AAA Study Finds Most Motorists Drive Under Severe Conditions And Don't Realize It

(LOS ANGELES, Oct. 2, 2009) The Automobile Club of Southern California has always advised motorists to follow the automobile manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule to improve the reliability and longevity of their vehicles.  However, owner’s manuals usually contain two different maintenance schedules—one for normal service and one for severe service, depending on how the vehicle is driven.  In a recent study, the AAA found more than half of all motorists follow the wrong maintenance schedule.  
When polled by AAA, only six percent of motorists felt they did most of their driving under severe service conditions.  But when asked about the actual driving behaviors that create severe operating conditions, 62 percent of motorists admitted they drive their vehicle that way all or most of the time.
Vehicle manufacturers vary slightly on how they identify severe service driving, but AAA’s study asked motorists if they frequently:
  • Drive on short trips of less than 5 miles in normal temperatures or less than 10 miles in freezing temperatures.
  • Drive in hot weather stop-and-go traffic
  • Drive at low speeds of less than 50 miles per hour for long distances.
  • Drive on roads that are dusty, muddy or have salt, sand or gravel spread on the surface.
  • Tow a trailer, carrying a camper (if a pickup truck) or transport items on a roof rack or in a car-top carrier.
“Manufacturer’s provide a different set of recommendations for severe driving conditions because of the increased wear they put on vehicle components and fluids,” said Dave Skaien of the Auto Club’s AAA Approved Auto Repair Program.  “Most Southern Californians’ driving habits, urban-area commutes, and driving locales in cities, deserts, mountain areas, and hot and cold temperatures fall under following the severe maintenance schedule.
“Not following the severe driving maintenance schedule may result in reduced fuel economy, premature tire wear,  and wear-and-tear on vehicle batteries, and also many other vehicle components like the timing belt which is crucial to safe engine operation,” Skaien added.
Maintenance schedules for severe driving conditions typically recommend having the vehicle’s fluids, filters, belts and hoses changed on a more frequent basis and more frequent inspections of some components. 
AAA advises motorists they should:
  • Read their owner’s manual and/or maintenance booklet.
  • Learn what the manufacturer considers normal and severe service driving conditions for their vehicles.
  • Make an assessment of their driving habits.
  • Schedule service in accordance with the appropriate maintenance schedule.
For additional assistance in evaluating whether they drive under severe conditions and determining the proper maintenance intervals for their vehicles, motorists can visit any of the 650 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities throughout Southern California.  These facilities have undergone an extensive inspection and meet stringent AAA standards for quality, ability, integrity and professionalism in auto repair.
The AAA study was conducted as a survey last October during AAA Car Care Month.  It included interviews with 841 U.S. adults, both AAA members and non-members who currently own or lease a motor vehicle.  Interviews were weighted by age, sex, geographic region and race to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total population, 18 years of age and older.

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Elaine Beno
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