Ultimate Maintenance Guide: How To Keep Your Car Alive Forever
There are some customers with the ultimate goal of keeping their car for a couple of decades. Here we provide the ultimate maintenance guide to easily get you over a quarter of a million miles and well beyond. We realize that this is not everyone’s goal. But even for those who enjoy a newer car every so often, this guide can help keep you on the road trouble free, and give your car top notch value when the time comes to upgrade. Feel free to contact your Service Advisor for any clarification.
The engine oil should be changed every 5000 miles maximum. If you drive in only city or stop-and-go traffic, then every 4000 miles. Don’t leave on a long trip with old oil. A shorter oil change interval is not entirely about engine wear. The various chain systems with their tensioners and plastic guides, and the turbochargers and superchargers are all at risk for early failure due to old contaminated engine oil.
Scheduled maintenance describes the factory advised service intervals. The most common of course is an oil change with a check of all fluid levels and condition. Some folks elect to simply change the oil and filter, and skip the rest of the work. It is true that a newer car with lower mileage may not need all these checks with each oil change, while older cars may well need such attention to catch developing problems early. And the Major Services include these checks and much more.
A Major Service is when all the filters, spark plugs and other wear items get replaced. Additives are put in the fuel for cleaning. Tires get rotated as needed. All the vehicle’s electronic control units get scanned for fault codes. Doors and Sunroof are lubed. All fluids get checked for condition and filled. Accessory belts get checked, as well as the timing belt if the engine has one. All lights checked and/or replaced. And most important, a service includes a full inspection of all your car’s systems. It is a service of your entire car.
Brake Fluid Change
Brake fluid should be changed when it gets a 3% water content, which should be checked with an electronic tester at each major service. That roughly corresponds to every 2 years if using regular DOT 4, or every 4 years if synthetic fluid is used. Brake fluid absorbs water from the air, which can cause corrosion and system failure. The time interval for change is based on cautious manufacturer’s recommendations which do not reflect the climate where the vehicle drives.
The brake fluid level will go down as the brake pads wear. If the brake fluid level gets below the minimum mark, there is a leak, and it must be fixed. But if you have to add brake fluid for safety reasons, be absolutely sure that it is DOT 4 rated. Do not use brake fluid from a container that has been opened for some years, it may be contaminated beyond limits with water.
Coolant should be changed every 40,000 miles. The factory says that you never have to change coolant. Everyone who has had a clogged heater core or radiator strongly disagrees. And if coolant gets diluted to under 20% by adding water, corrosion will start rotting out both the cast iron and the aluminum parts of your engine. A tiny amount of coolant loss may occur over time due to minor evaporation, but it will never go below the minimum mark in 40,000 miles unless there is some seep, leak or engine problem.
Never add city water to your cooling system unless you are sure it has a very low mineral content. Putting Sacramento style city water in your cooling system is a sure recipe for scale and deposits. And a can of radiator Stop Leak is also a guaranteed clog. Coolant looses its additive packages and changes chemistry with time and miles, and will eventually cause deposits and component failure. There are many different coolant blends, be sure to use the correct type. Mixing incorrect coolant may cause leaks and deposits. It is always best just to buy your coolant at a dealership, as the price is worth the high quality and the guarantee of compatibility.
Automatic transmissions should have their fluid and filter changed every 40,000 miles. Some Automatics do not have replaceable filters, making fluid changes even more necessary. Large vehicles and vehicles with 8 cylinders or more should have the fluid changed every 30,000 miles. The differential section of the transmission has a separate gear oil, and that fluid should be changed every 80,000 miles. All of our vehicles since 1996 use synthetic fluids, and there are many different fluids. Best to buy it at a dealership, as adding the wrong fluid will likely cause a shifting issue or complete failure.
DSG automatics (Direct Shift Gearbox) have a required fluid service, and customers doing mostly city driving should have their DSG services done even more often. Manual transmissions should have their fluid changed every 80,000 miles. 4 wheel drive vehicles should have the differential fluids changed every 80,000 miles. As well as complete failure, old fluid may cause leakage as the seal softening additives get beaten out it over time.
Power Steering Service
The power steering fluid is just another oil that goes bad over time. Change it every 80,000 miles. Some models have a filter that needs to be changed as well. Long term servicing of your power steering fluid will save you the cost of a steering rack and/or pump. Every fluid breaks down over time, loosing the ability to lubricate metal parts and keep seals and gaskets from leaking. There are nine different fluids used within the spectrum of cars that we service. Some systems are known to seep slowly, and if fluid is added, it must be correct.
CV Joint Repack
Constant Velocity Joint grease wears out like any other lubricant. Change it regularly, and the joints will be fine forever. If a CV boot breaks, have it replaced soon, but just that CV joint gets repacked. We recommend every repacking the grease in all the CV joints every 100,000 miles on 2 wheel drive cars, or every 150,000 miles on 4 wheel drive cars. CV joints themselves cost from one to several thousand dollars for each car. CV boots and grease cost just hundreds. Synthetic CV grease pretty much never wears out, and is the perfect solution.
Windshield wipers should be replaced every year in the fall for safety. In some cases, every two years will do. Heat, dust and other environmental factors degrade the rubber, and cause streaking, squeaking and chattering. We recommend using high quality Bosch wiper blades as the rubber compounds are soft but durable, and cleaning is great even as the blades get old. Use a high quality washer solvent to assist cleaning and help preserve the rubber wiper blades. Clean the windshield occasionally to prevent damaging the blades.
Wheel alignment is often done with each new set of tires. But there are so many variables. Tire life, tire wear and road hazards are the most important. Regularly glance at the tires for worn edges, especially when parked with the front wheels turned out so one can see the inside edge. If the car hits a huge pothole or object and the steering wheel changes to a different angle of rotation, even slightly, the alignment should be reset.
Before an alignment, the suspension should be checked, and any worn or loose suspension components must be replaced. Many modern vehicles and all vans have alignment adjustments on the rear wheels as well. Generally a four wheel alignment should be done every 80,000 to 100,000 miles. The rear wheel alignment is checked with every alignment, and can be adjusted as needed.
Don’t buy the cheapest tires. The rubber quality is poor and after just a couple of years, they won’t stick well, especially on cold or wet pavement. This is not all about handling and cornering, really cheap tires can radically increase your emergency braking distance, which is a real hazard. Cheap tires can come way out of balance, and they will slowly destroy your car’s suspension. Your life depends on your car. Your car depends on its tires. Great tires can be expensive, but good tires cost barely more than cheap tires.
Keep an eye on your tires for under inflation and abnormal wear. Vehicles made after 2005 have a tire pressure monitoring system, but it cannot tell if a tire is about to blow out.
Wax the paint. Even just car wash wax will help keep your paint from oxidizing and wearing through. Waxing also slightly improves mileage.
Be careful with switches. Even the ignition switch gets twisted too hard inadvertently. A light touch is usually all that is needed.
Doors and trunks should be closed fairly gently. Doors carry control units and microswitches that can get damaged. If the doors don’t close easily, perhaps lubrication or an adjustment is in order.
Make good fuel choices. Many think this statement is about octane, but the really important factor with fuel is the cleansers and stabilizers. Anything that costs a dime a gallon less probably has none, and will lead to fuel vent system varnish, grit inside the breather system and engine valve cover, and eventual carbon deposits that reduce the power and mileage. And when your car needs the first repair that results from poor fuel, the dime-a-gallon savings is negated forever. But the problems continue.
Use the climate control or air conditioner at least once a month. The bearings and seals in the compressor need to get splashed with fresh oil occasionally, else the seals dry out and seep freon much more rapidly.
Be gentle with the clutch. Slip it only minimally, and only slip at all in first and reverse. Do NOT use the clutch to hold the car on a hill! Use the hand brake to assist you when starting uphill. When you downshift a long ways, bring the engine rpm up a little to ease the load on the clutch assembly.