Let the Manual Be Your Guide

Believe it or not, the owner’s manual that comes with your vehicle actually contains a great deal of useful information. Many times people skip the instruction book that comes with whatever cool new thing they have bought, but in the case of the owner’s manual for your car, it is well worth your time spending a few moments studying the information found in its pages.

You might not need to read the instructions on how to start your car, or how to buckle your seat belt (those things are actually outlined in great detail), but you should definitely study the chapters pertaining to vehicle maintenance. This is the best way to determine what services are required and when. Every owner’s manual will have a maintenance schedule that will tell when you need to have certain preventative maintenance services performed.

These are things like oil changes and tire rotations. Any service that is recommended based on mileage or time is necessary just to help prevent any future problems or to stave off undue wear and tear. Common services that are always found in the owner’s manual are things like oil changes, and tire rotations, as mentioned above; but also things like air filter replacement, spark plug replacement, coolant service, transmission service, brake inspection, and all sorts of other things.

Many manufacturers will show two different maintenance schedules in the owner’s manual, “normal”, and “severe.” The difference between the two is that severe calls for more service at more frequent intervals. The one that you should follow depends on how and where you drive your vehicle. The following is a description of severe driving conditions according to the owner’s manual in a 2005 Honda Civic.

  • Driving less than 5 miles (8 km) per trip or, in freezing temperatures, driving less than 10 miles (16 km) per trip.
  • Driving in extremely hot [over 90°F (32°C)] conditions.
  • Extensive idling or long periods of stop-and-go driving, such as a taxi or a commercial delivery vehicle.
  • Driving with a roof rack, or driving in mountainous conditions.
  • Driving on muddy, dusty, or deiced roads.

If you drive in any of these conditions then you drive your vehicle under severe conditions. This of course is silly because anybody who drives any car anywhere is likely to be severe. Maybe a little old lady, who lives in San Diego and only drives her car twice a week for 10 to 15 miles at a time, can be considered normal.

An example of a service schedule from an owner's manual.

The reason for this nonsense is to make the cost of maintenance seem cheaper for the car shopper that is doing their homework. Most people think that they are normal and if they are calculating the total cost of ownership, they will figure maintenance costs according to the normal schedule.

Knowing the maintenance schedule for your vehicle is helpful because if you take your car in for an oil change and they try to tell you that you should have something else serviced, you will have an idea if what they are telling you is true or not. Knowledge is power.
If you are not sure when to replace a filter or if your car even
has a particular filter check the owner's manual first.
Not everything that your car will ever need is outlined in the maintenance schedule. Sometimes your mechanic will recommend something that is not listed, and they may tell you that it is part of routine maintenance. A good example of this is fuel filter replacement. Cars that have one of these almost never have a recommendation for replacement, but it is almost always a good idea to service it regularly.

Arm yourself with information from the owner’s manual and your car will last longer, and you will be more educated when you take it to the shop. This is the best guide that you have and the information will help you take care of this machine that you rely on so much.

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