What is a good non-mileage based car service schedule?
August 27, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I own a 2004 Mazda3 5-door. I love my car and love not having car payments and want to keep it running well as long as possible. I get oil changes fairly regularly, but I don't know what other maintenance or inspections I should be getting.

The problem, such that it exists, is that my 10-year-old car has less than 40,000 miles on it. So I never hit any of the recommended mileages for various maintenance and services that a person should perform on a car. I already get the oil changed more frequently than the miles would suggest (otherwise I could easily go 9 months between oil changes - I try to keep it closer to 6 months and know even more frequently would be better). But I'm not sure what else I should be getting checked. I'm sure that after 10 years in a northern climate there are things that get worn out even if mileage is low - seals, hoses, fluids, etc. I've had tires and brakes replaced as needed, but not much else done to the car.

So ideally I'm looking for a website or other reference that says what I should be getting checked out or serviced and how often that isn't based on miles. I could just bring it into a mechanic and say "look everything over" and I'll do that if that's the consensus, but I would also love a schedule so that I don't suddenly find out I neglected some really important maintenance and now my awesome, low mileage car is all messed up.
posted by misskaz to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The coolant should be changed periodically. Rotating the tires regularly should help them last longer. The air filter might want replacement. Possibly the transmission fluid could be changed (the manual six speed in my Honda gets crotchety if I don't use fresh transmission fluid, a known issue with the car).
posted by exogenous at 12:55 PM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: I would vote for the trusted mechanic and "look everything over" - because things may wear out weirdly, and a standard schedule might not account for the time well.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:55 PM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: Check the vehicle maintenance schedule in your 2004 Mazda3 Owner's Manual. I think you will find that for each recommended maintenance item they list both mileage and months, with the intention that the frequency of service is determined by whichever occurs first.

For example, my vehicle scheduled maintenance schedule (my car is not a Mazda) lists that the oil and oil filter need to be replaced every 7,500 miles or 6 months (whichever occurs first), the climate control air filter every 10,000 miles (or 12 months), the coolant every 25,000 miles (or 24 months), the air cleaner filter every 30,000 miles (or 24 months), the fuel filter every 37,500 miles (or 30 months), the spark plugs every 97,500 miles (or 78 months), and the transaxle fluid every 105,000 miles (or 84 months).
posted by RichardP at 1:01 PM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: Here is the maintenance schedule for your 2004 Mazda3:

It has Schedule 1 versus Schedule 2. I live in MN with rough winters and drive short distances, so I use Schedule 2. It has at the top miles OR months. If I were you, I'd follow the months.

(I have a 2008 Mazda5, so that's how I found the manual - I just guessed the link based on the link to my maintenance schedule)

I know yours is older than that, so I'd keep following the month interval for the next service.
posted by jillithd at 1:02 PM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: http://www.mazda3forums.com/showthread.php?t=273242

Go by the service manual is safest, but most expensive. It's usually miles or time based, but if not assume the average mileage is 14,000 a year and work from there - ie things that were replaced at 42,000 miles should have been done at the three year mark etc, which is a decent metric to go by.

At a car your age I'd replace coolant and brake fluid straight away if they haven't been done in the last two years. Chances are they haven't.

Change cabin air filter as something that usually gets forgotten and look at timing belt replacement recommendations on the manual. Honestly, the manual is the best source of information right there.
posted by Brockles at 1:03 PM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's so weird, just last month I thumbed through the owners manual in my glove box and didn't see any service schedule with months. I swear I'm not stupid or crazy.
posted by misskaz at 1:03 PM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: I have a 2003 low mileage car, here's what has been working:

Oil changes every six months is fine. Rotate the tires regularly, at least every 6 months. Check tire pressure and tread every so often, definitely before big trips.

Other than that, I try to do a general check of the fluids in the fall; the mechanic lets me know if I need them at oil changes too. That's about it other than the manufacturer service recommendations -- I know you don't want mileage recommendations, but RepairPal really is handy, and you might be able to do it by months. A good mechanic will let you know what needs to be done and what doesn't (for example, mine has okayed my original timing chain for a few years now, even though I'm over the mileage).

On preview, check out Repair Pal just so that you have the schedule - specifically the "MyCar" feature.
posted by susanvance at 1:04 PM on August 27, 2014

You mention that you've had your tires replaced "as needed," but I'm wondering how long your current set has been on the car. If it's been a while (say, 6 years or more), you might want to have them replaced if you are seeing any sidewall issues (cracks, etc.). Some people pooh-pooh this, but I think better safe than sorry, even if you still have a lot of tread left on old tires.

It's also a good practice to check the air pressure in the tires on a regular basis, if you're not already doing so, in between tire rotations.
posted by nacho fries at 1:26 PM on August 27, 2014

Some people pooh-pooh this

Just to reiterate/support this - 'some people' would be wrong. UV degradation of tyres is very real and significantly affects their performance. 5 years is a good maximum, 6 is a hard maximum, really.
posted by Brockles at 1:31 PM on August 27, 2014

Response by poster: "As needed" = thanks to living in Chicago and accompanying potholes, one pair is like a year or so old and one pair is like 3 months old. Woo.
posted by misskaz at 2:11 PM on August 27, 2014

Does your radiator have plastic tanks (my 98 MX5 has)? Plastic tanks age, and when aged will fail, usually catastrophically, and that can lead to engine damage. Discolouration is the warning sign - check and replace, as necessary.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2014

Response by poster: In case anyone was curious, I ended up just taking the car in to my trusted mechanic and telling them to just fix whatever needed fixing. Results were:

New front brake pads and rotors
Replace spark plugs
Replace transmission pan, fluid, and lines/gaskets/bolts (pan gasket was leaking and upon removing the pan they saw that it was all rusted.)

They said the rear brakes are ok for now but the rotors are pitted so once the pads are done, that'll all need replacement. The coolant was fine, I think that's because I had a check engine light issue related to the thermostat maybe 2 years ago and a different shop flushed and replaced the coolant as part of that repair.

Could be imagining it, but feels like it's idling smoother than it has in a while. In any case, worth the $800 to keep this relatively cheap-to-own car running as long as possible. Also looks like I'll be driving this baby to Texas and back in a month so it's good to know it hopefully won't fall apart on the way. Thanks for all your advice and help.
posted by misskaz at 8:28 AM on September 11, 2014

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