At what point can I ease up on pricey "preventative maintenance" procedures?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 2000 Toyota Camry with 118,000 miles, which I bought new in November of '99. I've been getting routine and preventive maintenance at the local Toyota dealer and have never had any problems with the car. My question is this: Given the age and mileage, is it worth continuing expensive preventive measures (they tell me I should do $400-$500 worth at 120,000 miles, including transmission flush, plugs, coolant flush)? I don't plan to get rid of the car anytime soon, and I want to avoid unexpected repairs. Your thoughts? -- Carol

TOM: A lot of people DO give up on preventive maintenance when the car gets old. They figure it's going to fall apart any day now, so why fiddle with the curtains on the Titanic?

RAY: Yeah, it's like my brother combing his hair. I mean, what's the point?

TOM: But let me put a question to you, Carol. If you live to be 75, would you stop eating then because you probably wouldn't live much longer anyway?

RAY: Of course not! So, you should absolutely continue your regular maintenance. You've been doing it since the car was new, and you've had almost 120,000 miles of trouble-free driving. That's a pretty good endorsement right there, isn't it?

TOM: When you have a car like yours, Carol, that's capable of going 200,000 miles or more, there's no reason to stop maintaining it. In fact, by not doing the regular maintenance, you actually MAKE the car fall apart.

RAY: For instance, servicing the transmission costs about $100. But if your transmission fluid breaks down and stops lubricating and cooling properly, the transmission could croak, and you'll be faced with choosing between a $2,000 transmission or a new car payment every month for three or four years.

TOM: Same thing with the coolant. Flushing it out and replacing it is relatively cheap. But if you don't do it, it'll cost you a thousand bucks to take out the dashboard and replace your plugged-up heater core.

RAY: So, if you have a car that you plan to keep for more than another 10,000 miles, it's always worth it to do the regular maintenance.

TOM: The only caveat is that sometimes, some mechanics might ALSO be tempted to give up on your car when it gets old, and not check every single thing that's called for in the maintenance schedule. So be sure to let your mechanic know that you plan to keep the car for another 120,000 miles, and that you'd like him to be sure to check everything.

RAY: And if he looks at you funny, just mouth the words "boat payment," and he'll understand that you're willing to pay for the work. Good luck, Carol.

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