No Scheduled Maintenance Needed!

One way that car companies attract business is by advertising that their vehicles are low-maintenance and sometimes no maintenance. This sounds too good to be true, and as is usually the case with such things, it is.

Because of entropy.

Things always wear out. Nothing lasts forever, and certainly not mechanical things. You can increase service intervals and reduce maintenance, but no maintenance is a shuck and jive.

What it means is when it inevitably fails, you replace it.

And it will probably fail sooner because it’s not regularly maintained.

This is the nature of things, no matter the advertising copy. It is, of course, very profitable. For example, instead of spending $50, to have a mechanic grease suspension fittings once every year or two, you end up spending hundreds on replacing worn out suspension parts when they fail which will happen sooner than would otherwise have been the case because they weren’t regularly greased (and are designed such that they cannot be regularly greased; there are no fittings to grease).

A small hassle is eliminated in favor of a much more considerable expense. The advertising copy never mentions the cost which will probably fall into your lap shortly after the warranty expires.

Where are the “consumer advocates” when it comes to things like this?

Here’s another thing to be wary of—Automatic transmissions are advertised as never needing to have their fluid or filter changed. This is like saying you never have to brush your teeth and don’t worry about being toothless a few years down the road.

Hydraulic fluid inevitably becomes contaminated with small particles— the result of friction and wear and tear within the transmission. These small particles can and will eventually clog a critical small passage within the fluid circuit, resulting in something that will probably cost you a great deal more than having someone drain the transmission and refill it with fresh fluid sans the particles.

There is also a filter, of course. It is there to capture these small particles and take them out of circulation. But its capacity to absorb these small particles is not limitless. This is why you need to change filters periodically. A car company can tell you that periodic replacement of the filter isn’t required. But that is not the same thing as saying it’s not necessary.

Same goes for the fluid. Over time and because of use, it degrades. Chemical changes occur. If they didn’t—if the fluid were just as fresh at the end of the car’s service life why not just drain it from the vehicle before it’s sent to the crusher and rebottle it and sell it “as new”? Heck, why not drain if from wrecked cars with “only” 50,000 miles on their odometers and re-sell the fluid “as new”?

Such a waste to just throw it away…

Of course, no one re-sells used fluid (or filters) “as new” because it’s an affront to the obvious and an obvious source of criminal fraud.

“Lifetime” transmission fluid (and filters) really means: We have determined that the transmission will operate reliably for about this long without regular fluid/filter changes. The problem, of course, is they do not advertise what “about this long” means in terms of mileage or years. Probably, a few years longer than the warranty coverage lasts. Long enough, put bluntly, such that when the transmission does fail the massive bill for a rebuild/replacement will be yours to bear – and the blame will be deniable.

And while they’ll advertise the low-cost of “no-maintenance” transmissions, the car companies guilty of this practice never tell you how much it will cost to rebuild/replace that transmission when it fails. This is something you might want to look into as the cost to rebuild/replace almost any recent-vintage car’s transmission is halting. In some cases, and particularly in the case of “no maintenance” transmissions sold by luxury car makers. It can be as high as $5,000.

Weigh that vs. the cost of a $150 fluid flush and filter change once every 50,000 miles or so.

So-called “long life” coolant is at least a bit more honestly advertised. “Long life” not meaning eternal life. You are still advised to change it, just not as often as was practice in the past. The catch is that people often forget to change it at all because the recommended intervals are often an astronomical unit apart (e.g., once every ten years or 100,000 miles). This can lead to ugly cooling system problems, which can lead to ugly (and expensive) engine problems.

Also, incidentally, transmission problems because the engine cooling system cools the transmission, and if the engine runs hot, so will the transmission.

The good news is that unlike “no maintenance” automatics, which in some cases don’t even have dipsticks to check the fluid level and never have drain plugs in the pan to make it easy to change the fluid, no one yet makes a “sealed” cooling system, so it’s easy to check the condition of the fluid which is a much better way to gauge how long the life of the coolant actually is. You can easily do this yourself by purchasing an inexpensive chemical tester. It looks like a turkey baster, with a flexible tube on one end and a rubber squeeze ball on the other.

They cost about $10 at any auto parts store.

With the engine cold, remove the radiator cap and squeeze/release the bulb to draw fluid into the tool. The gauge/reader will “sample” the chemical state of the fluid and tell you whether it needs it needs to be changed.

Go by what it tells you not what the car company’s advertising copy tells you.

Here’s one more: Spark plugs that are touted as being good for 100,000 miles. Often, they are because of modern engine management, which keeps the engine combusting fuel just right, neither too rich nor too lean.

But, here’s the catch: When the time does come to replace the plugs (and it will come, as spark plugs do wear down over time, even if that time is longer now than it once was) you or your mechanic may not be able to replace them.

Not without breaking them or the threads.

And when that happens, what was a simple $50 spark plug replacement job becomes a $500 pull-the-heads off the engine and Heli-coil the damaged threads job. Ten years of heat cycling will do that. The plugs fuse tight to the metal, and when someone tries to break them loose, they break.

This is why it is an excellent idea to have the plugs inspected at 50,000 miles rather than replaced at 100,000 miles. The plugs, with 50,000 miles of life left, can be reinstalled, with fresh anti-seize on the threads which will make them easy to replace 50,000 miles down the road.

Without having to pull a cylinder head to repair a stripped thread.


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