The Right Time to Service Your Car

a car engine oil cap

It’s obvious when your tank needs refueling or your windshield washer fluid needs replenishing. But knowing when to service your car engine or get the oil changed is not so straightforward.

Finding a balance

Complicating matters is the fact that consumer reports and car repair specialists offer different opinions. Some motorists remain cautious, going to the shop long before reaching the recommended mileage intervals. Other drivers ignore these recommended intervals, suspecting they are shorter than necessary in the interest of putting more money into service centers’ cash registers.

Vehicle owners need to come up with a plan to strike the right balance between safety and economy. Here are some helpful guidelines from Philip Reed, a senior consumer advice editor at the leading automotive consumer site

Check the vehicle manual

Flip open your vehicle manual and thumb through the fine print until you find the manufacturer’s recommended mileage service intervals. This is the most precise and reliable source for your particular make and model. And what about that well-known 3,000-mile marker? It’s largely a myth. Most new vehicles come with an oil-life monitoring system on the instrument panel that alerts drivers when the oil needs to be changed. These alerts usually appear between 5,000 and 10,000 miles, so the old standard of 3,000 actually doesn’t apply to most vehicles.

Get the best price

Once it’s time for a service trip, check out your dealership website. Dealers are increasingly offering links to service managers so that you can send a service or quote request via email. Comparing different quotes for the same services will help you find the best price for the service you need.

When you do bring your car in for maintenance, don’t fall victim to “upselling.” Some garages encourage employees to suggest additional maintenance or “dealer-recommended” services that may actually be unnecessary. Before visiting a shop, be sure to consult your vehicle manual to get a sense of which services you currently need and which can be put off until another time. (And don’t worry if you ever misplace your manual: Edmunds posts a reliable maintenance guide for all makes and models.)

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