The best way to maintain your car is to follow the manufacturer's suggested service schedule, but some people opt not to for various reasons, cost often being one of them—the scheduled maintenance services can certainly be expensive. Generally when people think of routine maintenance for their vehicle, they only think of things like oil changes and air filters—so they see the rest of the maintenance service as an unjustified cost. Unfortunately, seeing it this way means a number of important services never get completed. If you choose to maintain your car differently than the manufacturer recommends, make sure these otherwise forgotten services get performed.
1. Brake fluid flush: Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and absorbs moisture. Even in a sealed brake system, the brake fluid can absorb moisture from the surrounding environment, resulting in lowered boiling point of brake fluid, and possible rust and corrosion in the hydraulic brake system. Most manufacturers specify different intervals for brake fluid flushes. If your manufacturer doesn’t specify, or they specify more than several years between services, then we recommend having it done every three years or 36,000 miles.
2. Automatic transmission fluid flush: In order to make their vehicles seem low maintenance, automotive manufacturers began selling cars with “lifetime transmission fluid” that never needed to be changed. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Modern transmissions work harder and longer than their predecessors, and their fluid still degrades over time. Cars with “lifetime transmission fluid” often experience an increased rate of transmission failures after 100,000 miles. If you want your transmission to go the distance, it’s suggested that you change the transmission fluid every 60,000 miles, give or take a few thousand miles.
3. Coolant change: Similar to the automatic transmission fluid, coolant is now sold as another “lifetime fluid” in the car. Once again, this is not entirely true. The coolant degrades over time with normal use, and the ph balance becomes less than ideal, which can allow the coolant to damage parts of the cooling system or engine. A good interval is to change the coolant every 40,000-60,000 miles. This should help keep the coolant at a proper balance, which should keep you cooling system healthy.
4. Cabin air filter: The cabin air filter is used to filter the air coming into the passenger compartment from outside the vehicle. Some vehicles use a simple particulate filter, which removes dust and pollen from the air; and some use an activated charcoal filter which removes the same dust and pollen, but can also remove smells and pollutants. Replacement of these filters is usually inexpensive, and can greatly improve the quality of the air you’re breathing in the car.
5. Valve adjustments: Admittedly, valve adjustments are becoming less common with each passing generation of vehicle. However, there are still a large number of vehicles on the road that use mechanical valve lifters, which require occasional clearance checks, and adjustments if necessary. Best case scenario– running valves too tight or too loose can cause low power and efficiency. Worst case scenario– the engine can suffer severe damage, such as a burned valve.
This list is not totally inclusive of all services that are normally skipped over when they should be performed. It’s strictly a list of the most commonly overlooked services that can make a big impact on how your vehicle performs, and a reminder to ensure they are done on your vehicle should you choose to follow an alternative maintenance schedule or plan. Of course, the best way to maintain your vehicle is still to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.
Toby Schultz is the Senior Automotive Editor at YourMechanic.com. YourMechanic delivers mobile car repair by certified mechanics in over 700 U.S. cities. Their top-rated technicians can perform over 600 services at your home or office and will even answer your questions online.