Safe Roads: Is your car high maintenance?

J. Skyler McKinley
September/October 2018

When I was a young kid, some merry prankster drummed it into my head that a few minutes under the suds at an automatic carwash would improve a car’s performance and make it faster, smoother, and more responsive.

I eventually came to my senses and realized this sham. Yet, in the early years of owning my first car, I still washed it at least twice a week—if I could afford it. Now I’m lucky if I take my Jeep Wrangler to the carwash once a month, tops—after all, what’s a Jeep without a little mud on it?

Still, I love my car. You know those little stickers your mechanic puts on your windshield telling you when you should next stop in for an oil change? For my Jeep’s first 25,000 miles or so, I followed those stickers to the letter. That meant taking my car to a quick-lube station every 3,000 miles to get an oil change—and, of course, a new sticker.

After working at AAA Colorado for a few months, though, I wondered: Just as I used to “over-wash” my car, was it possible that I was now “over-maintaining” it? At the end of the day, I was following the advice of a sticker, not the advice of a mechanic. Did my car really need all those oil changes?

With that question in mind, I decided it was time to find a quality shop who’d give me more than just a bill and a sticker every time I stopped by. I wanted someone near my office, and someone I could trust, so I visited the AAA-Approved Auto Repair portal at AAA.com/autorepair and found a nearby AAA-Approved shop with stellar reviews.

At my first visit, they asked about how I used my car. Do I go off-roading often? Is this my daily driver? How long is my commute? Are those highway miles? Do I park my car in a garage at home, or outside? What kind of fuel do I fill-up with, and how often? Do I drive often in cold weather?

According to my mechanic’s assessment of my driving habits, I should expect to change my oil every 5,000 miles or so, but that number would go down if I hit more off-road trails than usual and up if I spent less time in rush-hour traffic. I was happy to have him change the oil.

Because I’m a AAA member and my mechanic is AAA-approved, he conducted a free, comprehensive inspection, too. It turns out that my car needed more than a simple oil change: I had damaged my steering damper while I was off-roading—and my new mechanic had photos to prove it! I had the part replaced for a fair price, and soon noticed that my Jeep handled much better.

I wasted a lot of money back in those days when I was getting my car washed twice a week. And, back in those quick-lube days, I wasted a lot of money on service I didn’t need at the expense of service that I did. Now that I’ve found a mechanic I can trust, my wallet is a little fuller, and my Jeep is running better than ever—even if it is a little dirty.

J. Skyler McKinley is AAA Colorado’s spokesman and director of government affairs.