Car Maintenance


Where the Rubber Meets The Road


Post-Purchase Maintenance: Vital for Extending the Life of Your Investment

You’ve put a lot of effort into buying exactly the car — whether new or used — that’s right for you. It meets your needs, it fits your budget, so your work is done, right?

Not so fast.

To ensure you enjoy the fruits of your labor for as long as possible (not to mention forestalling the buying process), routine maintenance is critical.

We asked Pat Goss, well-known automotive talk-show host and owner of Goss’ Garage in Seabrook, Md., to advise drivers how to keep their cars running like the well-oiled machines they were meant to be.

Oil Change

Frequency depends on your type of driving. If you tend to drive short distances, every three months or 3,000 miles is mandatory for longest engine life. Drive 15-plus miles with an average speed of 45 mph or more? You can go between 5,000 to 7,000 miles, as long as you don’t surpass the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations.

Balance and Rotate Tires

Unless you’re having a problem, balancing tires is a waste of money, says Goss. It is not routine maintenance. Tire rotation is another matter; never let it go more than 7,500 miles. Coordinate it with your oil changes. If you’re having your oil changed every 3,000 miles, you’ll rotate at 6,000.

Be sure your rotation — which Goss says is misunderstood by many technicians — is done right. It’s not just moving tires from front to rear. Today’s cars require what is called a modified “X” rotation. For a front-wheel-drive car, it works like this: The tire on the right rear would go to the left front, and the left rear tire to the right front. The two front ones come straight back. For rear-wheel drive, just reverse the pattern.

Tire Pressure

One of the most common misconceptions around. The proper pressure is not the number stamped on the tire; that’s just the maximum safe pressure for that tire. The appropriate pressure level is the one recorded on the decal that’s probably on the inside of the driver’s door (see left). Even if you purchase different tires, that number still applies because it indicates what is safe for the vehicle, and that never changes. 

Transmission Flush

A real flush — not a drain-and-refill —should occur every two years or 24,000 miles. Notable exceptions are European models that use hydraulic fluid. Those can go 100,000 miles.

Power Steering Flush

Every two years or 24,000 miles. A relatively new addition to regular maintenance, these flushes didn’t even exist until a few years ago. Today, they’re vital.

Brake Fluid Flush

No less frequently than every two years.

Radiator Flush

Although frequency depends on the type of coolant you use, all coolants should be checked yearly for performance criteria, such as pH. Standard-type coolant should be changed every two years; long-life coolants, between two and five years.

Wheel Alignment

Another common misconception, says Goss, are the time-honored “tests” for wheel alignment.  “Most of these are bogus. If you let go of your steering wheel and find you’re drifting slightly, that is no absolute indicator that you’re out of alignment. You might be, but there are also about 150 other things it could be. Abnormal tire wear is the best indicator that you need to have your wheels re-aligned,” he advises.


Obsolete. You get tune-up-related parts tested when you have any kind of performance problem, such as hesitation or rough running that isn’t synonymous with the changing of the seasons.

Saving Money at the Garage

To save money when doubling up on services — such as an oil change and rotation — book only the oil change. Once your car is on the lift, request the rotation. The total price should represent the costs associated with putting your car in the air only one time. There are a number of steps required for each service, no matter what it is — recording the VIN number and other record-keeping functions. Once these are already performed, it’s hard for a reputable garage to charge you a second time.

“For instance, a full-service rotation could run around $60; if it’s tacked onto another service, it’s more in the $15 range. However, if you book them together, you’ll see both full prices listed as line items when you pick up your car,” Goss counsels.


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