Sometimes it seems like there are a bazillion parts in a car, and each of them just waits until the worst possible moment to fail. But car parts have their own timetables. If you know which parts need regular maintenance and when, you will avoid a lot of problems, avoid being taken advantage of, and get the most value out of your automobile.
The list below sets out common general maintenance intervals for car parts (your user manual will give you more precise intervals for your car).
Notice that some intervals are specified in miles driven and some are specified in time. Soft parts and some fluids will start to break down whether you use them or not, but hard parts wear out from use. The list does not include more frequently changed items like air filters and brakes because their lifespan has more to do with the conditions under which they are used than either time or mileage. If you drive down from the Mesa or from Santa Ynez, you will be harder on brakes than if you spend all your time in the flats.
The final word is the condition of the part. If your brake fluid tests at 4 percent water after only 12 months, clean it out and put fresh fluid in. If your radiator hoses are soft and starting to collapse or hardening and cracking at 50,000 miles, by all means swap them out now. Don’t wait another 20,000 miles.
Air Conditioning Freon (recharge): 24-36 months
Clean and Adjust Brakes: once a year for drum brakes
Radiator Hoses: 70,000 miles
Battery Cleaning: once a year
Engine Fuel Filter: 15,000 miles
Engine Tune Up (Spark plugs with or w/o wires): 30,000 miles for regular plugs; 100,000 miles for iridium plugs
Fuel Induction Service (clean throttle): 24 months and with tuneup
Engine Timing Belt and Water Pump*: 90,000 miles
Windshield Wipers: 6 months
Clutch Fluid (manual transmission): 24 months
Brake Fluid: 24 months
Green Coolant: 24 months
Transmission Fluid: 30,000-60,000 miles
Differential Fluid: 30,000 miles
Power Steering Fluid: 30,000 miles
Conventional / Synthetic Blend Oil: 3,000-5,000 miles
Synthetic Oil: 6,000-10,000 miles
Alignment: check twice a year◊
Shocks/Struts: 50,000 miles
Check Tire Pressure: monthly
Tire Rotation: 5,000-6,000 miles
Wheel Balancing: 10,000 miles
*In many cars, the timing belt and water pump sit together deep in the engine, and the biggest cost in replacing either one is the labor to get to them. If you are replacing one, the cost to replace the other at the same time is relatively low.
◊Many shops will check your alignment for you at no charge.