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The Basics

In-Vehicle Maintenance Reminder Systems vs. The Owner’s Manual

Many newer vehicles come equipped with in-vehicle maintenance reminder systems. You might know these as the little messages that pop up on your dash and say, “service due soon!” These systems don’t remind you of every service your vehicle may need. Typically, it’s only for oil changes and tires. 🛞

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Some automakers will display a number or letter code on the dash when it’s time for an oil change. For example, the code “A13” may come up and that means it’s time to get an oil and filter change or change transmission fluid. Your vehicle’s manual will have all these codes in the back of the handbook to help you through.

Some car maintenance needs to be done on a time or mileage basis — things like brake fluid or coolant flushes or timing-belt replacement.

But what about older vehicles? The average age of cars on the road today is 12 years old! And many of those don’t have in-vehicle maintenance reminders. Don’t worry. You have the next best thing — flip open the glove box and grab the owner’s manual. It contains “the 411” on all things related to your car. If your car doesn’t have a manual, check online at the automaker’s website. Avoid using forums or social media for this information as it may not be accurate and/or could be based on individual opinions.

Giving your owner’s manual a read — even if it seems boring — is a good idea for any car owner. It’s like an autobiography that will help you to get to know your car very well.

Driving Conditions Matter

It’s important to understand the type of conditions you drive in since it will impact how often your vehicle needs maintenance. What does “driving condition” even mean? Basically, the amount of traffic you sit in during your daily drive and where you drive (rural, city or highway) and obviously the external conditions (dark, wind, snow, fog). Let’s break it down…

AAA Sidekick Tip:

One benefit of modern in-vehicle maintenance reminder systems is adjustments to “normal” versus “severe” driving conditions and maintenance schedules updates. Many owners’ manuals no longer even mention this distinction; the monitoring system addresses it automatically.

Factory maintenance schedules usually follow two options, one for cars driven in “normal” conditions, and another for those used in “severe” conditions. The exact definition of severe conditions varies by automaker, but it usually involves operating your vehicle under one or more of the following:

  • Primarily short trips (5 miles or less)
  • Extremely hot, cold, or dusty climates
  • Sustained stop-and-go driving
  • Carrying heavy loads or towing a trailer

If you fall into the severe category, maintain your car using a more frequent maintenance schedule. However, if you drive your car under normal conditions, be wary of spending money on services your car may not need or benefit from.

Drive an electric vehicle (EV)? EVs generally require less maintenance than gas-powered vehicles. Check out “Electric Vehicles – Like Low Maintenance? Look No Further!”