owner’s manuals have longer service intervals of as much as 12 months or 7,500 miles, but such intervals are based on ideal operating conditions and not the type of short-trip, stop-and-go driving that is typical for many motorists. Consequently, many drivers should follow the “severe” service maintenance schedule rather than the “normal” schedule. Driving is considered “severe service” when:

Most trips are less than four miles; Most trips are less than 10 miles when outside temperatures remain below freezing; Prolonged high speed driving during hot weather; Idling for extended periods and continued low speed operation (as when driving in stop-and-go traffic); Towing a trailer; and/or Driving in dusty or heavily polluted areas.

Some engines, such as diesels, suffer more blowby than others, so they typically require more frequent oil and filter changes. For most passenger car diesels, 3,000 miles is often the recommended interval for all types of service.

Turbocharged engines, likewise, require more frequent oil changes because of the high temperatures encountered in the turbocharger bearings. A turbo can spin at tremendous speed (more than 100,000 rpm in many instances). This, combined with the heat of the exhaust gases passing through the housing, creates an environment that accelerates oxidation of the oil. When the engine is shut off, for example, the temperatures inside the turbo bearing housing can soar to the point where it “cokes” the oil, forming hard, black, crusty deposits that can damage the turbo. Because of this, the recommended oil change interval for most turbocharged engines is also 3,000 miles under all operating conditions.

Viscosity Recommendations

Follow the viscosity recommendations in the vehicle owner’s manual. Most vehicles today are factory-filled with 5W-30 because 5W-30 improves cold starting and fuel economy, and it allows the oil to reach critical upper valvetrain components in overhead cam engines more quickly than heavier viscosity oils.

Most vehicle manufacturers also approve 10W-30 for year-round driving. Other popular viscosities include 10W-40 and 20W-50, which are often used in older, high mileage engines to provide extra high temperature protection during hot weather (20W-50, however, is not recommended for cold weather because it is too thick). Straight weight oils are not recommended in late model engines.

“SJ” Rated Motor Oils

As engine technology continues to evolve, so do the lubricants that keep them running smoothly. The newest American Petroleum Institute rating is “SJ” which was introduced in October 1996. This corresponds to the international standard (ILSAC) “GF2” rating.

SJ rated oils are “low-polluting” oils that contain less phosphorus than earlier SH-rated oils. The difference isn’t much. A maximum of 0.10% phosphorus in SJ rated oil vs. 0.12% in SH rated oil, but the reduced phosphorus content of the oil lessens the risk of contaminating the catalytic converter as the vehicle accumulates miles. This helps to extend the life of the catalytic converter and also reduces pollution.

Synthetic Oils

Conventional motor oils are refined from crude oil and contain a blend of various hydrocarbons with slightly different performance characteristics. By comparison, synthetic oils are man-made lubricants created from organic esters and other synthesized hydrocarbons. The special manufacturing process results in lubricants that outperform ordinary motor oils in many respects.

Superior Temperature Resistance

Synthetics can safely handle higher operating temperatures without oxidizing (burning) or breaking down. The upper limit for most mineral-based oils is 250-300° F. Synthetics can take as much as 450° F or higher, making them well-suited for vehicles that are operated in hot climates as well as heavy-duty, turbocharged or hard-use applications.

Better Low Temperature Performance

Synthetics flow freely at subzero temperatures, pouring easily at -40° or -50° F, where ordinary oils thicken and gel. This makes for easier cold starts and provides faster upper valvetrain lubrication during the first critical moments when most engine wear occurs. This is especially important with many of today’s overhead cam engines.

Lower Oil Consumption

Synthetic motor oils experience less “boil off” than conventional motor oils. A good synthetic will lose only about 4% of its weight when run at 400° F for six hours, compared to a 30% loss for a conventional petroleum-based oil. The lower evaporation rate means less oil consumption between changes.

Better Fuel Economy

Synthetics tend to be more slippery than their petroleum-based counterparts. This reduces internal friction and improves fuel economy. The difference isn’t great, but the savings can add up over time.

Longer Oil Change Intervals

Because synthetics resist oxidation and viscosity breakdown better than ordinary motor oils, oil change intervals can usually be extended – some say as high as 25,000 miles under ideal circumstances. Synthetics don’t break down or sludge up as fast as ordinary mineral-based oils do. Even so, short-trip, cold-weather driving can dump a lot of moisture into the crankcase, making long oil change intervals unwise.

The same would be true for older, high-mileage engines that have a lot of blowby. For newer vehicles under warranty, the oil and filter should still be changed at the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended intervals to keep the warranty in effect.

If the oil change interval is extended beyond “normal” limits, the filter should still be changed regularly to keep the oil clean (say every six months or 6,000 miles).

Synthetic Grads & Blends

Synthetics are available in the same grades as ordinary motor oils (5W-30 & 10W-30) as well as “extended” grades such as 0W-30, 15W-50 and even 5W-50.

Unfortunately, synthetic motor oil costs several times as much as conventional motor oil because it is more expensive to manufacture. Some vehicle owners may question the economics of switching to a synthetic. The higher initial cost can be justified over the long run by better fuel economy, longer engine life and reduced maintenance costs. Doubling a vehicle’s normal oil change interval, for example, from 3,000 miles to 6,000 or even 12,000 miles can make a big difference in maintenance costs.

Synthetics are compatible with conventional motor oils and can be mixed with ordinary oil to provide extra protection when topping off the oil level.

What type of applications would benefit most from using a synthetic? Turbocharged or supercharged engines; performance or high output engines; vehicles that are used for towing (especially during hot weather); or vehicles that are operated in extremely cold or hot climates. Using a synthetic in an engine that burns oil, however, would not reduce oil consumption appreciably and would only be a waste of money. Better to get an overhaul or new valve guide seals.

Synthetic gear oils are also available for automatic, manual transmissions and differentials. A synthetic gear oil can provide easier shifts (especially when a vehicle is first started during cold weather), while reducing friction and providing superior lubrication.

Fluid Checks

In addition to regular oil and filter changes, a vehicle’s essential fluid levels must be checked regularly to maintain a vehicle properly. Unfortunately, the oil and other fluids are not checked as often as they should be because of the reduced maintenance requirements on most vehicles today. Self-service gas has also eliminated the driveway attendant who used to check the fluid levels for motorists when they filled up with gas.

Fluids that need to be checked on a regular basis include the following:

Motor Oil

Check the dipstick level with the motor off. Wait several minutes for the oil to drain back down into the crankcase, then check the level. Although most owner’s manuals say it isn’t necessary to add oil until the level falls to the “ADD” line, running an engine that holds four quarts of oil on only three quarts may increase the temperature of the oil and risk lubrication problems under some operating conditions. The best advice, therefore, is to always maintain the oil level at the “FULL” mark.

If the oil level is low, be sure to inspect the engine for leaks (front and rear crankshaft seals, pan gaskets and valve cover gaskets). No evidence of external leakage may be a sign that the rings, valve guides and valve seals are worn.

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

Check the ATF after the vehicle has been driven and the fluid is hot with the engine idling in park. If the fluid is at or below the “ADD” mark on the dipstick, add a pint of fluid and recheck the level. Do not overfill, as doing so may cause the fluid to aerate and foam. Use only the type of fluid specified by the vehicle manufacturer. If the fluid level is low, check for leaks.

Also note the condition of the fluid. Some discoloration with age is normal, but, if the fluid is brown or smells burnt, it is overdue for replacement. Many transmission specialists recommend a fluid and filter change every 24,000 to 30,000 miles for preventive maintenance.


Check the level with the engine off. Wait until the radiator has cooled and pressure has subsided, then carefully open the radiator cap to see if the fluid level is full. This is more accurate than glancing at the reservoir tank. If low, inspect the hoses and check the radiator and engine for leaks. Also, the cooling system should be pressure tested to check for internal leaks (bad head gasket or cracks in the head or block). The radiator cap should also be pressure tested to check its ability to hold pressure.

Also, check the strength of the antifreeze with a hydrometer or float (add antifreeze if needed for added freezing protection). The condition of the antifreeze should also be noted and can be tested with chemical test strips to see if the corrosion inhibitors are depleted. Get a flush and fill if the coolant is bad.

Brake Fluid

The fluid level should be between the “FULL” and “ADD” marks. Some drop in the fluid level is normal as the brake linings wear, but, if the level is unusually low, inspect the brake system for leaks and worn linings. Use the type of brake fluid specified by the vehicle manufacturer (DOT 3 or 4).

Brake fluid absorbs moisture over time, which reduces the fluid’s boiling temperature and contributes to internal corrosion in the steel brake lines, calipers and wheel cylinders. The moisture content of the fluid can be checked with an electronic tester or chemical test strips to determine if the fluid is too badly contaminated for safe driving.

Power Steering Fluid

Check with the engine off. Many dipsticks have both a “HOT” and “COLD FULL” mark, so use the appropriate one when checking the level. If low, check for fluid leaks at the pump, hoses and steering gear. Add the type of power steering fluid specified by the vehicle manufacturer. If the fluid is badly discolored or contains debris, the pump or steering gear may be worn.