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Every vehicle needs regular maintenance to keep it in proper working order. Following the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule for your car will preserve your investment, help ensure vehicle longevity and reliability, and even save you money. However, many car owners get talked into over maintaining their vehicles, which won’t hurt the car, but can put an unnecessary dent in your pocketbook. To prevent over maintenance, trust the recommendations of the people who engineered and built your car, and not necessarily those of a service center that may be looking to sell additional maintenance work.

What Is Over Maintenance?

Over maintenance is performing services more frequently than the vehicle manufacturer recommends or replacing parts that still have useful service life remaining. It can also be performing services or using additives that the automaker does not recommend. Common examples include too frequent fluid and filter replacements, unnecessary fluid “flushes” and the addition of various fuel, oil and other additives that promise to boost performance in some fashion. Over maintenance can significantly add to your vehicle expenditures over time, with little or no measurable benefit.

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Common Items for Over Maintenance

Here are some common forms of over maintenance that occur every day in the automobile service business:

3,000-Mile Oil Changes – Modern engine oils are designed to go 5,000 to 7,500 miles between changes, and some full synthetic oils will go well over 10,000 miles before needing replacement. Color is not an accurate indicator of oil condition. Follow the intervals specified in your owner’s manual, or change the oil when the in-car maintenance monitor says it is time to do so.

Air Filter Replacement – Dirt and debris on the surface of an engine or cabin air filter doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. Loose debris can be knocked off, and if light from a bright source passes through more than half of the filtering media the filter should be fine until at least the next oil change. Note that some filters will not pass light even when new, so follow the automaker’s change intervals on those cars.

Wheel Alignment – Your vehicle doesn’t require a wheel alignment unless it’s pulling to the side as the car travels straight down the road, or the tire treads show unusual wear patterns. If these symptoms are absent, wheel alignments is only necessary when you install new tires.

Spark Plug Replacement – Most modern spark plugs have durable platinum tipped electrodes that allow replacement at very long intervals – as much as 100,000 miles. The only other time you need to replace a spark plug is if a technician diagnoses a bad spark plug as the source of a vehicle problem. Otherwise, follow the automaker’s guidelines for replacement.

Fuel/Air Induction System Cleaning – If your vehicle has driveability problems, a qualified technician should perform a comprehensive diagnosis. Fuel and air induction system cleaning may be needed, but it is not required as a routine service, especially if you use high-quality Top Tier gasoline with enhanced cleaning additives.

Fluid Replacement – Many auto service centers sell fluid “flushes” as routine maintenance. While these don’t usually harm your vehicle, flushes other than those recommended by the vehicle manufacturer don’t benefit it either. Common unnecessary fluid flushes include engine transmission and power steering. All automakers recommend engine cooling system flushes, but with modern coolants the minimum interval is five years or 50,000 miles, while the high end is 10 years or 150,000 miles! Some automakers also recommend fluid changes for transmissions, transfer cases and final drives/differentials, but intervals vary widely depending on the vehicle and how it is used. One often overlooked fluid service is flushing the brake fluid, which should generally be done every two to three years to remove corrosion causing moisture from the brake system.

Air Conditioning Service – Your vehicle’s air conditioning system does not require routine maintenance. As long as it is blowing sufficiently cold air it is fine. If that is not the case a professional system diagnosis is in order.

Additives – With a few very rare exceptions, routine maintenance doesn’t call for the use of any additives. Automakers carefully design their vehicles, fluids and lubricants to provide a long service life. Adding aftermarket products can upset the chemical balance of a fluid and create problems for your vehicle.

The Maintenance Your Vehicle Really Needs

Your vehicle came from its manufacturer with an owner’s manual. If you haven’t carefully read through it now is a good time to do so. The manual includes a checklist of routine maintenance services and when to perform them on your particular vehicle. Maintenance schedules differ depending on the make and model of the automobile, so it’s vital to refer to your specific manual. Following this schedule should keep your vehicle in excellent condition barring any accidents or unusual conditions.

If an auto repair facility recommends additional maintenance services, it should be after a professional diagnostic inspection and be prefaced with a good explanation of why they feel the work needs to be done. If a shop recommends a non-scheduled maintenance service without first performing a diagnosis, and your vehicle is running fine, it’s quite possible what they are trying to sell you is over maintenance.

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