Car Maintenance Myths – Should I Replace Lifetime Fluids?

If a road trip planner can help you get ready for a long drive, long-life and lifetime fluids can keep your car in service for the long haul. Unfortunately, it’s still necessary to replace lifetime fluids on occasion; their name gives many car owners a false sense of car maintenance security. Indeed, if you never change certain long-life fluids, such as transmission fluid, you may shorten the expected lifespan of your car or truck.

When car maintenance involves fluid replacement

Decades ago, vehicle maintenance was more complicated. For example, engine oil changes were done every 5,000–10,000 km, and engine coolant was replaced every 50,000 km. Brake fluid, differential oil, transfer case fluid, and power steering fluid also had regular maintenance intervals. Replacing these essential fluids is important because they deteriorate as they perform their functions, whether they contribute to lubrication, cooling, or hydraulics. Fluids deteriorate in two ways:

  • Oxidation – Heat vaporizes certain additives and chemically changes base oils in engine oil and transmission fluid. Evaporation and leakage reduce the amount of fluid available, making it more prone to oxidation. Excessive heat can generate sludge and ash deposits as well.
  • Contamination – Water entry or fluid cross-contamination, such as from poor seals or external leaks, chemically alters the fluid, reducing its effectiveness and resistance to heat and stress. Wear particles float around in unfiltered systems.

Now that manufacturing and lubricant technology has become more advanced, these fluids don’t wear as much, reducing the need for maintenance. Because stress and heating have been reduced, today’s car fluids last much longer than older versions did. This makes car maintenance simpler for most drivers, but not everyone can really take advantage of long-life fluids and supposed lifetime fluids.

What is a lifetime fluid, anyway?

Today’s cars and trucks are designed to require less maintenance over the life of the vehicle, or during the warranty period, which makes car maintenance simpler and more economical. However, this largely depends on where, when, and how the vehicle is used. Owner’s manuals and maintenance manuals usually mention two service descriptions: normal service and severe service (a.k.a. special service or special operating conditions).

  • Normal service conditions – This is typically defined as driving 15,000–25,000 km per year, keeping passengers and cargo within tire and loading limits, and driving at normal speeds on paved roads in temperate weather.
  • Severe service conditions – This is usually defined as anything not considered normal, such as driving far more or less than 15,000–25,000 km, towing and hauling in excess of tire and loading limits, driving in extreme cold or heat, and driving on dirt and gravel roads. These conditions put more stress on the engine and transmission fluid. Predominantly stop-and-go driving, extended idling, off-roading, and racing also qualify. Using this Curt roof-mounted cargo rack is an example of something that would increase the load on your vehicle.

When automakers specify long-life or lifetime fluids, it’s usually in reference to what they consider to be normal driving conditions. Most vehicles, for any number of reasons, aren’t actually driven under these so-called normal service conditions.

Should you change lifetime fluids?

Absolutely! It’s a good idea to check and adjust all fluids at every service appointment or at least every six months. When fluid levels drop or fluid condition starts to show deterioration, it’s a good idea to check for fluid leaks and change it. Remember, car maintenance is always simpler and more economical than car repair. Taking the time to change long-life fluids now can help you avoid a lot of headaches if the component fails in the future.

Of course, even the best car maintenance can’t prevent all problems. Come back next time to learn about our go-to roadside emergency kit, which will help you stay prepared for the unexpected.

By Benjamin Jerew

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