Everyone knows how hefty car repair bills can be. And it can feel even more painful on your wallet when those bills are unexpected and totally out of the budget. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to avoid this kind of situation – by properly maintaining your car.
Part of proper car maintenance is getting your car serviced regularly. Now, many of us are guilty of putting this off. According to a report from the American Automobile (AAA), 35% of Americans “skipped or delayed service or repairs that were recommended by a mechanic or specified by the factory maintenance schedule.” Most likely because we often believe that as long as our vehicles are operating as smoothly as when we first got them, then things should be just fine. However, based on survey responses from repair shops, this kind of behavior can result in higher repair costs. The cost of regular car maintenance is approximately $1000 per year. Putting it off can increase that cost up to $8000.
Obviously, if you are a responsible car owner, getting your car serviced regularly is a must. The question is, how often should you have it done?
What does a car service entail?
What should you expect when you get your car serviced in a shop? A car service is like an annual physical exam that we get to assess our health. Only in this case, the service checks the overall health of the car – the fluid levels of the engine, engine belt, and general wear and tear.
Take note that there are different types of services typically offered by a car repair shop. An interim service, full service, and major service. All services will include visual checks of your vehicle to look for any visible damage. Manual checks will also be performed such as checking the brakes, suspension, fluid levels, steering, and tires.
An interim service might also include an oil change, oil filter replacement, and an inspection of the drive belt. A full service includes all the same checks with some extra stuff. The number of checks performed can go as high as 80. These might include replacing the air cleaner, inspecting the alternator hose and vacuum hose, and rotating the wheels.
A major service will include the same checks performed during a full service plus some extras such as replacing the brake fluid, replacing the spark plugs, testing the battery, and inspecting the level of the automatic transmission oil.
How often do you really need to service your car?
How often you need to get your car serviced will depend on several factors such as the age of your car, the make and model, how many miles you’ve driven it, and where you drive it.
Generally, the rule of thumb is to have your car serviced (interim service) every 6 months or every 6,000 miles, whichever comes first. It is also recommended that you get a full service every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. A major service may be required after 24 months or 24,000 miles. All of that being said, it’s important that you check the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule.
Maintenance Reminder Systems
Most modern cars come with an in-vehicle maintenance reminder system that makes it easier for car owners to remember getting their car serviced. Typically, an alert on the dash will let the driver know if the engine oil needs changing or if fluid levels need to be checked. If your vehicle has this feature, you can use it as a guide on how often you get your car serviced instead of keeping track of the mileage. That being said, if you don’t often drive your car, you should have it serviced every 12 months even if the in-vehicle maintenance reminder hasn’t lit up.
Obviously, cars that do not have an in-vehicle maintenance reminder system should base their maintenance schedule on their vehicle’s mileage. However, the schedule will also be dependent on how you use the vehicle. Cars that are driven in “normal” service or under normal conditions can follow the recommended mileage-based service provided above. Those that are driven in “severe” operating conditions will need to follow a more rigorous schedule.
You can check the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s definition of “severe” operating conditions. While the exact definition may vary between automakers, most of them will likely include the following conditions:
- extremely cold, hot, and dusty climates
- mostly short trips (5 miles or less)
- carrying heavy loads such as a trailer
- sustained stop-and-go driving
- continuous high speed driving
Where to get your car serviced
There are plenty of car repair shops in the US. But that doesn’t mean that you should bring your car to the first auto repair shop and mechanic you see. It’s important that you take the time to do your research. Look for a reputable auto body shop near you by asking people you know for recommendations. Check reviews online. And then make the time to visit potential repair shops to verify their license and certifications. Ask about their warranty and the cost of their services.
The right auto repair shop should not only provide you with the services that your car needs to stay in tip-top shape, it should also prevent you from spending money on services that your car doesn’t need. They won’t overcharge you or upsell you. Once you find the car repair shop for you, don’t forget to stick to the plan. Regular car maintenance will pay off.