Auto maintenance

I have 19,000 miles on my car, having driven 4,000 of that in this month alone. (More on that later.) While updating my car’s maintenance history on the Subaru owner site this morning, I was puzzled that they were flagging my car for being past due on the “18,750 mile service.” 18,750?!?

The web site wouldn’t expand upon what this service is, instead deferring to my designated Subaru dealer so I can make the “necessary” appointment, but I guessed that the 3,750 interval is probably for an oil change.
Back in the late 80s, when I did all of my own car maintenance, I used to change my oil every 3,000 miles or 6 months, whichever occurred first. For the past couple of years, I had been letting this slide to 7,500 miles, because that’s what the owner manuals typically recommend and I have better things to do than change my oil unnecessarily. However, in the interest of continued happy running Subaru ownership, I wanted to substantiate this one way or another.

My owner’s manual is conspicuously missing any maintenance schedule, referring to a “Maintenance and Warranty Schedule” booklet that I have since lost. Unfortunately, this booklet is not available for download from the Subaru web site, though I can get a copy from my local dealer. Incidentally, it’s the local dealer, not Subaru, who recommends this 3,750 mile interval between maintenance.

Jiffy Lube, the McDonald’s of oil changes, recommends at 3,000 mile intervals. This blanket “rule of thumb” recommendation for all cars is even more aggressive than the local dealer recommendation of 3,750. This makes $en$e, considering Jiffy Lube’s business benefits from frequent recurring maintenance.

I checked three friends’ vehicle owner manuals and each had consistent schedules at this point in time:

Mileage Maintenance
15,000 Inspect brakes, clutch, steering, suspension.
Replace engine oil & oil filter.
Rotate tires
22,500 Replace engine oil & oil filter.
Rotate tires
30,000 Inspect transaxle fluid, brakes, camshaft drive belt, clutch, cooling system hoses & clamps, differential fluid, drive belts, fuel lines, fuel system, steering system, suspension system.
Replace air filter element, brake fluid, coolant, spark plugs, engine oil & oil filter, fuel filter.
Rotate tires.

In other words, on a new car, oil changes are recommended at 7,500 mile intervals. The first non-oil change work is done at 30,000, when the vehicle is just over two years old, and includes a coolant change and replacing the spark plugs. Oh, there is a little asterisk noting that a vehicle operating under “severe conditions” requires more frequent service intervals. Most of the manuals hint that severe conditions means things like driving in the Kalihari during a sandstorm, towing a trailer uphill, drag racing with Ted Timmons, or using your car to deliver mail/pizzas. None of these use cases apply to me. (“Hi, My Name’s Jim And I Drive A Station Wagon.”)

According Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of Car Talk, 3,000 miles was a historical recommendation (meaning “guess”) and 5,000 – 7,500 miles between oil changes is fine:

Ray: We used to recommend 3,000-mile oil changes because we thought that was a good compromise for most people. But with the dramatic improvement in oil technology over the years and the growing problem of used-oil disposal, we upped our recommendation to 5,000 miles some years ago. And it might even be time to go to 7,500 soon, for the same reasons.

Tom: So if you drive like a normal human being, under more or less normal conditions, changing your oil every 5,000 to 7,500 miles should be quite adequate.

I dug around further and found the official Subaru recommendation, which is oil changes every 7,500 miles, except when operating under severe conditions.

26 thoughts on “Auto maintenance”

  1. I tend to subscribe to the camp that most people drive in extreme conditions, actually. Generally, that includes stop-and-go traffic, having your vehicle parked without running for more than a week at a time, short trips (under 2 miles), extreme weather conditions (how’s the skiing?), towing, and the like.

    But having said that, my rules of thumb are 3000 miles for standard oil in average conditions, or 7500 miles for synthetic oil in average conditions. My version of “average” includes a little bit of the above, plus autocrossing. And I’m a freak when it comes to maintenance.

    Since I only use synthetic now, that means I change oil about twice a year. A little more often if we take a road trip or I’ve been towing (yes, I tow with my miata).

    I know people that change their oil “every other year, whether it needs it or not”. And it works. But I couldn’t sleep at night if I did that.

  2. Maintenance Items 3,750 7,500 11,250 15,000 18,750
    Air Filter Element
    Brake Fluid Replace
    Brake Hose/Line Inspect
    Clutch, M/T Inspect
    Constant Velocity Joint Boot Inspect Inspect
    Cooling System
    Disc Brake System Inspect Inspect
    Drive Belt
    Drum Brake System Inspect Inspect
    Fluid – A/T Inspect Inspect
    Fluid – Differential Inspect
    Fluid – M/T Inspect
    Fuel Filter Replace
    Fuel Supply Line Inspect
    Oil Replace Replace Replace Replace Replace
    Oil Filter, Engine Replace Replace Replace Replace Replace
    Parking Brake System Inspect/Adjust Inspect/Adjust
    Power Steering Line/Hose Inspect Inspect
    Restraint Systems
    Spark Plug
    Steering Inspect Inspect
    Suspension Inspect Inspect
    Timing Belt
    Tires Rotate Rotate
    Valve Clearance
    Wheel Bearing

    Well I guess this wouldn’t cut and paste properly. Basically 18750 is an oil change and tire rotation per ALLDATA. Which is supposed to be what is recommended by Subaru. This program lists maintenance schedules and repair pracedures for all vehicles. It is for professional use and costs about $150.00 per month.
    To the oil change question I have worked in dealerships from 1979 to 1997. I presently own a Midas Franchise. I recommend 3 mos. 3,000 miles. I agree with Bob & Tom or whoever those jokers are oils are better and do not breakdown as frequently. However they do become thicker and have a tendency to stay on top of engine parts longer, ie intake manifold valleys, cylinder head boss etc. this results in a “baking on” condition. If you ever pull a valve cover on a higher mileage car the 3,000 mile oil change vehicle is clean almost like a new engine the 7500 mile oil change vehicle has “crud” caked on it.
    I guess I should give a little more respect to Bob and Ray, after all they do make a very good living by giving car advice however I feel most of their knowledge is from books and not real world experience

  3. I drive a 2001 Forrester. In the past year I have had five o2 sensors go out. Three were replaced as “not under warrenty” by one dealership and the last two were replaced as “under warrenty” by another dealership. What gives? The second dealer stated that for the 2001 model the Bosch manufactured sensors were a bad lot and were frequently replaced.@^#&%#&%##!!!!!!
    Secondly, the first dealer called the car in for a timing belt replacement at 60,000 miles costing me big bucks. The second dealer said that the 60,000 replacement was for pre-2001 models and that the recommendation for 2001+ was 100,000 under normal conditions. *&%$^(&%%%**@$!!!!!!!
    Suggestions on how I fight this war of maintenance crazieness?

  4. MArk Kulinski

    I am looking at a used 1997 Subaru Legacy. The concern I have is the Camshaft drive belt. IF I choose to have it changed, how long would it take?

  5. my wife drives a 2002 Subaru Forrester. I’m wanting to install new pads and rotors, which cost about $165 at NAPA, as opposed to dropping $950 at the dealership. Are there any specialized tools needed that would prevent me from doing this at home?

  6. gary crider

    I want to do some maint on my wifes 2002 Forrester. – brakes – I have done everything on my Miata, up to and including replacing the timing belt based on info on Is there a similar site for the Forrester?

  7. Dear Jim,I want to know how to change my air filter on my Sub Legacy 2002.No instructions of course in the manual.On my old Toyota I just flipped the top and put the filter in no go here.Can you help.Thanks ,C.J.

  8. I Have a 1997 Subaru Legacy and have about 65000 km , I want to change my fuel ( gas) filter but I don’t know where it is. Can anyone help me locate. Thanks Joe from British Columbia Canada.

  9. The fuel filter is located on the driver’s side, about a foot from the firewall, in front of the strut. It’s a black canister with two connectors, labeled “in” and “out.” There may be a plastic clip with other hoses running on top of it.

  10. I have just replaced the struts (100 bucks a piece), brakes (90 bucks) and right front shaft (70 bucks) on my 2001 Forrester. I then took the car in for an alignment and my friendly mechanic said they had to change the camber bolts (40 bucks each) because the originals from the factory do not allow for enough adjustment? Have you ever heard of this? Also, I change my synthetic oil every 5000 miles and have never had a engine problem and usually achieve > 200,000 miles. Thanks, chas in Michigan

  11. Looking for the instructions for changing the belts on a 1997 Subaru Legacy.

    Does anyone know of an internet site that would have this information?

  12. I am trying to change my brake pads on a Subaru Forrester 2001. I had the whole thing done, pads, drums and rotors not too long ago at a cheap brake place. I think I need pads ( I hears a sqealing noise when driving (not when braking) similar to a signal that the pads are wearing thin. I am wondering if there are instructions out there anywhere for this? Thanks Georgia

  13. Jim, I am a rural mail courier and have been changing my own brake pads for the last 25 years. Is there anything out of the ordinary to replace the pads on my wife’s 2003 Forrester. I have already noticed that the cost of the pads are double for the cheap and triple for the ceramic. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Phil

  14. Ron in New Jersey

    When should my 2000 yr Subaru Forester be changed with the front and back struts? It has 103,000 miles. I noticed the car is very sensitive to poor road conditions.

  15. I’ve changed the front brake pads and rotors on my 2000 Subaru Forester S and now want to change the rear pads. Is there anything different I need to do or is it as straight forward as the front? Appreciate any info you can supply


  16. I have a 2005 Subaru Forrester with 30K. Haven’t replaced spark plugs, fuel filter (where is it???) and the brake fluid. Do you recommend I get this done now? Thanks!

  17. Tom, Rachel: The fuel filter is attached on the inside of the firewall, near the driver side fender. It’s very accessible.

    Jerry: Rear pads should be similar to the front. (The front ones will wear slightly faster.)

    Phil: As long as they’re an approved substitute, I would go for the cheap ones. Try for great prices.

    Ron: Definitely change them now. It’s somesthing that I’d not be comfortable doing (partly because I have a steeply sloping driveway). If you don’t do the struts, you’re going to see uneven tire wear (in addition to the harsh ride)

  18. Thanks Jim….I was told it was located in the gas tank which sounded very odd. Also should spark plugs be changed at 30k?

  19. I’m trying to find the easiest way to remove the drive belts on a 1994 toyota pickup truck. any suggestions?

  20. I have a 2001 Forrester, the in dash 6 CD player is broken. Can I replace with a WRX 2004 in dash 6 CD player. The WRX radio is on ebay, the pictures look like an exact match, just trying to get a confirmation that the radios are universal

  21. Would like to change front and rear brake pads and rotors on my 2001 Forester. Are there any special tools or procedures for doing so?


  22. Hi I have a 2001 forester subaru. My car will not pass edmissions due to the catalic converter. I have been driving around with it like that for awhile because I have had two surgerys. I was wondering if it is still covered by the warrenty. I cannot afford a 800.00 converter. I had two surgerys and then I lost my job which prevented me from fixing the thing. I need a converter as well as a o2 sensor. I was wondering if its worth going after subaru for the warrenty issue. I thought the warrenty on converters was 8 years 0r 80,000. I now have a ticket and it raises my points on my insurance. And I am about to lose my license because of this. I would like to go after the dealership because of this. but they had sold the business. So now I am trying to find the subaru warrenty dept but I dont know where to find that information. So if anyone knows thanks Jan

  23. I have a 2001 Subaru Forester S Ltd Ed. w/89000 miles. There is a vibration from the front brakes. I took of the wheels, the 2 screws that hold the rotor to the hub are not there but I still can’t get the rotors to come of! Do I need to remove the nut on the end of the axle? The new rotors look like they should just slip on and off. No clips on the studs that I can see… any advice would be appreciated.

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