What to do at 50 thousand miles
June 24, 2008 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Help me sort through the hype, gimmicks, and dealer doublespeak. What do I need to service on my car at 50,000 miles?

I drive a 6-speed manual 2002 Nissan Sentra SER Spec V. I bought it 4 years ago at 12,000 miles and have consistently changed the oil every 3,000-5,000 miles. At around 30,000 miles, I started to use full synthetic oil. This is the only type of maintenence I have done on my beloved car.

I want it to last forever. The odometer just ran past 50,000 miles and I want to get it "fully serviced". However, instead of walking into the garage and asking the 'professionals' what they 'suggest', I want to walk in with a list in hand which instructs them what I want serviced.

Hear me now, im not afraid of ponying up some dough, but I don't want to waste dollars on trifiling/non functional things.
I have consulted the Nissan Service Guides and still can't explicitly determine what I need to have done on my car, especially considering I have not done any other type of maintenence on it.

What do you all recommend I ask the boys at the garage to do, and what sources should I consult?

-Speed Racer
posted by yoyoceramic to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you want the car to last forever, and don't mind spending money, I'm not sure what the issue is. Maintenance items are the parts that wear, or need checking and replacing. Following the manufacturers schedule is pretty much the most cautious you can be, and they don't often tell you to replace items that don't need replacing, although they can suggest or advise the replacement of items that are nearing the end of their life.

I assume you have been changing the filter when you change the oil. If not, then that's a bad thing to do. I'd take it to the dealership and ask them to update it to the correct position in the manufacturers maintenance schedule. The only reason not to follow this schedule (if your stated claim is purely longevity of the car) is to save money. Replacing things as a precaution is not necessarily a bad thing if you can afford it.
posted by Brockles at 8:46 AM on June 24, 2008

Do you still have the manual? There will be a detailed checklist in there for you to follow for every significant mileage point, much better than the linked Service Guideline's vague "every 3750 miles you get to decide how much you want to do" (though I didn't open their PDFs so I could be wrong about how detailed they are).

As I recall, in the manual there's a specific list for 50,000 miles. So you could just take that in; and at the same time get caught up on any other stuff that you should have been doing (I'm pretty sure there's some stuff you should have done at 15K and 30K too).

Do you have the tires rotated every time you change the oil?

Have you checked to see if you need new tires?

If you've lost the manual, you can pick up a new one at Autozone or some other auto store. They're written by a third party, but they have all kinds of info in there and only cost $18.
posted by GardenGal at 8:58 AM on June 24, 2008

I believe the timing belt is one of the most critical things you should have changed. Might be a little bit early but you certainly don't want it failing on you later down the road.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:09 AM on June 24, 2008

If you want it to last forever, you should buy a Haynes or Chilton's repair manual (that's what GardenGal refers to--these kinds of books don't have the safety/convenience/warranty/etc. information from the regular owners manual. Conversely, the regular owners manual doesn't have wiring diagrams), and consider starting to do some of the minor maintenance yourself.
posted by box at 9:14 AM on June 24, 2008

To clarify: if you want it to last forever, and money is at all an issue, you should consider starting to do some of the minor maintenance yourself.
posted by box at 9:18 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

For comparison, here's some Saab 900 workshop manuals which should outline some of the things that'll want looking at at around 50,000 miles. (I *knew* when I found these that they'd come in handy somehow.)
posted by Jofus at 9:35 AM on June 24, 2008

I think you're looking at this in slightly the wrong way. You assumption seems to be "Every Nissan Sentra is identical and is driven in identical conditions by identical drivers and so will require parts x,y and z at 50,000 miles".

The work that needs doing on your car to keep it in perfect order will depend on all kinds of factors. Among those are things like:

1) Where you live (climate, types of road etc)
2) How you drive (your steering, braking, acceleration/deceleration)
3) Usage patterns (small trips, long trips)

At 50,000 miles, there are things that are likely to need replacing on a typical model, based on statistics and predictions made by engineers; but to rely on these is a little bit like having a triple bypass and a hip replacement on your 65th birthday on the basis that those things are likely to go wrong with a person of your height and weight.

It's almost always better to put the car into the hands of a mechanic you can trust; tell them your concerns about wanting to keep the car in good repair, and ask them to make the list for you - they'll know what's urgent and what's not. Then, based on their professional opinion, you can decide what to pay for.

If you're really set on coming up with a list of things that must be done, you'll need to become a fairly competent mechanic yourself, because it's not always predictable or immediately obvious that something needs work.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:38 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

If the vehicle has a timing belt rather than a timing chain listen when they tell you to replace the belt. A broken timing belt is big time bad news.
posted by Carbolic at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2008

The conventional wisdom is that the timing belt absolutely must be replaced at 50K, which is a fairly expensive repair as it's hard to get to. The part is inexpensive but the labor involved is costly. For this reason, most mechanics will recommend changing the water pump at the same time, because getting to the timing belt exposes the water pump. The water pump by itself gets costly for the same reason- cheap part, expensive labor- so the idea is that if you do them both at the same time you're saving money on a possible future repair.

When my car hit 50k I just did the timing belt as I could barely afford that repair at the time.

I can understand that you don't just want to hand a mechanic an open checkbook, but the timing belt is pretty crucial from my understanding. It's true that mechanics will try to upsell you on repairs you don't generally need. When I get my car serviced I specify what I need repaired and if they make other recommendations I ask them to write them down. This makes it easy to do research on those items and determine what I should be worried about and what I can safely disregard.
posted by baphomet at 9:53 AM on June 24, 2008

That is what 30k, 60k, 90k inspections are for. (At least for my car). They have a list of parts that they will replace no matter what (belts, gaskets, hoses, filters, etc..), and they check your car for common failure points.

Unless you actually know what part is failing, don't give them a list of items.

Here's a list of what is checked/performed on BMWs for their Inspection I and II.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2008

Assuming that you no longer have your car's original paperwork:

1. Go to this link and register (if the link doesn't work, you get there from your link in your question, using the pull down menu under "ownership" for "service manuals"). After you register for free, you follow the links from service manuals --> sentra --> 2002 loose files --> "Maintenance 2002 Nissan Sentra" which is a pdf download. (With your two free downloads per day, you may as well go ahead and download the owners manual as well.)

2. In that pdf, pages MA 7-12 have the maintenance schedule for your car. You will see that no major service (aside from routine things like oil changes, air filters, tire rotations, and lots of items to inspect) is due before 60,000 miles. At 60,000 miles, it's time to do a bunch of work, but then you are off the hook for another 60,000 miles. So, there is nothing for you to do for the next 10,000 miles except for routine maintenance and fixing things that break. Even your sparkplugs are supposed to be good until 105k miles, if I am reading the book correctly.

3. Ignore rule of thumb advice like The conventional wisdom is that the timing belt absolutely must be replaced at 50K. Some cars need it at 50k, others (like yours) at 60k, some at 120k. There is no one figure that is accurate for all vehicles; the maintenance schedule in your owners manual will provide this information.
posted by Forktine at 10:50 AM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty sure the Spec-V engine has a timing chain, and not a belt, so there should be no replacement worries there.

At 50k, an oil change is in order. Possibly changing the transmission oil, too, since it's a manual. Plugs. Filters. Check the brake pads and rotors. Check the accessory belt for cracks.

Other than that, I can't think of anything else.

You should, at the very least, be doing your own oil changes. You can use good-quality synthetic and do it cheaper than what a shop will charge you. I've not done plugs on that engine but, if I can do the plugs to the VQ in my Maxima, I have to think it's also something you can do yourself and save some bucks.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:37 AM on June 24, 2008

Ignore rule of thumb advice like The conventional wisdom is that the timing belt absolutely must be replaced at 50K. Some cars need it at 50k, others (like yours) at 60k, some at 120k.

Absolutely true. Every manufacturer is different in this regard.

I'm pretty sure the Spec-V engine has a timing chain, and not a belt, so there should be no replacement worries there.

Absolutely not true. Timing chains are just different to belts. They have a service life just as much as a belt does. They are in no way infallible, indestructible, items. Check the service schedule for the car to be sure.

If you are not a mechanic (As it sounds like you aren't) then if you do your own maintenance, invest in a torque wrench. Almost every semi-skilled mechanic will over-tighten spark plugs and other fasteners, and over-tightening can often be as problematic as under-tightening. If you don't know how tight something should be done up, then follow the procedure. That means a torque wrench.
posted by Brockles at 1:04 PM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: You all are awesome, thanks!
posted by yoyoceramic at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2008

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