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How to Choose a Car Maintenance Schedule: Normal or Severe Duty

An oil pan and rag underneath a car.

Proper car care includes following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for your vehicle. Every manufacturer provides a schedule, and it’s typically divided into two parts: normal and severe duty. You may believe that following a normal-duty schedule is the right fit for you, but most drivers should actually adhere to a heavy-duty schedule. Here’s why.

Car Maintenance Schedule 101motor oil

You can find a vehicle’s maintenance schedule by turning to the owner’s manual, usually found in the glove box. Go to the maintenance section and it will list normal- and severe-duty schedules, sometimes referenced as Schedule A and Schedule B, respectively.

Under each schedule is a record of due maintenance items that lists the number of miles (or kilometers) a vehicle should be driven before the owner must perform each task. For example, under a normal-duty schedule, the manufacturer may recommend oil changes every 7,500 miles. However, under the heavy-duty schedule, the change intervals may shrink to as few as 3,750 miles. Additionally, your manual will indicate which type of oil to use: conventional or synthetic. The manufacturer may also supply a box adjacent to each due item to check off as the maintenance tasks are completed.

Your Driving Habits

Several years ago, AAA asked 841 motorists about their driving habits to determine if they did any of the following:

  • Drive their vehicles on trips of fewer than 5 miles during mild weather or fewer than 10 miles in freezing conditions: Short trips cause an accumulation of water vapor, which dilutes motor oil and adversely impacts performance.
  • Drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic in hot weather: Extreme temperatures can take a toll on your car. Not only can this wear out your battery faster, but lubricants such as motor oil break down more rapidly as well.
  • Consistently drive at speeds below 50 miles per hour for long stretches: Your vehicle is designed to run best on open roads at highway speeds. Anything less increases wear and tear, requiring stepped-up maintenance intervals.
  • Traverse roads that are salty, muddy or dusty, or roads with sandy or gravel-covered surfaces: Dirt roads can clog your air filter, preventing clean air from entering the engine. This makes your engine work harder, reducing fuel economy in the process.
  • Regularly tow a trailer, have a camper affixed to a pickup truck or carry items on top of the vehicle, such as a roof-top carrier: Carrying any extra load, including on the roof, is weight your car bears at a cost to its efficiency.

Survey Says

A surprising 62 percent of the AAA survey respondents indicated that they drive under severe conditions all or most of the time. As such, these individuals should follow the severe-duty schedule.

As for the schedule that you should follow, a candid reckoning of your driving habits against the AAA’s criteria will help you choose what’s best for your vehicle. Don’t be surprised if you require the heavy-duty maintenance schedule.

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on car maintenance schedule, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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