A survey by AAA has found that newer cars with built-in maintenance reminder systems are allowing owners to spend less time worrying about when to service their vehicles and more time enjoying vehicle ownership. According to the survey, 63 percent of motorists drive vehicles with a built-in maintenance reminder system that alerts them when it’s time to have service work performed. More than half (51 percent) of those drivers rely solely on the reminder system and have maintenance done only when the system says it’s due. AAA recommends that motorists always follow automakers’ maintenance recommendations as found in vehicle owners’ manuals, including the use of in-vehicle maintenance reminder systems (where equipped) as an accurate indicator of when a car needs service.
“It’s encouraging to see motorists accepting this technology. Maintenance reminder systems make vehicle ownership easier and having required services performed at the appropriate intervals results in better overall performance and longer vehicle life,” says Steve Mazor, the Automobile Club of Southern California’s AutomotiveResearchCenter manager. “Reminder systems can also save money by helping drivers avoid unnecessary service work.”
Reminder Systems and Vehicle Maintenance
Unlike traditional maintenance schedules based on time and/or mileage, maintenance reminder systems use various sensors and a computer algorithm to monitor vehicle operation and determine engine oil life based on real world use. The factors considered vary by reminder system, but commonly monitored values include hours of operation, engine rpm, cold starts, outside air temperature, vehicle speed and more. This analysis of real-time vehicle operating conditions makes choosing an oil change interval based on traditional “normal” or “severe service” driving conditions obsolete.
Frequency of Scheduled Maintenance
Motorists who follow their in-car reminder systems may also see a change in the frequency of recommended oil changes. While older vehicles sometimes required oil changes as often as every 3,000 miles, advancements in engine and lubricant technology have extended oil change intervals to 5,000 miles or more on most newer cars. In some cases, engines that use synthetic or semi-synthetic oils can have oil change intervals of more than 10,000 miles! AAA survey data show today’s motorists are beginning to accept longer oil change intervals, with 48 percent of drivers changing their oil every 3,000-6,000 miles.
Not All Oils Are the Same
While maintenance reminder systems typically call for extended oil change intervals, those recommendations are based on an assumption that the oil used in the engine meets the automaker’s specifications. AAA found that nearly 75 percent of motorists whose cars have built-in maintenance reminder systems understand that the accuracy of those systems depend on using engine oil that meets the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications.
Many newer cars today require the use of semi-synthetic oil (a blend of conventional and full-synthetic stocks) to maintain the warranty and ensure proper engine protection between oil changes. The use of full-synthetic oils is very common in European imports, high-performance models and engines equipped with turbochargers or superchargers. Using lower quality oil than required will compromise engine protection, decrease the accuracy of the maintenance reminder system and potentially void the engine warranty. It is important that motorists and service providers be aware of the relevant standards for each vehicle and only use engine oils that meet them.
AAA advises motorists to follow their vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and, if their vehicle is equipped with a maintenance reminder system, to perform necessary maintenance when prompted by the vehicle. Ignoring maintenance reminders can increase vehicle wear and tear and potentially cause long-term damage. It is also important to know what type oil your vehicle requires and ensure that your service facility uses an appropriate product. The wrong oil could void a vehicle’s warranty, leaving the motorist to pay any needed repair bills.