Know Your Car's Maintenance Schedule to Keep Service Costs Down


At NerdWallet, we stick to strict standards of editorial integrity that will help you decide with confidence. Many or all the products featured listed here are from our partners. Here’s the way we earn money.

You’re stuck in traffic with nothing to do when the sticker in the upper-left corner of your windshield catches your skills. It says it’s time to bring your car set for routine maintenance.

Looking closer, the thing is that your car was serviced 3 months ago and you’ve driven it only about 3,000 miles because the last oil change. Suddenly, the threat of a blown engine or roadside breakdown looms in your head. So, simply to be secure, you call the casino dealer and schedule a service appointment.

If this describes the way you handle your car’s maintenance, you may be throwing down payment the drain. Those little stickers, stuck there by quick-change oil shops and dealership service departments, work well sales tools – but inaccurate reminders to service your car.

??SIGN UP:?Call at your car’s value and?manage expenses

Read the owners manual

Let’s back up for a second and revisit a possibly sore subject: the owners manual gathering dust in your glove compartment. We aren’t going to attempt to shame you into reading it from cover to cover. However it does have one essential section: your car’s maintenance schedule.

The maintenance schedule is really a chart that lets you know how frequently your car needs to be serviced and what work needs to be done. The schedule was created by the good folks in the factory who designed and built your vehicle – not the guys in the dealership selling you a $120 transmission flush, “just to be the safe side.”

Service overview

When your vehicle has under 36,000 miles, little maintenance is required to ensure that it stays purring: usually oil changes and tire rotations. As your car ages, more maintenance is needed. Remember, we’re talking about “scheduled maintenance” here, not repairs.

Most people service newer cars in the dealership where they bought the vehicle. But because the vehicle ages, they might visit independent mechanics or chain repair stores for example Pep Boys. There is a big difference between the new car dealership’s service department and independent mechanics.

‘Recommended’ maintenance

Here’s a dirty little secret which will help you save a lot of money: There can be an enormous disconnect between what your car actually needs to ensure that it stays rolling and what the service advisors at the dealership recommend. The dealership’s service advisor (insider tip: he’s much more of a salesman than the usual mechanic) may hand a list of “dealer-recommended” services. If you put this side-by-side with what’s inside your owners manual, you will see the dealer is recommending a ton of extra stuff. Look closer at the dealer’s?list and you will observe that most of the recommended situations are fluid replacements, adjustments and inspections.

That’s why it is important to read and understand your maintenance schedule.

The smart way to service your car

Here’s all that you should do when establishing a scheduled appointment in a dealership’s service department:

  1. Find your maintenance schedule. You will get this either out of your owners manual or online using a Google search such as “2014 Toyota RAV4 owners manual.” Here is a listing of all service manuals.
  2. Photocopy or print the schedule. You will see why in a few seconds.
  3. Schedule a service appointment. Ask for the service department and let them know what is needed. Don’t say, “I’m ready for my 15,000-mile service visit.” Just read them what the owners manual says.
  4. Be ready for the upsell. When you get to the dealership, the service advisor will most likely say, “You have 15,000 miles in your car. Here’s what we recommend,” and hand a sheet of services. Take out your copy of the maintenance schedule, hand it towards the service advisor and say, “But my manual says I only need this work done.”
  5. Handling extra recommendations. Sometime later, you’re settled in the service lounge, eating free doughnuts, whenever your service advisor reappears and says something similar to, “We checked your vehicle over also it looks like additionally you need …” – complete the blank. The advisor?might be recommending a brake job, a fluid change or even the replacement of some part you’ve never heard about. For those who have a good relationship together with your service advisor and trust her or him, you could just go ahead and possess the work done. But when it is not a safety-related issue, it doesn’t hurt to say, “I’d like to postpone on that until my next visit.”

Understand your merchandise reminder

Since many people don’t read the owners manual, carmakers have come up with service reminders in the form of an indication light, or “idiot light,” that?appears on the gauge cluster (close to the speedometer). Often, it comes down on well before the service is actually required to provide you with time to schedule the appointment. Because you are in possession of the manual open and have found it online, browse the paragraph or two that explains exactly what the light means.

There are a couple of kinds of systems:

  1. Set mileage system. The light comes on every time you have driven a collection number of miles and an oil change is needed. This varies among?different carmakers, but it is roughly every 5,000 miles. In certain systems, you are able to set the interval yourself.
  2. Oil sensor system. An onboard computer analyzes how the car is being driven, and the light comes on when an oil change is needed. Driving only short trips will trigger the sunshine sooner; highway driving means you are able to go many more miles between service visits.

Just remember, there is no point to over-servicing your car or changing the oil more frequently than is needed. It doesn’t help your vehicle, and it hurts your automotive budget.