auto maintenance January 11, 2018


The words “Severe Service” invoke powerful images when used in conjunction with a vehicle. Sand-colored military vehicles scuttling across the deserts of the Middle East where dust and sand can scour the windows into frosted glass and a sandstorm can clog the air filters in a matter of minutes.

Or perhaps a vehicle in Nome, Alaska, where the engines must be left running for weeks at a time or plugged into heaters, lest the oil turn to Jell-O and the radiator freeze into a block of ice.

Maybe a vehicle crossing Death Valley on the hottest summer day with the air conditioning straining to keep the interior livable as the under-hood temperature nudges towards 250 degrees F.

But what if I told you your vehicle was a “Severe Service Vehicle”? It’s true. You want to hear Honda Motor Company’s definition of Severe Service?

  1. Taking trips of under 10 miles
  2. Driving in temperatures over 90 degrees F
  3. Extensive idling (ever hear of traffic?)
  4. Driving less than 5 miles in freezing temperatures
  5. Driving on roads that have been treated for ice
  6. Driving in mud

Any one of those conditions and you are a “Severe Service Driver,” and I’m pretty sure a year of driving in the Washington Metro area and you have covered at least 5 criteria. All the other auto manufacturers use a similar or identical definition.

This means you must adhere to the “Severe Service” maintenance schedule for your vehicle, which is usually far more comprehensive than the “Normal Driving” schedule.

The difference might be something like this:

Normal Service

At every 30,000 miles:

  • Replace engine oil and filter
  • Replace engine air filter
  • Replace cabin air filter
  • Rotate tires
  • Say a few words of encouragement and close hood (OK, I made that up)

Severe Service

At every 30,000 miles:

  • Replace engine oil and filter
  • Replace engine air filter
  • Replace cabin air filter
  • Rotate tires
  • Replace brake fluid
  • Replace automatic transmission fluid and filter
  • Replace transfer case fluid (where applicable)
  • Replace front and rear differential fluids (where applicable)
  • Check belts, hoses, and service as needed
  • Check all suspension and steering components and service as needed

You get the idea.

So what is normal driving?

It is one of those expressions that describes mythical conditions such as “normal adolescent development.” Or “a pleasant visit from the IRS.”

But in theory it would involve starting your car, allowing it to idle 30 seconds to a minute, starting out accelerating gradually to 35 mph, and remaining there for 5 minutes. Stopping gradually at a light or stop sign, entering the motorway by accelerating gradually to 55 mph and remaining there for 15-25 miles. Slowing gradually and parking at your destination, while allowing your engine to idle 30 seconds to a minute before shutting off. All this would be done in temperatures not greater than 90 degrees and no less than 35 degrees with little or no precipitation.

And whatever you do, when you reach your destination after driving under normal conditions, don’t forget to unstrap your unicorn from the back seat.

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