Milestone Mileage Tuneups

By Catherine McNulty

February 2, 2012 5 min read

Has your car recently celebrated a mileage milestone? Cars are better-designed and more technologically advanced than ever; every car should make it to 60,000 miles, and the majority of them will make it to 120,000 miles and quite possibly beyond. But instead of cupcakes and party favors, your mechanic hands you a laundry list of maintenance items that need to be taken care of. Do you really need to do all of them?

Most people have an inherent distrust of car mechanics. Within a generation, cars went from being something that a weekend tinkerer could fix to being so complicated that most mechanics need a specialized degree to work on them. Because most people don't understand what's going on under the hood, any additional suggestions beyond what you went in for from the mechanic seem like a greedy grab for more money.

Perhaps the best place to start is your owners manual. Every car comes with one, and every car owner should spend a few hours perusing it. Cars nowadays are individualized, so blanket statements -- such as "get your oil changed every 3,000 miles" -- no longer apply. Yep, it's true; consult your owners manual to see your car's recommended oil change schedule.

Another major factor that influences when and what your car needs done is the conditions you drive it in. Conventionally, it's been recommended that you should replace the air filter in your car once a year or every 15,000 miles. Though that's good in practice for city drivers, if you go off-roading or drive a lot of dirt and gravel roads, you'll need to replace the air filters much more frequently, possibly even every three months or so.

That said, your car should be on a maintenance schedule. Keep up with the oil changes; get the tires rotated and balanced; check the fluids regularly. Find a mechanic you trust, and go to that person for everything. Loyalty is occasionally rewarded with discounts, and having a comprehensive history of your car's maintenance in one place can be helpful.

So do you specifically need a 60,000-mile checkup? Again, cars and technology have advanced so much recently that conventional wisdom no longer applies. So check your owners manual, or check with the dealership or directly with the maker. Internet forums also can be a gold mine for maintenance-related queries.

However, most automakers do recommend you get a 60,000-mile checkup. In addition to the usual fluids and tire check, many cars will need spark plugs replaced and the timing belt replaced or adjusted at that mark. Think of it this way: Your car is now middle-aged and needs a thorough physical. All the systems should be checked thoroughly and fixed accordingly, including the brakes, suspension, steering, fuel system, engine, exhaust and cooling. This can be major maintenance, so plan ahead financially and get an estimate.

If your car left 60,000 miles in the dust long ago, then you need to be even more fastidious with your maintenance schedule. Just as older humans need to go to the doctor more frequently, your car will need your mechanic's help more than ever in its twilight years. Every 15,000 miles or so, you should be heading to the mechanic for minor tuneups, but once you cross the 120,000-mile mark, you'll need to have your mechanic check every major system.

Once again, spark plugs and the timing belt are likeliest to have worn out and need to be replaced, but everything should be monitored. At this point in your car's life, your mechanic may try to start selling you on high-mileage oil. Most mechanics recommend it for cars with more than 100,000 miles. What is it? Oil that has a few additives to help aging engines. Is it worth it? The jury is still out officially, but at $15 more than standard oil, it is considered by most consumers to be marketing hype.

Much like the case with your own health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A car is one of the biggest assets the average person has. So make sure your car is an asset to you for a long time with plenty of preventive care.

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