Your vehicle manufacturer publishes two maintenance schedules. The regular schedule and the severe service schedule. It’d be wrong for us to tell you that everyone always needs to follow the severe service schedule – but its wishful thinking to say that the regular schedule is always good enough. We’ll give you the definitions and explain the issues, and you can be the judge.

Most manufactures list the following as severe conditions:

  • Most of your trips are less than four miles.
  • Most of your trips are less than 10 miles and outside temperatures are below freezing.
  • The engine is at low speed most of the time – not on the highway.
  • You operate your vehicle in dusty areas.
  • You regularly tow a trailer or carry heavy loads.
  • Driving in very hot or very cold weather.

So think about your typical week. Do you live a block from a freeway on-ramp and enjoy a non-stop commute to work? Or are you like the rest of us where 90% of our trips are on the severe service list?

The answer may be different at different times of the year and for the different drivers in your family. Think of the two service schedules as bookends. Let’s suppose your owner’s manual says the severe service oil change recommendation is 3,000 miles and the standard recommendation is 5,000 miles. You know that you need to change the oil somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 miles. Look at your driving patterns and conditions and honestly evaluate which end of the spectrum you’re closer to.

If you have a job in a neighboring town and most of your commute is freeway miles, you may choose the regular service schedule for your car. On the other hand, if you live within a few miles of work and only get on the highway a handful of times every month. Something closer to the severe service schedule is more appropriate.

Now why is this so important? Moisture builds up in the engine oil from normal condensation. Short trips or driving when it’s really cold means that the engine doesn’t heat up enough for the moisture to evaporate. The water in the oil leads to oil sludge that gums up your engine and doesn’t let the oil protect it as well. That’s why you need to change the oil more frequently – to get the sludge out before it causes problems.

Towing, heavy loads and very hot weather means that your engine and transmission will operate at higher temperatures and with more stress. The fluids will break down more quickly. Additives that clean and prevent corrosion will be depleted sooner.  Dusty conditions, which may extent also to areas with high air pollution, mean that fluids will get dirty faster and that filters will plug up and won’t work right.

All of these things can lead to premature wear and repairs down the road. They’ll also hurt your fuel economy. If you want some personalized advice, talk with your service adviser. He can help you restore your vehicle to good working order and help you know the best schedule to follow. If you’re not sure, err on the side of protection.

For more great auto tips videos on severe service maintenance, check out our online auto tips videos library from AutoNetTV.