Preventative Maintenance: How to Prolong the Life of Your Chevy Part I

While cars don't last forever, you can prevent a host of problems that will shorten the car’s lifespan with maintenance. The owner’s manual in the glovebox of your Chevy will give you a list of regular maintenance checkups that you can perform in order to keep your vehicle running at its best. Many of these checkups are things you can do yourself and will go a long ways towards expanding the life of your Chevrolet.

Pay Attention to Your Engine Oil

Oil and filter

Your Chevy engine needs regular oil changes. That's not a surprise. Here's why:

  • Heat causes oil to break down, reducing it's ability to protect your engine from metal-on-metal part contact that ruins bearings, rings, etc.
  • Contamination - from gasoline, from moisture in the air, from dust that's sucked up into your air intake - makes your engine oil dirty, reducing it's ability to coat and protect parts. Your filter helps keep oil clean, but it doesn't last forever.
  • Oxygen causes oil to break down. Even if you never drive your car, you need to replace the oil every 6 months or so, as oxygen slowly causes oil to break down

Your oil filter helps with the contamination problem, capturing a lot of the debris that ends up in your motor oil. However, it's not going to address gasoline or water contamination, and eventually oil filters lose their effectiveness (they basically become "full" and stop filtering). So, in addition to fresh oil, you also need a new filter on a regular basis.

Most of the time, this "regular basis" is 5,000 miles. Some engines extend that to 7,500, 10,000, or even 15,000 miles (the Corvette), while other uses (such as severe duty or using E85 with your vehicle) may shorten that interval. Your owner’s manual will say for certain.

  • Recommended Oils

The viscosity of the motor oil plays an important part in your oil decision. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended viscosity when making your decision. There is a good chance that Chevrolet is recommending a 5W-30 oil because 40W may break down faster, which can lead to dirty rings. 50W is too thick to be used anywhere that temperatures drop below 32F.

The synthetic motor oils may be a pricier choice, but they offer better performance in hot or cold weather than the petroleum oils. They also work well with turbochargers or high output motors. It is also a good switch when you winterize your vehicle. These oils also resist breakdown better, but you still need to change your oil regularly.

High mileage and older motors may benefit from the addition of a crankcase oil additive. These additives help to condition seals, which may keep oil leaks down.

  • Oil Filter

The oil filter takes all the solids out of the oil before it goes into the engine. Any contamination that gets into the bearings or against the cylinder walls can cause the engine to wear out faster.

Because the oil filter is constantly collecting debris, it can become clogged, which means you need to replace it in order to get the best performance from your oil. It is recommended that you change the oil and the filter at the same time. When you buy your new filter, make sure that you use an OEM GM filter. After-market filters are hit or miss.

Maintain Your Automatic

GM Transmission

Transmission fluid comes in two "flavors":

  1. Standard fluid, which should be replaced at regular intervals depending on duty. As little as 25k miles if you use your vehicle off-road or for towing, as much as 90k miles if you're using your vehicle for "normal" service. Your owner's manual will tell you.
  2. Lifetime fluids, which never need to be replaced (but often are).

There are a lot of strong opinions about lifetime fluids, but in practice most transmissions with a lifetime fluid are eventually serviced. This is because many auto technicians feel that there's no such thing as a "lifetime" transmission fluid. Others argue that lifetime fluids have been used for years by automakers like BMW, Volvo, Toyota, and of course GM. It's not as if lifetime fluids are a new invention.

In any case, if you have a vehicle with an automatic transmission that requires regular fluid replacements, you can start by checking your fluid levels. The fluid needs to be hot, so do this after you have taken a trip that's at least 20 minutes long. Start by parking on flat, level ground and putting the transmission in PARK. Let the engine idle and read the transmission dipstick. If you need to add some more fluid, make sure you check your owner's manual for the correct type, and then be sure to add the fluid slowly and do not overfill it.

NOTE: Seriously - go slowly. It's easier to add fluid than to drain it out.

Keeping Up Your Cooling System

GM Coolant

Your cooling system keeps your vehicle cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It's essential to your vehicle's longevity, and generally speaking the fluid must be replaced periodically (check your manual for details).

If you want to make sure your cooling system is good to go, it's a good idea to a) check your coolant level regularly and b) take a look at your coolant's coloring.

To check levels, always start with a cold engine. You don't want to try and check a warm engine, as you can very easily burn yourself if you open the cooling system. Also, depending on your Chevy's model year, odds are pretty good your vehicle has a coolant overflow tank with a fill level indicator. You should be able to just look at this tank before you start your vehicle to know if you have enough fluid.

You can also look at color of the fluid to try determine the condition of the coolant. Fluid should be a bright color - green, red, or orange. If the fluid looks cloudy or muddled, it may require replacement. If it looks dark or oily, you may have a problem and you should absolutely replace the fluid to confirm that fact.

If you find that you need to add fluid, be sure to add the right color. You do not want to mix green coolant with orange coolant, for example, as the chemicals in each can react and cause problems. As always, check your manual.

Finally, do not overfill your cooling system. Too much fluid is just as bad for your system as insufficient coolant.