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September 8, 2013

Car Talk

Cars generally don't need lube jobs anymore

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:
My question concerns the "lube" portion of "lube, oil and filter." A couple of years ago, I took a new job that is a mere 4 miles from my home. Between the short driving commute and bicycling to work, my car sees few miles and spends a lot of time in the garage. This has been good for both my waistline and my wallet, since my insurance company offers a low-mileage discount. However, this also means that I go a long time between lube, oil and filter services. Instead of every three months, it may take me six months to put 3,000 miles on my car. And with you guys preaching longer times between oil changes these days, I could conceivably go nine to 12 months between lube, oil and filters. This may be fine for the oil and filter, but should the undercarriage and chassis of a car be lubricated more than once a year? When I do take the car out for longer trips, I can hear squeaks, and it feels stiff (or this could just be my imagination). Should I have the car lubed every three or six months, even when it doesn't need its oil and filter changed? Thanks! — Dann

Tom: When you take your car into the shop these days, there's really not much for the mechanic to lubricate, Dann — other than your credit card, to make sure it swipes nice and smoothly.

Ray: On modern cars, things like ball joints are all permanently sealed at the factory now. So when you look at most maintenance schedules, there's almost nothing that calls for lubrication.

Tom:
There are lots of trucks that still have grease fittings on ball joints and tie rods, but we hardly ever see cars that take grease anymore.

Ray: In fact, the only use our old grease gun gets anymore is juicing up the toilet seat on April Fool's Day.

Tom: However, if something specific is wrong, certain parts can be lubricated to try to address the issue. For instance, if a customer comes in with a stiff, squeaky door, we'd obviously lubricate the hinges.

Ray:
Or if a customer with an older car complains that it's creaking when it goes over bumps, we'd start by lubricating the control arm bushings, and maybe the stabilizer bushings, too.

Tom:
Those bushings can dry out over time, and they often respond to an application of good penetrating oil. You might want to have your mechanic try that for you, Dann.

Ray: But if you do that once, it should be good for years. There's no reason to do it every three or six months. So just base your maintenance visits on when you need an oil and filter change, and forget all about the word "lube."

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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