Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Normal vs. Severe: How Do You Drive?

I recently came across an interesting response to a reader email in The Wall Street Journal's Me & My Car column. A reader had taken his 2000 Accord (with 48,000 miles) into the dealership for servicing, where he was surprised by the suggestion that he should consider an expensive timing belt replacement. The advice dished out by The Wall Street Journal was that it was probably safe to postpone the timing belt change because it wasn't due--according to the vehicle's Owners Manual--until 105,000 miles.

The discrepancy between the dealer's and The Wall Street Journal's (and, supposedly, Honda's) recommendations struck me as odd. In addition, we often see recommendations around 60,000 miles for a timing belt change.

So, I did some digging in our database of car maintenance schedules and found that Honda does indeed recommend a timing belt replacement at 105,000 miles, but only for people following "normal" driving conditions. For those subjecting their cars to "severe" driving conditions, the interval is 60,000 miles. That's quite a difference in intervals.

Because there can be such a big difference in the recommended servicing intervals based on whether you follow a "normal" or "severe" schedule, it's pretty important to know which schedule is suitable for your car. This is especially important for a service item like the timing belt, because if the timing belt breaks it can result in very costly repairs. This type of preventive maintenance can therefore help avoid costly, preventable repairs.

Fortunately, we don't have to guess which schedule is suitable for our driving styles. The manufacturers themselves say that "severe" driving conditions include:
  • Taking frequent short trips of 10 miles or less.
  • Driving in cold weather.
  • Driving in salty or dusty environments.
  • Towing a trailer.
  • Driving for extended periods at high speeds.
  • Driving routinely in stop-and-go traffic.
  • Driving with a car-top carrier.
How many people don't drive in one or more of these conditions? These driving conditions sound pretty normal to me, so it's confusing that the manufacturers define this type of driving as "severe." But the important thing is to follow the appropriate plan for your car. So, if you drive in any of these conditions, be sure to follow a "severe" maintenance schedule for your car.

Note: When you add your car to BrightCar Software, you'll be able to choose whether to load the "normal" or "severe" maintenance plan. We've got both plans in our database for nearly all U.S.-cars sold since 1983.

Further Note: We sent The Wall Street Journal an email pointing out the discrepancy between the normal and severe intervals, suggesting that maybe that dealer's recommendation wasn't so crazy after all, especially given the potential high cost of repairs, should the timing belt fail. Thereafter, the reader email and response were removed from their online version.

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