Car Maintenance: What to Expect at Each Service Interval

Car Maintenance and what to expect at each service interval brought to you by DriverSide.
By Brian Alexander
Let's face the facts, car maintenance isn't usually a favorite pursuit for the majority of car owners. But regular maintenance is vital to keeping your car running smoothly and avoiding unneccessary repairs that crop up if you let scheduled services pass you by. 

Proactive maintenance will make the life of a car owner much easier, and this maintenance guide will give you a general idea of what is to be expected at each major service interval. Specifics differ from manufacturer to manufacturer - so it's important to check your owner's manual and consult your mechanic, but the following is fairly standard across most makes and models.

Change Engine Oil Frequently
Oil is commonly referred to as the life-blood of an engine and for good reason. Proper lubrication is tantamount to an engine's health, so you need to regularly replace your engine oil and oil filter.

The engine oil and filter should be changed, on average, about every 3,000 to 5,000 miles for a typical gasoline engine. Some modern synthetic oils allow up to 7,500 miles of protection between changes, but only under ideal driving conditions.

Since most of the drives we take are short trips in stop-and-go traffic, it's always a good idea to change your oil more frequently than the maximum recommended interval. 

Your First Major Check-up: 15,000-Mile Service
Your first major service should come at about 15,000 miles, or twelve months, after purchasing your car. Given the young life of your car and its components, it's a relatively basic procedure.

Expect to have the engine oil and oil filter changed, along with the engine air filter and the in-cabin air filter. A new engine air filter will ensure optimal gas mileage and keep engine contaminants at a minimum, while a new in-cabin air filter will keep your car's interior dust and contaminant free.

Wiper blades should also be inspected at this point, especially if winter is approaching, and replaced as needed.

Understanding all of the items in your 15,000-mile service is important, because this process will be repeated at all major services.

30,000-Mile Service
In addition to the items replaced at your 15,000-mile service, a new fuel filter will be needed to keep your engine running smooth.

Engine coolant will also be changed at this time to ensure your car's engine does not overheat, and power steering and transmission fluids should be flushed out and replaced. These fluids break down over time and lose their effectiveness and, for the average commuter, these fluids will have been in use for roughly two years.

This service should be repeated every 30,000 miles to keep your car in good health.

45,000-Mile Service
Your 45,000-mile service will include familiar, commonly changed maintenance items such as an oil and oil filter change, but the additional focus of the service will be on the car's ignition system.

Spark plugs are key engine components that need to be replaced after three years or 45,000 miles. Worn-out spark plugs can cause misfires and dead cylinders, which seriously harm the performance and lifespan of an engine. A new ignition management system, which runs the spark plugs, should also be fitted to ensure the entire ignition system is functioning normally.

Brake fluid should also be changed after 45,000 miles or three years, as it absorbs water over time and thickens, losing its efficacy. Brake pads need to be checked and replaced as needed, especially for drivers who spend a significant amount of time in stop-and-go traffic.

Repeat this service every 45,000 miles to ensure maximum engine health and brake use.

60,000-Mile Service
At 60,000 miles, the 30,000-mile service should be repeated with one additional replacement, the timing belt. The timing belt runs critical internal engine components (specifically cams and valves) and can cause serious damage to the engine if it breaks, so be careful not to overlook this easy-to-miss item. Due to its age and constant use, the car's battery will probably be losing its charge by now and should also be replaced to avoid future start-up troubles.

Repeat this service every 60,000 miles, and at 75,000 miles, repeat your initial 15,000-mile service.

Car maintenance is - by its very nature - an inconvenience, but by following this simple guide, you can easily keep track of your vehicle's major maintenance items. Regular maintenance will ensure your vehicle remains as problem-free as possible and help retain its resale value. Below you will find a checklist to help you keep track of what service is required at each interval.


Service Interval Check List

15,000-Mile Service
Engine oil
Oil filter
Engine air filter
In-cabin air filter
Wiper blade replacement

30,000-Mile Service
Engine oil
Oil filter
Engine air filter
In-cabin air filter
Wiper blade replacement
Fuel filter
Power steering fluid
Transmission fluid
Engine coolant

45,000-Mile Service
Engine oil
Oil filter
Engine air filter
In-cabin air filter
Wiper blade replacement
Spark plugs
Distributor cap
Brake fluid
Inspect brake pads/replace if necessary

60,000-Mile Service
Engine oil
Oil filter
Engine air filter
In-cabin air filter
Wiper blade replacement
Fuel filter
Power steering fluid
Transmission fluid
Engine coolant
Timing belt
Battery

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