Use the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule (35/365)

Of all the useful specific pieces of information in your car’s manual, the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule is perhaps the most useful. It tells you exactly how often normal maintenance should be performed on your car based on the odometer, and it’s that maintenance that will keep your car on the road without worry for a long time.

I can speak from experience on this topic.

Use the Manufacturer's Maintenance Schedule (35/365)

The very first car I owned was a 1985 Buick Skyhawk. It was a rusty old beast that a friend of my parents had basically abandoned. He had driven it practically to death and it needed several repairs to become road worthy, so I invested some significant time and quite a bit of savings into that car.

I loved that car and the sense of freedom that it represented, but I didn’t have a clue about how to keep it running. Once I had the thing working, I pretty much drove it into the ground. When it stopped running once, I took it to a garage where a guy showed me that my fluids were basically sludge.

That got me to regularly replace my oil and transmission fluids, but most of the rest of the maintenance was lost on me.

In college, my wife-to-be Sarah was driving a van when a master timing belt blew out. It turned out that the belt was about 25,000 miles past time for replacement according to the maintenance schedule. This resulted in us spending a night in a very tiny town in the middle of nowhere.

Rather than looking at the schedule, though, I just kept adding things like this to the “checklist” in my head. Whenever I would go to a repair place, they’d just tell me something else to worry about and I’d try to remember it – and usually fail.

It wasn’t until 2006 or so when I really began to recognize that the maintenance schedule in the glove compartment was really useful. It’s just so simple to schedule an appointment every two or three months, get the next line in that schedule filled in (usually, it’s every 5,000 miles on newer cars), and be on your merry way.

It’s also far cheaper, less stressful, and easier on your time management, too. It’s just better to drop maybe $20 or $30 every few months and maybe an extra $100 to $200 a year on maintenance on your vehicle than to watch something blow out a year and a half later, causing you to lose hundreds out of pocket on repairs and likely find yourself in a real pinch in terms of getting to work or getting to other life responsiblities.

With our two newest vehicles, we’ve followed that maintenance schedule in our manual to the letter. Every item has been handled right on time, within a few hundred miles on either side.

Guess what? We’ve had no significant breakdowns of any kind in years. No emergencies, no unexpected smoke from under the hood, no thousand dollar towing and repair bills.

It’s just been regular maintenance and cheap, worry-free driving.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. dugsdale says:

    Somewhere in this rat’s-nest of an apartment I have an old maintenance schedule from one of the enthusiast car mags–and when I had a car, I followed it religiously, right down to when it’s time to change the timing belt, the spark plugs, the spark plug WIRES (yes, they wear out), how often to use silicone renew-it on the door gaskets to keep them sealing and pliable, or flush and replace the brake fluid and transmission fluid, and the rear-axle lubricant, and this is all apart from the obvious stuff (oil and filter changes, brake pads, fan belts, filters, wiper blades, coolant replacement). It’s actually fun, kind of like maintaining a pony in the back yard–periodic attention pays off in worry-free driving, and even a sense of pride that everything on the car is just as it should be. Also, checking the car over visually helps you (and/or your mechanic) spot potential trouble before it can disable your car on a dark, deserted street.

  2. Kevin says:

    I’m confused. The tip *immediately* before this one was “Don’t Get an Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles (34/365).” Now you say we *should* follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule (which usually prescribes an oil change every 3,000 miles).

    Which is it?

  3. Andrea says:

    Kevin- Trent says in this article that most manufacturers recommend an oil change every 5000 miles. It’s places like jiffy lube, that make money off you coming in for an oil change too often, that say 3000. But if your car owners manual actually says 3000 (rare) then by all means, you should get your oil changed every 3000.

  4. Tom says:

    The last time I took defensive driving, it included a bit on maintenance of cars, and the course instructor made a joke that went something like: companies that sell the motor oil suggest you change it at the lowest believeable number of miles, or lowest believable number of months, whichever comes first.
    I have an 09 that suggests 6 months, 5k miles and a 2010 that says 6 months, or 7500 miles!

  5. AnnJo says:

    It never hurts to take a look at your oil once in a while. If it’s dirty, change it and the oil filter no matter what the manual says.

  6. Leah W. says:

    Kevin: Andrea is right. I drive a 2002 Honda. My car’s manual recommends an oil change every 7,500 miles or 1 year (whichever comes first). I don’t change my oil more frequently than that, even though the sticker that the Honda Service Center puts on my windshield says to come back in 3,000 miles.

  7. Kai says:

    “Kevin @ 7:03 am February 6th, 2012
    I’m confused. The tip *immediately* before this one was “Don’t Get an Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles (34/365).” Now you say we *should* follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule (which usually prescribes an oil change every 3,000 miles).
    Which is it?”

    The point there was that the maintenance schedule *for each car* is often not every 3000 miles, so you should check what your own car needs instead of using an outdated rule of thumb. No conflict.

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