Should you follow the service schedule for a used car?

July 25th, 2023 by

Very old, rusted out truck that is falling apart

Short answer: Yes. There’s no reason to avoid servicing your car as it gets older, pre-owned or not.

Complicated answer: You should adjust the timing of scheduled maintenance when you buy a used car.


You just bought a used car, with about 55,000 miles on it. Generally, service is recommended every 20k miles or every 2 years, whichever comes first. When you buy it, you often don’t know how well or regularly it was serviced.

  • Did it miss its 20k and 40k service?
  • Did they always change the oil immediately?
  • Did they procrastinate and only do the 40k service at 50k miles?
  • When should you schedule your next service?

If you can, you should ask the person selling the car if they know if it’s been kept up with its scheduled service, and the last time its oil was changed. Assuming everything is good and it’s been well maintained, you can just continue to follow the maintenance schedule.

However, that is often not the case. When a car hasn’t been properly serviced over time, there may be hidden damage lurking in the vehicle. You’ll want to get it inspected as soon as possible, preferably before purchase.

Most scheduled service is something like “check the condition of the battery, belts, wipers, pumps, and lights” and only recommend replacing them if needed. As a result, if the last couple of scheduled maintenance appointments have been skipped, some or most of the work is likely repeated between them.

When the service shop does replace some parts, keep note of which. If your maintenance schedule suggests replacing your air conditioner filter every 20k miles, then you don’t need to replace it early at your next appointment when it’s only been driven for 5000 miles.

My Experience

I bought a 2013 vehicle in 2021 with 52,000 miles. I was told by the seller that it had barely been driven for the last year and a half, since shortly before the US went into lockdown in 2020. The car has a maintenance schedule every 10k miles or 1 year, and it had not been followed. Because it was such an old car, it had missed past and future maintenance (despite being only 52k miles, as an 8 year old car it was supposed to be serviced as though it were 80k), so I had a lot to catch up on.

As a result, I replaced most of the fluids in the car, including coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, rear drive assembly fluid, and oil, as well as the engine and air conditioning filters. I opened up my service schedule and marked it with a pen, adjusting the service schedule to adapt to all of the work I’d just had done. Instead of 80k miles, it was now 52k. Instead of 90k, my next service was going to be at 62k miles. 

I’ve kept my car repair costs far below the expected average over the last 2+ years now. Keeping to your repair schedule is important to prevent worse and more expensive issues in the future. 

So, in short, get your car caught up with any scheduled service as soon as possible after buying your car, then keep getting it serviced at regular intervals afterwards. It will pay dividends in the future.

Posted in Car Maintenance