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What maintenance schedule does my car need?

Vehicle maintenance schedules vary depending on manufacturer recommendations. In addition, the way a car is driven and the environment it’s driven in can dictate if routine maintenance like oil changes needs to occur more frequently or if belts and hoses need to be replaced sooner than manufacturers recommend.

Many people drive in ways that align with routine maintenance schedules. However, drivers who put excessive wear and tear on their vehicles may have to follow a “severe” maintenance schedule. According to the automotive information site Car Gurus, many manufacturers adhere to a 30-60-90 schedule, meaning certain items need to be inspected, changed or replaced at 30,000, 60,000 and 90,000 miles. Certain vehicle parts wear out at predictable intervals, while others, such as rubber gaskets, windshield washer blades and tires, will degrade at irregular intervals.

It is generally recommended to speak with a mechanic and discuss driving habits to ensure vehicles operate efficiently and at peak capacity. The following are some conditions that may necessitate frequent maintenance.

· Urban driving: Stop-and-go traffic in an urban setting can wear cars out more quickly than highway driving. Experts say lubricants found in motor oil break down rapidly under these and other conditions, including especially hot temperatures.

· Short trips: Frequent, short trips can take a toll on a vehicle. Again, this may be a problem for those who reside in cities or bustling suburbs. Short trips of no more than five miles can contribute to an accumulation of water vapor that dilutes motor oil and adversely affects its efficacy.

· Heavy loads: Advanced Auto Parts says transporting or towing heavy loads can put more wear and tear on a vehicle. Loads can include cargo or passengers.

· Dusty or salty environments: Dust can accumulate in air filters and clog internal engine components. Similarly, living close to the coast and salt water also can cause car parts to rust or degrade quickly.

· Extreme temperature conditions: People who reside in extremely cold or extremely hot climates may find that their vehicles have to work that much harder to operate, reducing the life span of automotive fluids, parts (especially car batteries) and the overall vehicle unless action is taken.

For those who frequently encounter these severe conditions, switching to a severe maintenance schedule with the guidance of an automotive service shop can help. The added cost of more frequent fluid changes and other maintenance can be recuperated by fewer breakdowns and the reduced need for potentially costly repairs.

How to prepare for an out-of-town breakdown:

Road trips make for excellent getaways. Whether you’re embarking on a weekend excursion or a lengthy vacation, driving yourself to your destination is a great way to travel, especially for families looking to save money.

Though no one wants to think about the possibility of a vehicle breakdown while out of town, such things do happen. How prepared drivers are can go a long way toward determining how affected they and their passengers will be if this happens.

· Get a checkup before skipping town. It sounds simple, but many drivers may overlook the importance of vehicle checkups before departing on weekend getaways or longer trips. A full checkup (including an oil change if the recommended interval has passed or is approaching) can uncover any problems that might derail a trip.

· Examine your options in regard to emergency roadside assistance. Insurance providers typically offer emergency roadside assistance to policy holders for a nominal fee, and memberships in clubs such as AAA also are inexpensive. That’s especially true when drivers compare the cost of extra coverage or AAA membership to the potential price tag of a tow truck and out-of-town repairs. Drivers should note that out-of-town repairs may require costly overnight shipping of parts so travelers can get back on the road as quickly as possible. Roadside assistance offered through an insurance company or motor club may include tow trucks free of charge up to a certain number of miles, allowing travelers to get their cars back home without breaking the bank.

· Inspect tires, including your spare. Many a road trip has been derailed or thrown off schedule due to a flat tire or tires. Before departing, check the condition of your existing tires, including the spare, as well as the air pressure in each one. Firestone notes that many vehicle manufacturers recommend replacing tires at six years, regardless of tread wear. Tires that get heavy usage should be replaced even more frequently. To determine if tread wear is something to worry about, Firestone recommends the penny test, which involves placing a penny head first into several tread grooves across the tire. If the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head is always visible, then your tires are shallow and worn and need to be replaced. But if part of Lincoln’s head is always covered, your tires can probably withstand the trip. Worn tire treads can make it hard for tires to safely navigate roads in inclement weather, so don’t discount the importance of this simple step.

· Bring along some basic tools. Pack some basic tools, such as screw drivers, wrenches, pliers, a trolley jack, a battery charger, and, of course, duct tape, which may help you temporarily solve some issues on your own. This is especially important for drivers who intend to visit remote locations where mobile phone networks may be inaccessible and the nearest tow truck might be far away. Hone your tire-changing skills before hitting the road and make sure tools are still capable of performing the kind of basic maintenance that might help your vehicle safely return to civilization.