Over the past 26 years of working in the automotive repair industry I have heard a wide range of what car owners should and should not do when it comes to routine maintenance. Especially when it comes to fluid services. Then you throw in the word “flush” and it is either the absolute “must-do” or the “oh-never flush that!” So what do you believe? What should you do? Although slightly long-winded, I am going to share with you the philosophy that has never steered me wrong–and yes, it comes from my father, Anthony:
“If you keep the fluid clean, the parts last longer.”
It really is that simple. You do it with your engine oil on a regular basis. Why would the other fluids in your vehicle be any different? Your ability to inspect your own fluids is slowly being taken from you, AND you are being told (as you buy your newer, more advanced vehicles) that the fluids are “lifetime.”
In an effort to make vehicles more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, engineers have re-imagined and re-designed many of the systems we use. The average consumer can no longer check most of their own fluids. I will go all the way back to the year 2000–my good old Pontiac Grand Am did not have a Transmission dipstick–the transmission fluid was “good for life.” I want to pause right here…whose life? What is General Motor’s definition of “Lifetime?” I really want you to think about this–how long does a car dealership really expect you to own your vehicle?
Let’s fastforward back to today and look at another manufacturer. Take Audi for example. The engine oil level is displayed in the driver information center–there is no longer a traditional dipstick. Most vehicles have to be filled or have capacity verified by computer.
So, how do I help my clients? How do I know who needs what and by when? I research each vehicle that comes in my door–what type of fluid does each system use? What is the life expectancy? How does my client use the vehicle? Then, I pair it with one of the best services on the market today. If you have not heard of BG Services, I really urge you to take a look.
While I absolutely do not believe fluids are good for the “life of the vehicle,” I do belive that BG Protection Plan and the Lifetime Protection for your vehicle are phenomenal. Remember that 2000 Pontiac Grand Am I mentioned–over 224,000 miles strong with regular flush services.
Here is where I will break your fluid systems down and give you my two-cents on when you should change or flush which systems. Read through or scroll to the system that you wish to learn about!
Engine oils are evolving rapidly. We went from conventional with a lifespan of 3 months or 3,000 miles to a synthetic blend, and now to full synthetic engine oil. Here is the guts of it. Engine oil, like the other lubricants in your vehicle, has 3 main functions–to CLEAN, LUBRICATE, and DISSIPATE HEAT. Whether it is conventional or synthetic, it has to do that job. How does it do it? The oil itself is merely a vessel to transport the additives and the synthetic properties are defined in the oil refining process. Your engine is designed for a specific weight or viscosity of oil. For instance a 5W30 oil is a 5 weight oil that has the same burning point as a 30 weight oil. What you really want is the optimum number of additives and each brand of oil has a different recipe. While your oil life indicator or owner’s manual may tell you 7,500 miles, or every 12 months, I am a firm believer in not letting it go to the end of its useful life. Let that sink in for a minute–just because you aren’t at 0% yet, do you really want degraded or ineffective oil to try to CLEAN, LUBRICATE, and DISSIPATE HEAT in the heart of your vehicle? Using dad’s philosophy, I recommend the 3 months/3,000 miles for my conventional clients and no more than 6 months/5,000 miles for my synthetic and synthetic blend clients. If you want an extra additive boost, the BG MOA does it for me everytime!
Brake fluid is surprisingly overlooked. So much so that we have made it a Standard Operating Procedure to dipstrip test every vehicle for corrosion. I can tell you exactly how it gets overlooked, too. In most cases what I have come across are clients who have had brakes serviced: pads, rotors, shoes, drums. The brake fluid has been bled, but the hydraulic system itself has never actually been flushed. If you learn anything about your brake system today, I hope it is this: your brake fluid is just like a sponge. It absorbs water at a rate of approximately 4% each year. I will never forget the client who had purchased a brand new Buick LaCrosse that came with a maintenance plan from the dealer. He had finished his last service (after 3 years) and had finally come “home” to my shop. When I read the results of the dipstrip, I was mortified! Sure, the fluid level was great. However, the corrosion level was off of the chart! Since the brake fluid is responsible for translating your foot pressure to hydraulic pressure that actually applies the brakes, keeping this fluid clean is very important. I recommend every 12 months/15,000 miles or flushing the fluid in combination with a brake service. I would rather see my clients spend a little bit of money on a brake fluid flush service than a lot of money on a brake master cylinder or calipers.
YOUR ENGINE COOLANT
Have you seen coolant lately? I am not sure what these manufacturers were thinking when they started playing around with the coolant colors. We used to have it easy. Ethelyne-Glycol mix. Simple. Then we went to long-life. Okay–two is fine. We can deal with two. One (the green stuff) gets changed every 30,000 miles or 2 years and one (the orange stuff) gets changed every 50,000 miles or 5 years…AND WHATEVER YOU DO IN LIFE DO NOT MIX THEM! Dodge/Chrysler got fancy with the red colored HOAT (hybrid organic mix). Now we have all kinds of colors–pink, blue, gold…AND YOU STILL CANNOT MIX IT! First, let’s talk about why you should not mix coolants. In the time of the two main coolants (the green and the orange) if you mixed the two, they would coagulate and become like a jelly….in your cooling system. It would literally gum up the works. Going back to my earlier statement of researching every vehicle that comes through my door, I will only fill with the fluid that is recommended from your manufacturer. If it is blue, you get blue. If it is purple, you get purple–capisce! The purpose behind flushing your cooling system has to do, again, with the efficacy of the fluid itself. Coolant has a lifespan. The standard green coolant gets replaced every 2 years whether you hit 30,000 miles or not because the rust inhibitor in the coolant only lasts that long. Your longer life coolants should only stay in your system for 5 years. Between rust, calcification, and the erosion of the rubber components (your hoses wear from the inside out) keeping the coolant clean can make the difference on the hottest (or coldest) day of the year.
YOUR POWER STEERING
For those of you who still have hydraulic power steering systems, this one is for you! You probably take your power steering for granted. You have always had it. Your parents have probably always had it too. However, if it has ever gone out on you and you had to try and turn that steering wheel, oh! Your power steering pump pushes power steering fluid out through a small hose–called a pressure hose, and you guessed it, it is under pressure. If you have ever heard a whine or moan when you turn the steering wheel it is because you are putting a load on the pump and asking it to perform. Your pump is tired and weak from pushing gross fluid around and it has a leak somewhere in the system so air got in there too…The pressurized fluid is sent to your rack and pinion which pulls on your linkage to make your wheels turn. The fluid then travels back through the return line to the power steering reservoir where the cycle continues, over and over again. Your power steering fluid is either going to be ginger ale in color (hydraulic fluid) or red in color (transmission fluid). Either way, this fluid is what we call “high in detergent value” and once a leak starts, the fluid starts taking out other rubberized components that lie in its wake (like motor mounts, bushings, belts and hoses). Two years or 30,000 miles. Period. Flushing this system regularly saves you so much money in the long run–your pump and rack last longer, leaks are possibly prevented, and the other rubber components won’t have to be collateral damage. Who knew a flush could be so good. I did, it’s me…
In this segment, I am going to throw the front differential, the transfer case, and the rear differential all together for the sake of your time and sanity. For my 4×4 friends and AWD lovers, please do not overlook this service. Again, we have been inundated with synthetic fluids. The first thing I look at (besides the type of fluid in each component) is how is this vehicle used? Does my client tow with the vehicle? Do they tow heavy weight? Do they tow frequently? Next, is it a standard fluid or a synthetic? Does it require an additional additive, like a limited slip lubricant? Has it ever been serviced–EVER? Standard or conventional fluids are going to fall under the 30,000 mile rule of thumb. Synthetics are going to fall under the 100,000 mile rule of thumb. The one caveat is dirty, commerical, or towing. These types of usages will have a more frequent interval.
I have saved the dreaded component for last. I have never seen a service get such a heated debate and argument of for or against. So much so, that we have adopted a Standard Operating Procedure for how and when to recommend a BG Transmission Flush Service. If a vehicle has 30,000 miles or less, it is a no-brainer, you will flush it. The same with 50,000 to 75,000 miles as long as the client is not experienceing shifting concerns. After 100,000 miles is when I started getting push-back from my technicians, even with the proven successes and my 26 years of using the BG Services. However, they are the professionals who perform the work and I trust their hands-on, hands-down. We agreed we will flush and service (drop the pan and change the filter) or just service the unit if it is over 100,000 miles. The way I see it, BG will guarantee your transmission as long as you have it flushed before 100,000 miles. Here is what I have experienced first-hand: a Chrysler Town & Country with nearly 100,000 miles was starting to slip. We performed the BG Transmission Flush Service. The line pressure improved, the slipping diminished, and my client went another 80,000 miles before having to replace the transmission. By the way, do you remember my 2000 Pontiac Grand Am with over 224,000 miles–just seeing if you have been paying attention. Original transmission. Thank you BG.
Obviously I am a fan of fluid flushes, exchanges, drain and fills, services, whatever you wish to call them. They are paramount to getting the most life out of your vehicle. So flush the brake fluid–don’t just bleed it. Flush the coolant–before it is the hottest or coldest day of the year. Drain and fill your differentials and keep those gears turning smoothly. Change your engine oil a little earlier. Flush your power steering system (if it isn’t electric) so it doesn’t moan and whine at you. And, what the heck–flush your transmission!
For more information, or to reserve your Fluid Service, please visit my website at www.aanthonys.com