Getting Your Car Serviced? 10 Terms to Know Beforehand


You think you know what a word means until you listen to a 90’s rap song and everything is turned upside down. Cheddar isn’t a kind of cheese, and flossing isn’t something that accompanies teeth brushing. The same is true when it comes time for car maintenance. The mechanic or service advisor often throws around terms you thought you knew in a whole different way. We can’t help you translate Tupac, but we can help you define some of the terms you may encounter next time you need service.

Mia Bevacqua
3-minute read

Normal service schedule versus severe service schedule

You always thought you and your Toyota Camry were pretty normal. After all, you use it for commuting to work, not for Friday night drag races. But not according to automakers—most manufacturers define a severe use vehicle as one that is driven under one or more of the following conditions:

  • Short trips of less than 5 miles in normal temperature

  • Short trips of less than 10 miles in freezing temperature

  • Stop-and-go traffic in hot weather

  • Long trips at low speeds of less than 50 miles per hour

  • Roads that are dusty, muddy, salty or gravel covered

  • Tow a trailer or haul a lot of cargo

In other words, basically every car on the road sees severe duty. For this reason, you want to follow the severe duty service schedule outline in your owner’s manual. That means servicing your car more often, but hey, service is cheap insurance.

Flushes versus fluid changes

If you only think of a flush as something you do to your Kohler, you’re wrong. Fluid flushes are all the rage in the automotive repair industry these days. Yet often a flush is not as good as a fluid change. Flushes use fancy machines to flush the old fluid out of the system and push new fluid in. This typically involves removing a couple of system hoses to attach the machine to. The problem with this is, many parts of the vehicle, such as the transmission, have an internal filter. When the flush is performed, this filter is left unattended to. That’s why, in most cases, the best method is draining the fluid from the system and replacing any filters.

Quick oil change versus full service

Full service gas stations have gone the way of bellbottoms and disco balls. The full service oil change, however, remains. What’s the difference between a quicky lube and full service job? Basically, a quick oil change is just that; an oil and filter change. Nothing more, nothing less. On the other hand, a full service oil change typically checks the tires, tire pressure, belts, hoses and tops off all the fluids. These items fall under what is generally referred to as a courtesy check.

Full synthetic versus synthetic blend

A mix is good in an Arnold Palmer, so why not engine oil, right? Synthetic blend engine oil is designed to provide some of the benefits of full synthetic without the high cost. Synthetic oil is refined at much higher degree than ordinary oil. These oils reduce friction inside the engine, increase fuel economy and lower operating temperatures. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive. A synthetic blend mixes approximately 25% synthetic oil with conventional oil for a nice compromise.

Tune-up versus spark plug replacement

Unless you drive an old relic equipped with a mechanical distributor and carburetor, your vehicle doesn’t need a tune up. Modern machines don’t have much to adjust since the onboard computer controls everything. Spark plugs still need to be changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, but that’s about it. Most vehicles don’t even have spark plug wires anymore, they have individual ignition coils that sit right on top of the plugs. Isn’t technology great?

So, there you have it; service terms demystified. Next time your vehicle needs service, you can recite what you’ve learned, just like you can still recite a Biggie song circa 1997. The only difference is, you’ll actually know what the service terms mean.


Mia Bevacqua works at YourMechanic.com. Have your own question about service terms or anything else auto related? You can ask one of our highly trained technicians and get an answer quickly, usually within 24 hours.