16051 Deerfield Pkwy., Prairie View, IL. 60069
The following is a Car Care Manual to help you understand some of the regular maintenance services that are necessary to keep your investment (vehicle) safe and running dependably for many miles. If maintained properly, most automobiles built today will run well over 100,000 miles with very few problems. But how do you know what the proper the maintenance schedule is? The owner’s manual says one thing, yet George, next door, says another. Who do you believe? If you trust the owner’s manual, you can get confused by “Maintenance intervals may vary under severe service conditions.” What the heck is severe service? Most people don’t realize that: Grandma Millicent, driving 3 miles, 3 times a week to Church meetings is much more severe service than Lead-foot Harry, cruising 80 Mph on the freeway. Mother Margaret can put more wear and tear on her car when running 5 blocks to the White Hen, than her 16-year-old Son does while "cruising" for 2 hours on Saturday night. You might think that the factory recommendations would be overkill, to generate more business. That would be wrong (see below under "misleading"). We are going to make sense of all this, to help you maintain your car properly.
Parts of the following text may occasionally sound like techno-babble, but keep in mind that this information may save you thousands of dollars in a very few years. Unless you can afford to throw your vehicle away after 36,000 miles, this is going to be very valuable reading.
Lets take a minute to go over these common definitions of vehicle usage.
All outside air temperatures are above 40 degrees and below 80 degrees. All or most trips in the vehicle are 10 miles or longer. No stop and go traffic. No operation in dusty or salty areas. Acceleration rate is “normal” and no trailer is being towed. If you meet all of these conditions, you can follow the recommendations of Normal Service Intervals. All others should read on.
Read the small print in the owner’s manuals: “Vehicles operated in temperatures below freezing or above 80 degrees. Frequent trips of less than 10 miles at a time. Traveling in dusty or salty roads. Operation in stop and go traffic, and/or hard acceleration and/or trailer towing.” I think you will agree that most of us live in this world.
Sounds misleading? You bet! If most of the world falls into the “Severe Service” category, why not call that normal? By defining "normal" as so mild, the auto manufacturers’ marketing departments get to double the length of intervals on the service recommendations. Why do that? Because it looks better on the bottom of the window sticker where the "projected annual maintenance" and operating costs are posted. It is all about selling the cars. Once one manufacturer did it, they all had to. Read the fine print in your owner’s manual, and you will usually confirm that you are in the hard or severe service category. If you live in the world of severe service, and follow the “normal service” recommendations, the manufacturer can turn you down for warranty work during the warranty period. On the other hand, our main concern is just getting you through the warranty period, but far beyond. Even if you have purchased an extended warranty, the warranty company can and will deny your claim if the proper service levels have not been maintained. They will absolutely turn you down for sludge in the engine, with or without proper maintenance documentation. The newer "Flex Service" systems, that are supposed to monitor your usage and calculate when an oil change is due, also extend the intervals too long. If you have any doubt, search the internet for class action lawsuits concerning these systems. Mercedes already lost one and was forced to buy engines that were burning oil due to inaccurate Flex Service recommendations. Do you really want to depend on a class action suit to save you later?
Why are you putting the blame on Mom?:
Why not? Everyone else does! But seriously, we are discussing a condition that occurs with anyone who lives close to work, takes the train, or for any reason drives largely in short trips. Lets compare this vehicle’s first trip of the day to you getting up in the morning. When you first start your car on a cold morning, it is not real happy to get moving. It is cold, stiff, and even a little cranky. Even a mild 40 degrees temperature is cold to an engine that is designed to run 200 to 220 degrees. Start out at 20 degrees below 0, and things really get stiff. To compensate, your engine receives extra fuel from the fuel system (like you waking up with a cup of strong black coffee) and some extra ignition timing (a little morning music) to get things moving. That helps, but some components of the vehicle are still not very happy. Various parts of the engine and driveline have accumulated condensation moisture (a little morning stiffness) and fluids are thick. Under “Normal” conditions, that’s O.K. The designers of these cars know that the engines will load up with extra fuel and moisture when they are cold, but they also know that after the car has been driven for a while, the normal lean fuel mixture of a warm engine is going to burn out the residues left by that rich initial warm up period. The engine and drive line will also get hot enough to boil out the excess moisture. BUT, what if your car is not driven long enough each time to complete this cleanup process? What if you got up every morning, gulped down 2 cups of strong coffee, took a shower (without drying off), walked out to the driveway for the newspaper, and then went right back to bed? Imagine doing that every day for months on end. You’d be coffee’d to death, have an ulcer, and look like a prune. That’s a lot like how your car feels after months or years of short trips.
If you own two cars, and one of them usually goes farther than the other, rotate cars once in a while. Let the long distance driver drive the short trip car and stretch it’s legs occasionally. If you only have one car, take it out occasionally for a longer cruise and exercise run (I highly suggest the run for fudge in Lake Geneva). An hour cruise will save much more in repair expense than it will cost in gasoline. You also must increase the frequency of your maintenance. This is not an either/or situation. You must both exercise AND watch your diet! What follows is a good set of maintenance recommendations for most of us in this area and environment.
The following are average service recommendations, that can vary over a wide range from year to year and model to model. One approach is to perform a "K" inspection, or GCA (General Condition Appraisal). In this case a tech will inspect all major systems of the car, and review the service history vs. the maintenance recommendations for that year and model, to see what is due:
Oil Change and Lubrication @3 months or 3,000 miles
(which ever comes first)
Front C.V. Boots Inspect @ 3,000 miles
Suspension and Steering Inspect @ 10,000 miles
Shocks or Strut Check @Check every 10,000 miles.
Coolant Flush @2-3 years (for conventional coolant)
Tune Ups @30,000 to 100,000 miles
Transmission Service @30,000 to 100,000 miles
Brake Check & Tire Rotate @ 10,000 miles
Brake fluid flush @ 2-3 years
Wheel Bearing Repack As needed
Belts and Hoses @ 5 years or 50,000 miles
(or as necessary)
Differential Oil Change @60,000 to 100,000 miles
Timing Belt Replacement @Replace @ 60-100k miles (most vehicles)
Why do we constantly push the need for frequent oil changes? This is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT and CHEAPEST maintenance you can do for your car. Your oil is the medium in which your engine operates. It is the life’s blood of your engine. Engine oil helps cool the engine, operates internal hydraulic engine devices at pressures of over 100 psi, and cushions the major engine bearings under pressures of over 1000 psi. Oil lubricates and separates metal from metal at gaps that are measured in tolerances of .0005”. It flushes and cleans vital engine parts and holds the dirt in suspension until changed. Additives in the oil counteract acids, formed as byproducts of the combustion process (carbonic acid and sulfuric acid). More additives in the oil help it flow freely when cold (when it wants to flow like molasses), and maintain viscosity (thickness) when hot. Anti-foaming agents keep the oil from foaming and developing destructive air pockets. These additives account for 20% of the oil by volume. Finally, your oil must perform all these duties at temperatures ranging from -30o F to over 5000o F. That’s not asking too much, is it?
A Lube, Oil and Filter change, with conventional oil, should be done every 3000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. This is the standard recommendation of almost all service professionals. There are some variations based on some vehicles that hold 6, 7, or 8 quarts of oil, but you will generally be safe following this recommendation. The less driving you do, the more severe the wear on the engine and the oil. That is why we say "whichever comes first". This gets rid of those acids and moisture that collect in your engine during short trips. It also prevents oil sludge build up, that blocks the path of the oil to the necessary lubrication points. There are no second chances. Once those deposits form, there is no really effective way of cleaning them out, short of an expensive engine overhaul. Some engines today have become more stressed (with more power from smaller engines), and require (as recommended by the factory) full synthetic or even blended synthetic oil. Use what ever your vehicle calls for. If your vehicle calls for synthetic oil, you can usually extend that interval to 6 months or 6,000 miles. If your vehicle usage is especially "severe", we may need to discuss that adjusting that interval. These recommendations include vehicles with a Flexible Service System. We have seen vehicles come in, with computer driven Flex Service systems, that had traveled 1.5 years and 10,000 miles with no message to change the oil. The oil, that was drained, looked like salad dressing. Take a hint from the GM service manual on its Flex Service system, which says "If the system is ever reset accidentally, the oil must be changed at 3,000 miles (5,000 km) since the last oil change."
Keep in mind also that an oil change is not just changing the oil. It should include checks of tires, tire pressures, fluids, belts, hoses, and many other maintenance areas of the vehicle!
First there was regular (conventional) oil, then came synthetic oil, then came semi-synthetic (synthetic blend) oil. Use the type of oil the manufacturer calls for. We do not advocate the use of synthetic oils on a car that calls for conventional oil. Since conventional oils are more than up to their job, when maintained properly, we feel synthetic oils, unless called for, are a waste of your money. However, as mentioned above, some specific engine designs call for synthetic or blended synthetic oils. This is based on the the engineer's knowledge of special stress points that might exist in a particular design engine. If the manufacturer calls for these oils, then they should indeed be used. As to brand: After 30 years of opening up engines, with varied histories of oil change intervals and brands, I recommend Valvoline.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Gone are the days of 2 choices: 10W30 or 10W40. On today's engines, especially those with variable valve timing and cylinder canceling controls, using the wrong weight of oil can set failure codes and turn on the dreaded "Check Engine" lamp. Today we use oil weights of 0W20, 5W20, 5W30, 10W30, 10W40, 0W40, 5W40, and 20W50, depending on the vehicle. On older engines with more wear, we will occasionally recommend a heavier oil, but that depends on the individual application. Stick with the factory specification unless treating a specific problem.
As part of normal maintenance, the additives already contained in the oils are up to the task at hand. Any more money spent in additives is usually a waste of your money. In rare problem solving situations, we may recommend a special additive. Other than these special situations, we do not recommend the regular use of additional additives. Also, stay away from most engine flushes. Usually, what is being flushed is your wallet!
People often say, “They just don’t build cars like they used to.” Mechanics would contend that people are not maintaining their cars like they used to. Contrary to popular belief, most engines manufactured today will operate free of internal problems for well over 100,000 miles if its life’s blood is kept clean and fresh. If not, you can do serious (translate: expensive) damage to your engine in as little as 15,000 miles. We have seen it happen all too often! It’s the old “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you do this now, you will thank yourself 50,000 to 100,000 miles from now. We know, with today's hectic pace, it is hard to find the time to get that maintenance done; but compare 1/2 hour every 3 months to the number of hours you must work to afford a $4000 to $6000 engine rebuild. As soon as we open an engine up, we can tell how frequent the oil changes have been. We see very few clean open engines, but then we rarely have to open up the clean ones.
New engines are a lot harder on the tune-ups than the older engines were. New engines are a lot easier on tune-ups than the older engines were. “Well, which is it?” you ask? Both!? Newer engines are smaller, run hotter, and run closer to their design limits than did engines of past. Replacement labor can often be higher, with restricted access to plugs deriving from more intricate designs. On the other hand, unleaded fuels with more powerful ignition systems and precise computerized control of fuel and emission systems, have decreased deposits building up on the spark plugs. This is not to say that modern engines are maintenance free! Let's first look at the spark plug, heart of the "tune up". In 30,000 miles, an average engine can fire each spark plug 50 million times or more. These plugs operate in temperatures ranging from -300 to 40000 F. and under pressures exceeding 5000 Psi. These guys live in a tough neighborhood! By 30,000 miles, conventional plugs are getting tired and worn. You might say: “my car still runs fine”, but are you sure? The average driver is unlikely to notice a 10% to 15% decrease in performance while driving, especially when that loss comes gradually over a period of 30,000 miles. Even a trained professional is unlikely to notice a gradual increase of 10% more gas pedal required to cruise at 55 MPH. Meanwhile, the computer system is bending over backwards to compensate for the poorly running engine. If the lack of pep doesn’t bother you, a 15% loss in gas mileage can get pretty expensive at today’s gasoline prices. If the extra gas money doesn’t bother you, how about where all that extra gas is going? Some of it exits the exhaust pipe as pollution. Even if you don’t care about the environment, there is the not-so-little matter of increased carbon deposits in the engine's combustion chamber, left by partially burned gasoline. These deposits shorten the life of your engine and can force you have to use premium fuel (at +$.30/gal. more) to stop that annoying pinging sound your engine makes when accelerating or climbing hills (which, by the way, is trying to eat a hole in your pistons). If all that doesn’t bother you, being stuck in the cold dark parking lot, with a car that doesn’t start, might get your attention. The increased plug gaps, of worn plugs, will put additional stress on the ignition system and lead to early failure. Lastly, driving with worn plugs can lead to an early failure of your catalytic converter, which is often an expensive repair.
The 30 k mileage interval mentioned above, for conventional spark plugs, does not apply to all engines. More of today's vehicles are equipped with platinum and double platinum tip plugs that resist wear and can last 60,000 or 100,000 miles. These plugs are more expensive, but can be changed less often. However, be careful about going over 5 years on those 100,000 mile plugs. Many manufactures have foot notes to change at 5 years if 100k is not reached by that time, as they often will seize in the engine when left in too long. Check your owner's manual or call us to see which ones you have. How about other traditional tune up parts and procedures? Some cars still require periodic ignition timing adjustment, but most do not. Other items, that used to be included in the traditional "Tune Up", will now vary from car to car. Many models are staggering the intervals on these items (examples: PCV every 30k, fuel filter every 75k, plugs at 100k). Many no longer use a cap and rotor, or even wires. Some have a non-serviceable fuel filter inside of the tank. PCV valve applications vary. Today's tune up is more of an "A la carte" affair, with different parts changed at different intervals.
Why do we classify fuel or gasoline as a maintenance item. Well, you certainly need it for the vehicle to run. If you use the wrong kind, it can hurt your engine. If you wait to long to fill the tank, it can hurt the fuel pump. Let's go over these points one by one.
Emissions tests serve more than "just" to protect the environment and the future of the Earth. While the intent is to check the vehicle for excess emissions, failure of the test indicates a malfunction in your fuel and emissions control systems, that can more often than not, lead to additional failure issues in the vehicle. Gone are the "false positives" of yesteryear. We repair many cars that have failed the emissions test or have a "check engine" lamp on. In 90% of these cars, we make repairs that greatly improve gas mileage and reliability in the bargain.
Your vehicle's computers monitor many of the control systems in the vehicle. If it detects a malfunctioning subsystem, it will turn on the MIL (Malfunction Indicator Lamp, Check Engine Lamp, Service Engine Soon lamp are all different names for the same amber warning lamp). This lamp is amber (warning color), as opposed to red, to indicate that you do not need to pull over and stop, but you should get in for service as soon as convenient. This is not a "Maintenance Due" lamp generated at a specific mileage or service interval. This is an actual malfunction, detected by the computer. The computer system will store a numeric code, to indicate in what subsystem the issue was discovered, but this cannot be interpreted as identifying the failed part in that subsystem. Sometimes a related part can make another part look bad to the computer. Sometimes the failures are general in nature (such as P0171: bank #1 of engine running too lean). In any case, a flow chart for the code must be run to isolate the failed part. To prevent possible addition damage, these issues should be addressed as quickly as convenient (in days, as opposed to weeks).
There are many “experts” that feel belts and hoses should be replaced every 50,000 miles. However, though we favor regular maintenance, we also subscribe to the principle: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. We have seen some belts that need changing at 20,000 miles, and have seen other belts that are fine at 60,000 miles. The same applies to the hoses. The key is to make sure that they are inspected regularly. There is no substitute for a hands on inspection. Regular inspection, every 3,000 miles at oil changes, is the best deterrent to getting stuck on the side of the road with the hood open.
Inspection of the terminals and fluid level is important. I know many of you think that batteries today are “maintenance free”. That was the trend for a while, but is not generally true today. Most of today’s batteries do need a level check and can be refilled. A good time to do this is during every oil change. Corroded terminals should be cleaned as necessary.
Newer transmissions are more complex, more expensive, and more delicate than they used to be. Overdrive, extra gears, and locking converters have been added to increase gas mileage and overcome smaller engine sizes. However, these units must be made lighter and smaller to reduce weight and fit in the smaller chassis’ of downsized cars. Durability has suffered in many cases. Yet these newer units can still provide long service if maintained properly. The leading cause of transmission failure is deteriorated transmission fluid. Changing the transmission fluid is one of those services that is often forgotten because of the long interval between changes (30,000 miles). Unfortunately, forgetting this service in today’s age can cost you a lot of money. The price of rebuilding many of these more complex units can run $1,800 to $4,500, or more What can you do to prevent this expense? First: avoid transmission-overheating situations. Your trans. fluid wants to run between 175 to 195 degrees. Towing a trailer, driving in the mountains on a hot day, or running with low transmission fluid, will each cause overheating. A 20-degree rise over normal temperature cuts your transmission life by 50%. If your transmission sees heavy-duty service, a transmission cooler and/or more frequent fluid changes may be in order. If you have any questions as to how severe your service is, call us for advice. Second: keep your engine in a good state of tune. What does the engine have to do with it? Transmission shift patterns are controlled by some engine functions. We have seen many transmissions destroyed by the sliding shift induced by a poorly running engine. Last, but not least, change the fluid when necessary. Manufacturers recommendations vary from 30,000 mile intervals to never, depending on their intimate knowledge of loads in a particular model. Remember that these are always general recommendations, subject to frequent inspection of the fluid condition. If a fluid inspection reveals dirty or aged fluid, the service should be done sooner. In some cases this involves removing the transmission pan, changing the internal filter, and replacing the pan gasket, but this method only changes half the fluid. In most cases we recommend the newer technique of a total transmission fluid flush. This involves connecting a special machine to the vehicle that pumps fresh fluid into the transmission while the transmission if pumping the old fluid out. This changes all of the fluid and is much better for the fluid.
Today, more than ever, the cooling system flush is an important part of your regular maintenance. Most cooling systems need to be flushed every 2 to 3 years. Some types of coolant are designed to last longer. Coolant is a fluid that deteriorates more with age than mileage. With the abundant use of aluminum next to steel and iron in today’s engine, it becomes much more important to maintain a fresh supply of corrosion inhibitors in the cooling system. Coolant will also turn acidic with age and start to eat away at hoses and rubber seals. Most of you know that if the antifreeze concentration is not right in the winter, it can freeze and ruin your engine. Many people don’t realize that the concentration of coolant is just as important in the summer. Engines today run normally at 1900 to 2200 F, sometimes up to 2400 in severe conditions. Our science teachers taught us that water boils at 2120. The proper 50/50 mixture of antifreeze raises that boiling point to 2400. The 15 psi pressure of a properly sealed cooling system raises that boiling point to about 2600, leaving only a thin safety margin. The bottom line is that the coolant should be tested periodically for protection level, cleanliness, and acidity, and then flushed when necessary.
It’s very simple; “If your car doesn’t start, you call a tow truck; if it doesn’t stop, you call an ambulance!” You need to have your brakes maintained by someone who knows what they are doing. This is not the time to experiment on your own. Safety is the #1 priority. The second consideration is expense. Worn brakes is one failure that frequently doubles or triples in expense, when driven “just a little bit too long". Unfortunately this is also one area of repair that is least predictable from a mileage interval standpoint. There are some models that go through front brakes every 15,000 miles. Other vehicles, driven primarily on the highway, can go as long as 70,000 or 80,000 miles on a set of brakes. A loose average would be about 40,000 miles. So what do you do? A good rule of thumb is to check the brakes at tire rotations @ 10,000 miles. At that time, we can check the percentage of brake wear relative to your mileage, and establish a wear pattern.
Just because we stress the need for maximum safety, does not mean that we advocate throwing every dollar you own at the brake system. There are chain stores that make their fortunes by taking advantage of your concern in this area. Years of experience tell us that it is not necessary to replace or overhaul every component in the braking system at every brake job. A thorough inspection of the braking system will usually reveal those components that need to be replaced. Calipers and wheel cylinders do not normally need to be replaced at every brake job. Careful attention and regular inspections will keep your car safe for you and your family.
All front wheel drive cars, and many rear wheel drive or 4 wheel drive vehicles have CV drive axles. These axles must be able to flex and still transmit the driving force to the wheels. This flexible transmission of power is performed by the CV (Constant Velocity) joint. The CV joint is a more precise and complex version of a U joint. These CV joints are packed in special grease and encased in a rubber accordion style boot. Over the years, the flexing of that boot can force it to crack or tear. A torn boot lets the grease out, and lets water and dirt in. If the boot is not replaced, the CV joint can be ruined and break. Since these heavy axle shafts can be spinning at 1500 rpm in the middle of your brake lines, steering linkage, and suspension components, it is a good idea to catch this impending failure early before they break. CV boot inspection should be done at every Lube, Oil, and Filter (i.e.. every 3000 miles). As axle assemblies are often competitively prices, it is sometimes more cost effective to replace the axle. We will help you decide which is the best route for your vehicle.
We are about to enter the twilight zone of auto repair sales. This is probably one of the most abused areas of unnecessary sales in your automobile or truck. Shocks do not determine ride height; they determine ride control and quality. When shocks are leaking oil, they need to be replaced. They can also be bad without leaking oil. There is no specific time or distance for regular shock or strut replacement. If the vehicle starts to float and wallow (like a boat on the waves), or bumps feel too harsh, it may indeed be time to replace the shocks. Struts are shocks that do double duty as part of the suspension. A Strut normally takes the place of the shock, upper control arm, upper ball joint, and spring housing together. The result of this design is less weight and more precise control. Unfortunately, the counterpoint of this design is that it requires more disassembly (translate more labor dollars) to replace, and more expensive parts. We have seen shocks and struts fail as early as 20,000 miles, and others still functional at 100,000 miles. Some cars are designed to ride soft, while others are designed to ride stiffer. Listen to a trusted mechanic, and/or the seat of your pants to determine if your shocks/struts are failing. Poor ride control is not only a comfort concern, but also determines how the vehicle will behave during sudden stops or changes of direction. This makes it a safety concern as well. However, don't let someone sell you struts because "they are original and have a lot of miles on them".
Springs control ride height. Weak or broken springs can affect the level and overall height of the suspension. If springs are weak and level ride height is disturbed, the angle of certain suspension components and alignment can change. We feel that springs are sold more often than necessary. A trusted mechanic should examine them whenever a question of ride height arises. On the other hand, other front suspension components such as ball joints, tie rod ends, idler arms, etc. are not examined often enough. These parts must be greased on a regular basis (if so equipped with lube fittings), and inspected. Many of these parts are of a ball and socket design. When the socket becomes worn, the ball can pop out of the socket and separate. If any of these components wear out and break, complete loss of control can result. Many of these components can be inspected easily during a lube job. Some ball joints require special procedures to unload the suspension in order to check for play.
Timing belts connect and synchronize the upper half of your engine (where the valves move up and down) with the bottom half of your engine (where the pistons move up and down). Timing belts are a lighter, cheaper, quieter version of the timing chain, and commonly used on most vehicles today. This belt is hidden behind covers that are behind your "fan belts". They cannot be easily inspected and wear more structurally than on the surface of the belt. There are specific recommendations for each model, ranging from every 60,000 to 105,000 miles. Because the interval is so long, they are often forgotten. If this belt breaks, any engine will stop running. Unfortunately, on some models (with "interference engines"), they can sustain much more expensive engine damage if this belt breaks before it is replaced. If you are in doubt, you can call us to look up the recommended interval for your particular year and model vehicle. We can also determine if your engine is an "interference engine". An engine equipped with a timing chain is of a different design, and does not require periodic maintenance, other than regular oil changes.
As you can see, our promotion of regular maintenance is not an attempt to dip into your checkbook more often, but an attempt to keep those vehicle repair checks smaller. When your doctor suggests a regular check up on your child, he is not trying to get your money, he is promoting good health. There is plenty of repair work for us to do, without having to make any up. With all of the confusion, variations, and complexities involved in car maintenance, your most important step is to take advantage of what we have have always offered our customers in the past: a good friendly relationship of trust between the mechanic and the car owner. That means that you get the good service and honest recommendations you need at a fair price. You get a good value for your service dollar and we get to sleep nights. The recommendations above are arrived at through years of repairing the cars that have not followed these maintenance schedules. Proper maintenance will greatly reduce the chances of those sudden and expensive catastrophes. It will also keep your car more dependable and safe for you and your family.
Copyright © 2008 [Lamb's Automotive]. All rights reserved.
Revised: April 23, 2010 .