Q: I just purchased a new car — a 2016 Honda HRV. How soon can I switch to synthetic oil?
A: At the first oil change, if you'd like. Honda specifies an API rated 0W-20 detergent motor oil and allows synthetic 0W-20 that meets the same API specifications. The two oils — petroleum and synthetic — are effectively interchangeable since they both meet the same standards. Honda calls for oil/filter changes at 10,000-mile intervals or one year, whichever comes first. Personally, I'd be inclined to use synthetic and change oil a bit more frequently.
Q: I have a general question about how one should approach car maintenance. I own two cars, both about seven years old, and have always followed the manufacturer's schedule for whatever work is needed. Do you do the same, or with your expertise can you see recommendations for work that is unnecessary and probably serves only to enrich the dealer? In other words, am I being taken for a ride, so to speak?
A: I really hate the fact that so many car owners assume that the automotive service industry is programmed to "take them for a ride." Preventative maintenance is important and along with a sensitive, non-abusive driving style is the key to long and reliable vehicle life. Is every recommended service item absolutely essential? Probably not. But the key items like fluid changes, tire rotation, brake inspection, timing belt changes, etc., are. To ignore these basics is a recipe for two things — a problematic vehicle and an unhappy vehicle owner. In fact, Honda specifies some services as "warranty requirements," whether Honda's new car warranty or the federal emissions warranty.
The irony is that modern motor vehicles are incredibly reliable and require relatively little maintenance. Oil changes at 10,000-mile intervals, coolant good for five years, spark plug changes at 100,000 miles and so forth. To my mind, your motor vehicle is the second most used, abused, neglected yet reliable "machine" in your life. First? Your toilet!
To your specific question. I review the maintenance literature and decide which services are critical and which are non-critical, like lubricating door hinges, checking exterior lighting, checking exhaust system components, and parking brake systems. Then I decide which of these need to be left to professionals and which I can do myself.
Here are a few examples. Changing the induction air filter is a critical service, but can be done by the car owner just as well as the professional. Ditto checking the condition and level of all fluids. Ditto wiper blades and seatbelts.
Following a carmaker's service schedules is never wrong and you're not being "taken for a ride" in doing so. But you can reduce the cost be deciding which services are critical to safety, reliability and durability and which services you can do yourself.
Q: The aluminum wheels on my 2003 Honda Civic now have rim leaks, one so bad the tire has to be pumped up every two days. The other three have to have air added anywhere from three to 10 days. The worst one has had the rim "polished" by the tire store. This helped for several months but is again to the point of going flat in several days. What do you recommend? Is purchasing a new set of rims the only solution?
A: Check to see if radial inner tubes are available for your tire and wheel size. Your car has likely had several sets of tires installed on those rims over the past 12 years. Corrosion on the bead surface of the rim is probably going to be a permanent issue. If radial tubes are available for that size tire and rim, that's your least expensive option. Finding a serviceable set of Honda wheels at a salvage yard would be another but somewhat more expensive solution.
Also, ask the tire store if they used some type of bead sealer when they polished that one rim. If not, bead sealer might be another option.