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What you need to know about your car maintenance reminder system

If you own a newer vehicle, car maintenance reminders may display in the dash to let you know when service is due. The car dashboard symbols or messages alert you when it’s time for an oil change and other needed services. Auto service requirements vary depending on the vehicle and its mileage and time on the road, so be sure to consult the factory-recommended maintenance schedule included in your owner’s manual or maintenance booklet to determine what work needs to be done at specific intervals.

Two types of car maintenance reminder systems

There are two types of car maintenance reminder systems currently in use. The simpler design tracks the number of miles the vehicle travels. To receive timely alerts, you must first program the system with a service interval based on how you drive the car. Consult your owner's manual for the criteria used to establish the proper mileage interval, and information about how to enter it into the reminder system.

More advanced car maintenance reminder systems monitor vehicle operating conditions to determine service intervals and do not require entering a pre-determined mileage. Depending on the car you drive and the type of engine oil it requires, the maintenance reminder system can indicate a service alert anywhere between 3,500 and 15,000 miles. Most vehicle manufacturers, however, say to change the oil every 12 months even if a service alert has not yet displayed.

Why the right engine oil is important

An important thing to know about car maintenance reminder systems, especially those that track vehicle-operating conditions, is that their accuracy depends on using engine oil that meets the automaker’s specifications. If you use a lesser product – for example, conventional oil in an engine that requires full synthetic oil – the reminder system has no way to know. Thus, the oil could break down, resulting in accelerated engine wear or even failure before the reminder system displays a service alert.

Reset the reminder system after every oil change

Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual or maintenance booklet to reset the car maintenance reminder system after every oil change. On most cars, this involves some combination of turning on the ignition and pressing the gas pedal or pushing dashboard buttons in a specific sequence. Other cars require a diagnostic scanner or special tool to reset the system.

If you do your own oil changes and your car requires a special device to reset the maintenance reminder, check with the auto repair shop that normally provides other car maintenance services for you. The shop may be equipped and willing (possibly for a small charge) to reset the reminder system. Note, however, that due to potential liability some shops will not reset the reminder system unless they can verify that all required services for a given maintenance interval have been completed.

Additional information

Read AAA’s Automotive Technology Update about Maintenance Reminder Systems to learn more about in-car maintenance reminders. If your vehicle has a maintenance reminder system, trust it to determine the car’s basic service intervals, even if they are farther apart than those you may be accustomed to with older vehicles.

Once a month, continue to check the engine oil level and tire inflation pressures. When it’s time for service, choose a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility to ensure the job is done right the first time by a certified auto technician. Want to know approximately what a repair will cost? AAA provides an easy-to-use repair cost estimator that calculates the estimated price, including parts, labor and a AAA member discount.

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