Is Overmaintenance Costing You?

Whenever I write a post and mention oil changes, I always encourage people to check the manual of their automobile to find out how often they should change their oil? Why? The frequency of oil changes varies greatly depending on the type of engine you have in your car, varying anywhere from every 3,000 miles to every 10,000 miles, with many different levels in between.

Quite often, when I mention this, a reader or two will say to ignore the manual and change the oil every 3,000 miles in order to truly protect the engine. Sure, some of these folks might be running a Jiffy Lube, but some of them simply are very cautious. They’d prefer to pay a little more now in extra maintenance costs to avoid a major crisis later.

To an extent, that’s how we all feel. If we didn’t feel that way, we wouldn’t bother changing our oil at all. Regular maintenance of the things in our lives saves us a lot of money over the long haul.

Yet, all I have to do is look at the Prius in our garage to realize that over-maintenance can be a real money sink.

Usually, my wife takes the car to the dealership for scheduled maintenance (they provide such maintenance at a very low cost if one buys from them). Unfortunately, we were recently on a road trip and realized that a “minor” maintenance milestone had been reached – just an oil change – so she just took it to a recommended local shop and had it changed while we were out and about on foot on our trip.

After that oil change, she observed that the shop had put a sticker on her windshield encouraging her to change her oil after another 3,000 miles, not the 5,000 miles recommended in the manual – and by the dealer.

The reason for this is obvious – many automobiles over the past few decades were made assuming oil changes every 3,000 miles and the number has seeped into general acceptance, the oil change shops make more if people bring in their car every 3,000 miles instead of every 5,000 (or more) miles.

Yet, just by following the maintenance schedule actually provided with the car, over the 150,000 miles we plan to have the car, we’ll save ourselves twenty (!) oil changes. That’s a lot less time and less money.

Sure, we could be extra cautious and get our oil changed more frequently. But to what benefit? The engine is designed for less frequent oil changes. Getting them done more frequently doesn’t particularly help the engine, but it does cost us time and money and produces more wasted oil. Over-maintenance has a real financial and time cost when it doesn’t reduce risk by any appreciable amount.

How can you avoid such over-maintenance costs? Here are the tactics I’ve found that have worked well for me.

First, get unbiased maintenance schedules for the equipment you have. Do not trust the word of people who will profit from more frequent maintenance, like auto repair shops or furnace filter manufacturers. Instead, look for sources of unbiased information – people who will be hurt only if they give you incorrect information. Consumer Reports can be one place to look, as can the manual for the product itself (and not the replacement or maintenance parts – look at your furnace manual, not the documentation that comes with a replacement filter).

Second, perform maintenance that has the lowest money and time costs per year, even if it costs more right now. For example, long-life furnace filters are often better choices, even though they cost significantly more, simply because you’re not replacing them as often. This also reduces the time and money costs of maintenance without adding risk to your equipment.

Finally, understand how the equipment actually works. This means going beyond just following step-by-step maintenance tasks. If you understand how the equipment works in more detail, you’re more likely to understand how to fix simple problems with the equipment yourself (like changing your own oil and spark plugs), as well as knowing some additional maintenance methods that can save you extra money (like how to quickly defrost an older freezer, which can be a huge money saver). The more you know, the less you have to spend on maintenance and repair.

Spending money and time to maintain your equipment (cars, appliances, etc.) is always a great idea, but it can sometimes include more time and money than necessary, particularly if you’re overcautious. Don’t be. Follow the instructions, find unbiased information, use long-term solutions, and take time to understand what you’re actually doing and you’ll find that maintenance isn’t as expensive or time consuming as you might think – but it does massively extend the life of your appliances and automobiles and home.

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