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Everyone knows the age-old car maintenance schedule advice of getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles. Or was it 7,500 miles or three months? There’s a passionate debate around service intervals — whether they should be based on time or mileage, and even then, how much? What everyone can agree on is that following a maintenance schedule is important, so let’s cut through some of the fat to find out what’s best for your vehicle.

Time Is Miles

The reason there are so many heated opinions on the matter is because the answer isn’t straightforward. Vehicles sustain a lot of wear and tear, and while some components are consumed more than others (oil, tires, wipers, air filters, etc., are prime examples), the truth is that nothing on a car really lasts forever. Some things break down with use. Every time you apply the brakes, you’re one step closer to needing new pads and, eventually, rotors.

On the other hand, some things are actually more prone to go wrong when you use them less. Cars traveling under 10 miles a day will experience difficulties associated with an engine and a transmission that never fully reach operating temperature. A battery left to sit for months in a garage will discharge and suffer a shortened life span. You get the idea.

Being Proactive Helps

A common complaint regarding mechanics is that they perform unnecessary maintenance, but that’s the point. The whole purpose of preventative maintenance is to, well, prevent major service down the road. For example, it’s a good idea to change the timing belt while it’s still intact instead of waiting for it to break and possibly cause catastrophic engine failure. There are a host of factors that play a role in determining the difference between a well-timed service and an unnecessary one:

Driving Habits

Cars that regularly drive on a highway for more than 15 miles at a time need to be serviced less frequently than vehicles that only drive short distances in freezing cold weather while towing a heavy load.

Material Quality

This covers everything from how well-manufactured the car is, to its age, to the type of replacement parts you choose. Synthetic oil will take you a lot farther than conventional oil, and an engine with 200,000 miles on it will need much more attention than a newer motor.


While it may seem like manufacturers ask you to perform more than necessary services, they do so as a way of assuring you will keep the vehicle in the best shape. Choosing to skip a service could void your car’s warranty and could become an issue later on. The best advice when it comes to basing vehicle maintenance on time or mileage is simple: follow whichever comes first.

A key piece of good maintenance and peace of mind is finding a mechanic or shop you trust, and working out a schedule with them. You should always keep an eye on things like tires which can wear out without regard to road-time, but creating and sticking to a service log will go a long way to keeping your car on the road.

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on setting up a car maintenance schedule, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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