What’s the Best Car Maintenance Schedule for Infrequent Drivers?
If you live in the city or just seldom use your car, you will probably need to adjust your car maintenance schedule to reflect your light driving habits. When should you perform basic maintenance on your car; that is, when should you change your oil, rotate your tires and change air filters? Is it more or less often than the mileage intervals recommended by the owner’s manual?
According to Tony Molla, the Vice President of Communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a car is the second biggest investment most people will make in their lives. He went on to say that properly caring for your car requires regular maintenance, meaning performing regular oil changes, rotating your tires and changing your vehicle’s air filters on a regular basis. The most important thing you can do to keep your car running well over 200,000 miles is to carefully follow the schedules in your owner’s manual. However, Tony warns, the car maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual represents the bare minimum when it comes to car maintenance.
Measuring Severity of Use
Don’t think that just because you don’t drive much that your car doesn’t need regular maintenance. In fact, if you don’t drive your car often, or only use it to make short trips, then you should follow the “severe use” car maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual, which requires more frequent service. Paradoxically, long high-speed trips down the highway do not constitute severe use, because vehicles are designed to work at high speeds and high temperatures. Short, stop-and-go trips in which the engine doesn’t get a chance to warm up properly are considered to be severe.
Oils Well That Ends Well
If your severe-use schedule recommends changing the oil at 3,500 miles or six months, you should perform routine maintenance at whichever interval comes first. No matter what kind of driving you do, Tony suggests you should change your oil at least twice a year. We don’t necessarily change oil because the oil itself wears out, but because the oil additives wear out. These additives prevent sludge from building up, collecting moisture and potentially damaging the internal components of the engine, and they do have a shelf life.
If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving or make a lot of short trips that don’t let your engine warm up properly, you’re stressing pretty much everything on the engine, including the fluids.
The best thing you can do for your car is simply to drive it. Once every week or two should be enough to avoid any special maintenance or start-up procedures. But make sure you drive it long enough to ensure the engine and exhaust system are thoroughly warmed up to avoid any moisture condensation problems, which many suggest should be at least 15 to 30 minutes of actual driving—not just idling.
If you’re not a frequent driver, it’s also a good practice to keep your gas tank full. This will help prevent contamination in the fuel in the tank from condensation from the air in the empty space in the tank.
If you count yourself among the ranks of the infrequent drivers, you should keep these tips in mind. It’s easy to forget that your car is out in the driveway, but keeping its fluids primed and clean is essential to preserving its condition.
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