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

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Maintenance Milestones

The coronavirus shutdown has changed the way virtually all Americans live their daily lives — but the nature of cars and their service needs are just as they were before. 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.

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30-60-90 Service Intervals

Most mechanics still recommend the so-called 30-60-90 service interval, which puts your 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 — particularly during the current crisis. A well-maintained car can go hundreds of miles beyond all three of those landmarks and maintaining social distancing is almost certainly more important now than sticking to a precise service schedule.

windshield wiper fluid
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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. They take place at 3,000, 6,000, 9,000, and 12,000 miles. Check things like belts, battery, and cables at three months/3,000 miles, transmission fluid and windshield washer fluid at six months/6,000 miles, power steering and lights at nine months/9,000 miles, and coolant and tires at one year/12,000 miles. Here, too, there's plenty of wiggle room unless a problem is evident. If not, meeting these guidelines isn't worth the risks of breaking social distancing to visit a mechanic.

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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. The coronavirus shutdown has forced millions of cars to sit idle for extended periods, and 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.

Related: 11 Things to Do to Maintain Your Car While You're Not Driving It

Lie: Change Oil Every 3,000 Miles
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Oil Change Every 5,000-10,000 Miles

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

Change Your Air Filter
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Air Filter Every 15,000 Miles

Air filters are critical components that most people can change themselves. Whether you DIY the task or leave it to the pros, air filters should be changed at intervals not exceeding 30,000 miles. If you live in an especially dusty or polluted area, according to CarGurus, you should change your air filter closer to every 15,000 miles.

Lie: The Fuel Filter Is Filthy
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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.

Brake Fluid
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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.

Related: 32 Lies Your Mechanic Has Told You

Change Old Spark Plugs
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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 50,000-60,000 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 your battery, even if it seems to be working well. After three years, however, you should periodically get your battery tested by a mechanic if you're not inclined to DIY.

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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.

change windshield wipers
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Consumables When They Fail

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

Related: 49 Car Products That Are a Complete Waste of Money