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New car free maintenance: Oil changes once a year?

April 18, 2016
Auto technician showing female client her engine air filter

Q: My new car came with a free maintenance plan and has 5,300 miles on it. When I called the Libertyville dealer to schedule my first oil change, they said I'm not eligible for a free one until 10,000 miles. The car uses synthetic oil, but I hesitate to wait that long to change it. What do you recommend?A: In our expert opinion, yes, you are due for an oil change now. Please do not wait for 10,000 miles. It's not worth the $60 or $70 you'll save skipping the oil change.When it comes to maintenance plans like the one that came with your new car, strictly following the "free" service interval may cost you more in the long run.Here's our advice for getting the most out of these new car incentives while not getting taken for a ride:

#1) Understand what your free maintenance plan includes and excludes.

The plans vary dramatically by automaker. Some carmakers, such as Audi, cover only the car's first service visit—at 15,000 miles. Conversely, BMW's program lasts for 50,000 miles and covers all factory-recommended maintenance, oil changes, fluid services, brake pads, brake rotors and wiper blade inserts. Here's a guide from on Free Car Maintenance Programs, what they include and what the average savings amounts to.

#2) Don’t assume the free program includes all recommended services (or the correct intervals) from your maintenance schedule.

If your program covers only one oil change per year or every 10,000-15,000 miles, we strongly recommend changing the oil at least one more time in that interval. Waiting 10,000 miles is a bad idea long term. With a new engine, you won't see the harmful effects right away. But if you continue down that 10k road for 100,000 miles, you're risking engine sludge, premature wear and damage. It's the equivalent of eating junk food your entire life: Sooner or later, it's going to catch up to you. None of us here at Auto Lab wait that long to change the oil in our cars, and we strongly urge you to stick to a 3,000- or 5,000-mile oil change.

#3) Do the math.

For many of us, time is a valuable and scarce commodity. One question to ask yourself with regard to free maintenance is: How close and how convenient is it to get your new car into the dealer for your free oil change and wiper blades? Can you drive up, get in and out within an hour? Or do you need to schedule a week in advance only to spend 2 hours pacing in the waiting room while they do the oil change? Sometimes, the real savings is in the time savings, and at Auto Lab, we can change your oil and your wiper blades while you wait.Ready to service your new car? Book an Appointment It boils down to: Do your research. Understand the limitations of a particular automaker’s maintenance program. Read the owner’s manual, and learn what is recommended vs. what is covered under your maintenance plan. Ask yourself what's most important to you.Of course, at Auto Lab, we're happy to offer truly free advice about your maintenance needs. Contact us today if you have any questions. Then you can make an educated decision on whether a “free maintenance” program is truly free.

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