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How to Maintain a Car at 50,000 Miles

mechanic inspecting under a car with a clipboard

Maintaining your vehicle with proper service including replacing fluids, belts, and other mechanical components as scheduled is vital for keeping your vehicle running well. Although most manufacturers have their own recommended service intervals, most of them agree that the 50,000 mile service is one of the most critical.

Most of the vehicles built today are engineered for maximum efficiency. Due to this, some components that used to be a part of routine replacement service, like spark plugs, ignition points and timing belts no longer have to be replaced until much later than 50,000 miles. However, there are some components that should be inspected and serviced during a 50,000 mile check-up.

Noted below are a few of the common steps for completing a 50,000 mile service on most domestic and foreign cars, trucks, and SUVs. Please remember that each manufacturer has different requirements for service and replacement of components, especially in order to cover warranties offered today.

For detailed information on what your specific vehicle requires, visit our scheduled maintenance page. You can access your vehicle's service schedule, including what items need to be replaced, examined, or serviced for each major milestone your car reaches.

Part 1 of 6: Inspecting the fuel cell cap

There are multiple individual parts that make up today's complex fuel systems. However, when you break it down simply, the fuel system is comprised of two individual components that should all be checked and serviced during a 50,000 mile service: replacing the fuel filter and inspecting the fuel cell cap.

The first item that is easiest to complete during a 50,000 mile service check-up is to inspect the fuel cell cap. The fuel cap contains a rubber O-ring which can become damaged, compressed, cut, or frayed. If this occurs, it may impact the fuel cap’s ability to properly seal the fuel cell.

Although most of us never consider that the fuel cell cap needs inspecting, the reality is that the fuel cell cap (gas cap) is a vital component that keeps an engine running strong. The fuel cell cap maintains a pressurized seal within the fuel system. When the cap wears out or the seal is damaged, it impacts the way a vehicle runs, the emissions system, and the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

Step 1: Inspect the fuel cell cap. Check the fuel cell cap for proper tightness.

When you put the cap on, it should click once or a few times. This tells the driver that the cap is properly installed. If the fuel cell cap does not click when you put it on, it is likely damaged and should be replaced.

fuel cell cap in a hand with a rubber ring on inside of the cap

Step 2: Inspect the o-ring. If the rubber ring is cut or damaged in any way, you should replace the entire fuel cell cap.

These parts are very inexpensive so it's best to simply replace the entire unit.

If the fuel cell is easy to install and remove and the rubber O-ring is in good shape, you should be good to go for the next 50,000 miles.

Part 2 of 6: Replacing the fuel filter

Fuel filters are usually located inside the engine compartment and right before the fuel injection system. The fuel filters are designed to stream out microscopic particles, debris, and contaminants that would otherwise enter the fuel injector system and potentially clog up fuel lines.

Fuel filters come in different shapes, sizes, and are made out of metal or, in some cases, plastic that is non-corrosive. However, it is recommended you replace the fuel filter on most cars, trucks, and SUV's that use unleaded gasoline as their fuel source. To replace the fuel filter, you should refer to your individual service manual for specific instructions, but the general steps for replacing a fuel filter are listed below.

Materials Needed

  • End wrenches or line wrenches
  • Ratchet and socket set
  • Replacement fuel filter
  • Screwdrivers
  • Solvent cleaner

metal fuel filter

Step 1: Locate the fuel filter and the fuel line connections. Most fuel filters are located under the hood of the vehicle and commonly look like metal components.

On most domestic and foreign four and six cylinder engines, the fuel filter is typically secured with two hose clamps with a flat blade screwdriver or 10mm bolt.

Step 2: Remove the battery terminals for safety.

Step 3: Place a few shop rags underneath the fuel line connections. Having this near the connections on the front and back of the fuel filter helps reduce the mess.

Step 4: Loosen the fuel line connections on both sides of the fuel filter.

Step 5: Remove the fuel lines from the fuel filter.

Step 6: Install new fuel filter. Paying attention to the direction of the fuel flow. Most fuel filters will have an arrow pointing in the direction of which line attaches to the input line and the output fuel line. Properly dispose of old fuel filter and fuel soaked rags.

Step 7: Reconnect battery terminals and remove any tools.

Step 8: Test the replacement of the fuel filter. Start motor to verify fuel filter replacement was successful.

  • Warning: Anytime you replace a fuel filter, you should spray the area where fuel leaked with a solvent cleaner/degreaser. This removes fuel residue and reduce the potential of combustion or fire under the hood.

Part 3 of 6: Performing an exhaust system inspection

diagram showing the parts of the exhaust system

Another service that should be completed during a 50,000 maintenance check-up is an inspection of the exhaust system. Most of today's modern trucks, SUVs, and cars have very well constructed exhaust systems that typically last more than 100,000 miles or 10 years before they begin to wear out. However, for a 50,000 mile service, you'll want to complete a good "look over" and examination of some common trouble spots for exhaust systems which include the following individual sections.

Materials Needed

  • Crawler or creeper
  • Flashlight
  • Shop rags

Step 1: Inspect the system at various points. Inspect the catalytic converter connections, the muffler, and the exhaust sensors.

Under most circumstances you won't have to replace any components. However, if you notice that there is damage to individual parts within your vehicle’s exhaust system, please refer to your service manual on how to properly replace those components.

Step 2: Inspect catalytic converter. The catalytic converter is responsible for converting dangerous gases like carbon monoxide, NOx, and hydrocarbons into carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and even water.

The catalytic converter contains three different catalysts (metals) and a series of chambers that filter the unburnt hydrocarbon emissions and convert them to less dangerous particles. Most catalytic converters don't need to be replaced until at least 100,000 miles; however, they should be inspected during a 50,000 check up for the following potential problems:

Inspect the welds connecting the catalytic converter to the exhaust system. The catalytic converter is welded by the factory to the exhaust pipe, which is attached to the exhaust manifold on the front, and the exhaust pipe, leading to the muffler in the rear of the catalytic converter. Sometimes these welds crack, whether due to exposure to salt, moisture, road grime, or excessive bottoming out of the vehicle.

Crawl underneath the vehicle or raise the vehicle on jack stands and inspect the welds on the front and back of this component. If they are in good shape, you can proceed. If you notice cracking on any welds, you should have this repaired by a professional mechanic or exhaust shop as soon as possible.

Step 3: Inspect the muffler. The inspection here is similar, as you're looking for any structural damage to the muffler.

Look for any dents in the muffler, damage to welds connecting the muffler to the exhaust pipe, and any signs of rust or metal fatigue along the muffler housing.

If you notice any damage to the muffler at 50,000 miles, you should replace it to be on the safe side. Consult with your vehicle’s service manual for exact instructions on how to replace the muffler or contact an ASE certified mechanic to inspect the exhaust for you.

exhaust component with oxygen sensor visible

Step 4: Inspect exhaust and oxygen sensors. A common part that often fails unexpectedly between 50,000 to 100,000 miles is the exhaust or oxygen sensors.

These provide data to the ECM of the vehicle and control the emissions system. These sensors are typically attached to the exhaust manifold or each individual exhaust port on the exhaust pipe. These parts are subject to extreme temperature and sometimes break due to this exposure.

To complete an inspection of these components, you might need an OBD-II Scanner to download any error codes stored in the ECM. You can complete a physical inspection by looking for any signs of extreme wear or potential failure including:

Look for any damaged wires or connections or any burn marks on the electrical harness. Check the position of the sensor and determine if it is solid, loose, or bent. If you notice any unusual signs of a damaged oxygen sensor, replace it by reviewing the proper steps in your service manual.

Part 4 of 6: Replacing automatic transmission fluid and filter

mechanic checking transmission fluid and filter

Another common 50,000 mile service is draining and replacing the automatic transmission fluid and filter. Most modern vehicles that use an automatic transmission have different standards on when or even if you should replace the oil and filter. In fact, many of the newer vehicles using variable speed transmissions are factory sealed, and the manufacturer recommends never replacing the oil or filter.

However, most service manuals for cars made before 2014 recommend a 50,000 mile change of the automatic transmission fluid, the filter inside the transmission, and new pan gaskets. These parts are all sold at many auto parts stores as a replacement kit, which may also include new pan bolts or even a new bottom pan for your transmission. Anytime you remove the transmission filter or pan, it is highly recommended you install a new pan or, at the minimum, a new gasket.

Materials Needed

  • Can of carburetor cleaner
  • Drain pan
  • Hydraulic lift access
  • Jacks
  • Jack stands
  • Replacement automatic transmission fluid
  • Replacement transmission filter
  • Replacement transmission pan gasket
  • Shop rags
  • Socket/ratchet set

Step 1: Remove battery cables from the battery terminals. Anytime you work with electricity, you need to remove the battery cables from the battery terminals.

Remove both the positive and negative terminals before proceeding to drain and replace transmission fluid and filters.

Step 2: Raise the vehicle. Do this on a hydraulic lift or jack up and place vehicle on jack stands.

You'll need to have access to the undercarriage of your vehicle in order to drain the transmission fluid and replace the filter. If you have access to a hydraulic lift, please utilize this resource as it's much easier to complete this task. If not, jack the front end of the vehicle and place on jack stands.

Step 3: Drain the oil from the transmission drain plug. Once the vehicle is raised, you need to drain the old oil from the transmission.

This is completed by removing the drain plug on the bottom of the transmission pan. The plug is typically similar to the oil plug on most oil pans, meaning that you'll use a 9/16" or ½" end wrench (or metric equivalent) to remove it.

Make sure you have a drain pan underneath the oil plug with plenty of shop rags available to clean up spillage.

Step 4: Remove transmission pan. After the oil is drained, you'll need to remove the transmission pan in order to replace the filter inside the transmission.

There are usually 8 to 10 bolts that secure the pan to the bottom of the automatic transmission that need to be removed. Once the pan has been removed, set it aside as you'll need to clean the pan and install a new gasket before reinstalling.

diagram of transmission filter

Step 5: Replace transmission filter assembly. When you've removed the oil and oil pan from the transmission, you'll need to remove the filter assembly.

Most of the time, the filter assembly is secured to the bottom of the torque converter housing with one bolt or simply slides over an oil tube freely. Refer to your vehicle’s service manual on the proper techniques to remove the transmission filter and remove it from your transmission before proceeding.

Once the filter has been removed, clean the filter connection with a clean shop rag and install the new filter.

Step 6: Clean transmission pan and install gasket. When you remove the transmission pan, the gasket most likely is not attached to the transmission.

On some vehicles, you have to silicone the gasket onto the bottom of the gasket, while others do not require this step. However, they all require that that the gasket be attached to a clean surface free of oil.

In order to do this, you'll have to clean your transmission pan if you didn't purchase a new one. Find an empty bucket and spray carb cleaner in your transmission pan, making sure to clean it multiple times to ensure there is no oil residue left behind.

Pay special attention to the galleys inside the oil pan, as transmission oil tends to "hide" there. Dry the oil pan by blowing it off with compressed air or with a clean shop rag.

Once the oil pan is clean, place the new gasket on the oil pan in the same direction as the old one. If your service manual instructs you to silicone the new gasket to the pan, do this now.

Step 7: Install the oil pan. Place the oil pan on the transmission and install by inserting screws into each hole in order.

Tighten the pan bolts as instructed by your service manual. Most of the time, the bolts are tightened in a pattern that ensures the gasket compresses correctly. Refer to your service manual for this pattern and recommended torque pressure settings for the bolts.

Step 8: Fill transmission with new recommended automatic transmission fluid. There are multiple grades and thicknesses of oil recommended for each make and model.

You'll usually find this information in the service manual. Open the hood to your vehicle and find the transmission oil filler tube. Add the recommended amount of transmission fluid to the transmission.

When completed, wait for about 4 minutes to check the fluid level with the transmission dipstick. If low, add transmission fluid ¼ of a quart at a time until filled to desired level.

Step 9: Lower and test start the vehicle, checking transmission fluid once hot. Transmissions are hydraulic devices, so the oil level decreases after changing the fluid initially.

Add fluid once the vehicle has been running for a while. Check your vehicle's service manual for exact recommendations on adding fluid after the oil change.

Part 5 of 6: Inspecting suspension components

There are several different elements that impact wear and tear for front end components. Front suspension components wear out over a period of time or based on miles driven. When you reach the 50,000 mile marker, you should inspect the front end suspension for signs of damage. When it comes to checking the front end suspension, there are two specific items that often wear out sooner than others: the CV joints and tie rods.

Both the CV joints and tie rods are connected to the wheel hub, which is where the tires and wheels are connected to the vehicle. These two components take a tremendous beating daily and wear out or break before the vehicle reaches the 100,000 mile threshold.

mechanic gripping a wheel on top and bottom of a tire on a raised vehicle

Step 1: Jack up the vehicle. Inspecting the tie rods and CV joints is a very simple test. All you have to do is jack up the front end of your vehicle by placing the floor jack on the lower control arm and proceed through the following steps.

Step 2: Inspect the CV/ball joint. To check the condition of your CV joints, all you have to do is to place two hands on the wheel that is raised off the ground.

Place your right hand at 12:00 position and the left hand at 6:00 and try to rock the tire back and forward.

If the tire moves, the CV joints are starting to wear out and should be changed. If the tire is solid and doesn't move much, the CV joints are in good shape. After this quick physical inspection, look behind the tire at the CV boot. If the boot is torn and you see a lot of grease under the wheel well, you should replace the CV boot and CV joint.

Step 3: Inspect the tie rods. To inspect the tie rods, place hands at the 3 and 9 o'clock position and try to rock the tire to the left and right.

If the tires move, the tie rod or tie rod bushings are damaged and need to be replaced. Both of these two components are critical for suspension alignment, which should be checked and set by a professional suspension alignment shop after completing the next step on the checklist.

Part 6 of 6: Replace all four tires

Most tires installed by the factory are designed to ride as smooth as possible so as to impress the new car owners, but this has a cost. Tires that are OEM are often made from a very soft rubber compound and only last about 50,000 miles (if they are properly rotated every 5,000 miles, are always properly inflated, and there are no suspension alignment issues). Therefore, when you reach 50,000 miles, you should be in the market for new tires.

diagram indicating the meanings of he text on a tire

Step 1: Understand tire markings. Most tires made today fall under the "P" metric system for tire sizing.

They are installed by the factory and designed to enhance or match the suspension design of the vehicle for maximum efficiency. Some tires are made for high performance driving, while others are designed for aggressive road conditions or all-season use.

Regardless of the exact purpose, the first thing you need to know about the tires on your vehicle is what the numbers mean. Here are a few important details to remember before you start shopping.

Look on the side of your tire and find the size, load rating, and speed rating. As displayed in the image above, the tire size will begin after the letter "P".

The first number is the tire width (in millimeters), and the second number is what's referred to as the aspect ratio (which is the height of the tire from the bead to the top of the tire. This aspect ratio is a percentage of the width of the tire).

The final designation is the letter "R" (which stands for Radial Tire) followed by the wheel diameter size in inches. The final numbers to write down on paper will be the load index (two numbers) followed by the speed rating (a letter usually S, T, H, V, or Z).

Step 2: Choose the same size tire. When you purchase new tires, you should ALWAYS keep the same tire size as what came from the factory.

Tire sizing impacts multiple functions including gear ratios, transmission use, speedometer, and engine performance. It can also impact fuel economy and vehicle stability if changed. Regardless of what some people might tell you, upgrading to a bigger tire is NOT a good idea.

Step 3: Purchase tires in pairs. Anytime you purchase tires, make sure at least to buy them in pairs (on the same axle).

Most manufacturers recommend purchasing all four tires at the same time; and they are right to suggest this as four new tires are safer than two new. Plus, when you start with four new tires, you can make sure to follow proper tire rotation procedures. Tires should be rotated every 5,000 miles at the maximum (especially on front wheel drive vehicles). Proper tire rotation can extend mileage up to 30%.

Step 4: Make sure to buy a tire for your climate. Most tires made today are considered all season; however, some are better for colder, wet, and snowy roads than others.

There are three elements that make a tire good for snow or icy roads.

The tire is engineered with full groove channels: When you're driving on snowy or wet roads, you want a tire that will "clean itself" well. This is done when a tire has full groove channels that allow debris to exit from the sides.

Tire has good "sipes”: Sipes are the small wiggly lines inside the tire tread block. They are actually designed to draw in small particles of ice into the sipe block. The reason is straightforward if you consider: what is the only thing that will stick to ice? If you answered "More Ice", you would be correct.

When ice is trapped in a sipe, it actually helps the tire stick to the ice, which reduces tire skidding and can vastly decrease stopping distance on icy or snow packed roads.

Buy a tire for the majority of your weather conditions. If you live in Las Vegas, the likelihood of your needing snow tires is rather remote. Sure, you might get a dusting of snow occasionally, but most of the time you'll deal with rainy or dry weather roads.

Some tire dealers will try and sell customers "snow tires" – which are good for places like Buffalo, NY, Minnesota, or Alaska where the ice stays on roads for months. However, snow tires are extremely soft compounds and will wear out quickly on dry roads.

Step 5: Have wheels professionally aligned after installing new tires. When you purchase new tires, you should always have the front end suspension professionally aligned.

At 50,000 miles, it's also recommended by the manufacturer in most cases. There are several things that can cause the front end to fall out of alignment including hitting a pothole, clipping curbs, and constant driving on rough roads.

During the first 50,000 miles of driving, your vehicle is subject to many of these situations. This is a job however, that should not be done on your own unless you have a professional suspension alignment computer and support equipment. Contact a professional suspension shop to have the front end aligned right after purchasing new tires. This will ensure the tires will wear properly and can reduce the potential of drifting or pulling.

Having your vehicle serviced at routine intervals is vital for longevity of mechanical components. If you have a vehicle that is approaching 50,000 miles, then have one of YourMechanic’s certified technicians come to your home or business to help ensure you stay on top of your vehicle’s scheduled maintenance.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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