How Often You Really Need to Take Your Car in for Service

Female Auto Mechanic Examining Engine of an Automobile with Hood Up, Sideview of Engine in the Foreground


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Female Auto Mechanic Examining Engine of an Automobile with Hood Up, Sideview of Engine in the Foreground

Maintenance Milestones

With all that's going on, it's perfectly understandable if auto maintenance is the furthest thing from most people's minds. But they should consider that an unexpected repair bill is probably the last thing they need right now, and keep vehicle service needs on a front burner.  

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30-60-90 Service Intervals

Most mechanics still recommend the so-called 30-60-90 service interval, which puts a car in the shop for scheduled maintenance at 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, and 90,000 miles. This is a tried-and-true formula, but according to Consumer Reports, there's no need to rush your car in when it reaches one of those milestones. A well-maintained car can go hundreds of miles beyond all three of those landmarks.  

Related: Things to Do to Maintain Your Car While You're Not Driving It

Closeup of Windshield Wiper Fluid in a Gallon Jug Being Poured Under the Hood Into a Car, Area Is Indicated By a Yellow Cap

3-6-9-12 Service Intervals

Advance Auto Parts created a tutorial for basic maintenance during the large gaps between the 30-60-90 intervals and beyond. Check things such as belts, battery, and cables at three months or 3,000 miles, transmission fluid and windshield washer fluid at six months or 6,000 miles, power steering and lights at nine months or 9,000 miles, and coolant and tires at one year or 12,000 miles. Here, too, there's plenty of wiggle room unless a problem is evident. 

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Focus on Smiling Woman Driving a Car As Seen Through Driver's Side Window, Selective Focus

Drive Once a Week

Although this doesn't exactly qualify as taking your car in for service, it's a good idea to drive for 10 minutes or so once a week or every two weeks, even if you don't have to. Many people learned this during the coronavirus shutdown when forced to work from home, which left millions of cars sitting idle for extended periods. Cars are designed to be driven (literally). Long-term lack of use is bad for your car — bad for tire inflation, bad for the gas tank, bad for the battery, bad for brakes, and bad for all the parts and systems that aren't being circulated with motor oil.

Closeup of Car Mechanic's Hands Holding a Jug Pouring Oil Under the Hood Into the Engine of a Car, Selective Focus

Oil Change Every 5,000 to 10,000 Miles

The standard interval for oil changes has long been 3,000 miles, and still is for many mechanics and dealerships. The reality is that the past several decades have seen radical improvements in things such as engine efficiency, fuel injection, and oil quality. Most cars today require oil changes between 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Always go with the manufacturer's recommendation in your manual.

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New Car Air Filter Layer on the Car's Engine, Diagonal
Closeup of a Used Longitudinal Cross Section of a Car Engine Oil Filter, Colored Orange

Fuel Filter Every 30,000 Miles

Fuel filters are just as critical as air filters — an engine won't run if the fuel filter is clogged — but they're not as easy to replace. Generally, fuel filters should be replaced roughly every 30,000 miles. A mechanic can tell what kind of shape your fuel filter is in with a simple pressure test.

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Closeup of Two Grey Gloved Hands Pouring New Brake Fluid Into a Car Engine
Ratanapon Sangounsiritham/istockphoto

Fluids Every 30,000 Miles

As previously discussed, motor oil varies by car and must be replaced more frequently than your vehicle's other critical fluids. They include brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant, and transmission fluid. They should be changed every 30,000 miles or so and, unlike motor oil, draining and replacing these fluids is not a DIYable task for most.

Left Hand Holding a Used Spark Plug with Thumb and Pointer Finger

Spark Plugs Every 40,000 Miles

Most vehicles driven under standard conditions can go 40,000 miles or so without a spark plug change. In terms of all vehicles collectively, however, there's a huge gap in service intervals. Specialty and older vehicles might require a swap every 20,000 miles. A brand-new modern car on the other hand, might be able to go as much as 120,000 miles on its original spark plugs.

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Brakes Every 50,000 to 60,000 Miles

A good set of brake pads and shoes should last every bit of 50,000 miles, although they should be checked well before that and taken in for service if they start screeching or making any other odd noise. Rotors should last 60,000 miles. At that point, they should be replaced or, at the bare minimum, resurfaced.

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Battery Replacement Every Five Years

Modern batteries produce a full charge until the moment they actually die. That means that when they do fail, they often fail without warning. That usually won't happen until after about five years, which is when AutoZone recommends replacing a battery even if it seems to work well. After three years, however, you should get your battery tested periodically by a mechanic if you're not inclined to DIY.

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Car Mechanic Putting the Bolts of a New Tire In of an Elevated Car
Worayuth Kamonsuwan/istockphoto

Tire Change Every 6 Years

Treadwear has long been the yardstick for measuring when old tires should be swapped out for new ones. But, according to Edmunds, the chemical compounds found in rubber break down naturally, degrading tires no matter how many miles are driven and no matter what shape the tire's treads are in. Tires need to be replaced roughly every six years, even if they appear to still be in good working order.

Related: What's the Best Place to Get New Tires?

Man Installing New Windshield Wipers of a White Car in the Driveway of His Home

Consumables When They Fail

There's no hard-and-fast rule for when to replace so-called consumables, CarGurus says, other than that you'll know when you need a new one. These include things such as windshield wiper blades, hoses, and rubber gaskets. These critical parts fail at irregular intervals and should be changed when either you or your mechanic notice visible wear or reduced performance. 

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