What does your Toyota “want” when the maintenance required light comes on?
The Toyota maintenance reminder system is pretty simple. It doesn’t track all maintenance operations like the Honda system. It just counts 5,000 miles from the last time it was reset, and then the light comes back on. This isn’t a bad thing though. Simple is actually better in our opinion, but this does mean that the “maint req” light doesn’t give you the whole story.
The maintenance light alerts you that the car is due for an oil change and tire rotation at minimum. However, your car may need more, and it’s up to you and your mechanic to keep track. Some people get stuck in the “light = oil change” trap and end up missing some important service intervals, so it’s important to check your records when the light comes on. If you’ve been bringing your Toyota here for service, we’re happy to check your service records and figure out what the car is due for. Most other shops will do the same.
The Toyota preventative maintenance plan includes four different types of services, which are repeated in a pattern. Small, medium, and two types of large services. The pattern is, two small services, a medium service, two more small services, then a big service. One of the big services is the 120K service, which is the biggest of all of the services.
Toyota’s Small Service – The 5K / 10K
Toyota did something a little silly and the official recommendation is to change the motor oil and filter every 10,000 miles instead of every 5,000 miles. So, at some dealerships a 5K service won’t include an oil change but the 10K service will. This is one of the problems with ToyotaCare. With the 5 free services, you’ll only get two oil changes. 10,000 mile oil change intervals are a bad idea, so we’ve chosen to ignore Toyota’s guidance on this issue. We do the same service every 5,000 miles and always include oil and a new filter.
What’s included with OUR VERSION OF a Toyota 5K Service?
- Replace motor oil and oil filter
- Check tire condition
- Rotate the tires
- Inspect the brakes
- Set the tire pressures
- Check all the fluid levels for systems with a dipstick or view port
Everything in the 5K service is included in every larger service as well.
Toyota’s intermediate service – 15k / 45K / 75k /105k
Cars need to be periodically inspected for a couple of reasons. First, it provides an opportunity to find issues that might cause the car to break down. The other reason is to catch problems that are inexpensive to fix before they create larger, more expensive issues. A stich in time saves nine.
The smaller 5K service includes a couple of basic checks, but not a full inspection, which is very important but often under-valued by auto repair consumers. Part of this is our own fault as an industry. Shops advertise “free” inspections as if they’re doing a thorough check, when in fact they’re just looking for profitable things to sell. If you’re wondering why you shouldn’t rely on free vehicle inspections, you can read more here.
What’s included with a Toyota 15K Service ?
- Everything in the 5K service
- A series of inspections
The list of Toyota inspections is sometimes a little anemic in our opinion, so we use our own inspection checklist. It includes everything found on the list in the Toyota maintenance guide, as well as other inspections we feel are important. Checklists are very important by the way. They ensure consistency. We’ll typically just give you a summary of our findings rather than the entire checklist, but if you’d like to have a copy you’re welcome to it. You’ve paid for it after all.
Toyota’s Major Service – 30K / 60K / 90K
Every 30,000 miles years your Toyota needs a larger service. At the 30K interval we often recommend doing more than what’s required in your owner’s manual or maintenance guide. As always, we make our recommendations, but you’re free to do the service any way you want. It won’t hurt our feelings if you want to do things your own way.
What does Toyota recommend at the 30K interval?
- Everything in the 15K service
- Engine air filter
- Cabin air filter
- Brake fluid (some Lexus models)
- Smart key battery (some Lexus models)
You may notice that the only fluid that Toyota is recommending for many cars is motor oil, and this continues all the way until the coolant is recommended at 100K or 150K, depending on the model. Aren’t there other fluids? There sure are! Shouldn’t they be replaced periodically? We certainly think so!
In our opinion brake fluid should be replaced every 30K or 2 – 3 years. We’re not alone here. Honda and Subaru require periodic brake fluid replacement. And Toyota does too! But only on their Lexus branded products. In case you’re thinking that the reason for this is a difference in design between Lexus and Toyota brake systems, that’s not it. The 2010-2015 Prius scheduled maintenance doesn’t include brake fluid. The recommendation for the 2012-2017 CT200h is every 30K. They both have the same brake components. It’s the same brake system with two different recommendations.
Transmission fluid or oil
Transmission fluid, just like any other lubricant, degrades with use. Also, the debris created as clutches, bearings, and gears wear is suspended and recirculated with the fluid. Gritty fluid that’s not slippery anymore isn’t good for transmission longevity. Toyota recommends replacing transmission fluid periodically (usually at 60K) when towing, using a car-top carrier, or driving hard. We recommend replacing the transmission oil/fluid every 30K on most Toyota vehicles. This may be more than is really necessary, but transmission repair is expensive. It’s better to be safe than sorry. We strongly recommend replacing transmission fluid at least every 60,000 miles, regardless of your driving or towing habits.
Differential and transfer case oil/fluid
This is another set of fluids that Toyota doesn’t recommend replacing unless you use your car to tow something. However, like all other lubricants, it won’t last forever. Some of these fluids are pretty expensive, so people avoid replacing them. For instance, Toyota LF 75W oil is nearly $90 per quart at the time of this writing. However, most Toyota gear oils, even full synthetic oils, are pretty reasonably priced. Replacing a gear oil is typically about the same price as an oil change for most cars.
Toyota does recommend “checking” gear oil condition every 15,000 miles. Unfortunately there’s no real way to “check” the condition. Debris in gear oil is most often metal, and will sink to the bottom of the sump when the car isn’t in motion. The inspection port is equal to the oil level, so when we take a sample, the oil is likely to look clean on the surface, even if there’s a bunch of debris at the bottom of the sump. We recommend replacing the gear oils every 30K miles, or at least every 60K if the car is driven gently.
In the old days, coolant was replaced every couple of years or every 30,000 miles. Modern coolants last much, much longer. Toyota recommends replacing the coolant every 100K or 150K. Provided you drive an average amount (around 12,000 miles per year), these recommendation are probably OK. Personally, I like to keep major service items on a traditional major service interval (30K, 60K, 90K, and 120K), so if the interval is 100K, I’d go with 90K, and if the interval is 150K, I’d go with 120K. However, this is just personal preference and it doesn’t really matter.
The spark plugs are replaced at 120K miles on most Toyota vehicles. The spark plugs don’t need to be replaced early. The modern iridium plugs hold up very well indeed. We strongly recommend using the same plugs that came with the car. It would be better to run a worn original plug that than some of the aftermarket offerings.
Gone the way of the dodo
Timing belts were once a staple of automotive maintenance, but nearly all modern cars have moved back to the timing chain. The timing chain may one day wear out, especially if you neglect your engine oil maintenance. However, it’s not included in preventative maintenance.
Toyota has moved to hydraulic lash adjusters for many models. Once again, oil maintenance is going to be very important to keep them working reliably, but there is no scheduled maintenance required. Even on Toyota vehicles with shim-adjustable valves, valve clearance is seldom an issue, with the notable exception of the Toyota Tacoma with the 2RZFE or 3RZFE engine, which had some problems with the exhaust valves.
Ignition timing, idle speed, mixture adjustment, dwell, etc
Pretty much all traditional “tune-up” adjustments are no longer necessary. The engine control computer adjusts all of this in real-time as the engine is running. Tune-ups don’t really exist anymore.
Toyota’s Service recommendations
While I’ve tried to be accurate in a general sense, there are sometimes different service needs for different models. Also, I’m mostly talking about cars that are 0 – 10 years old. Toyota has changed its recommendations over time as their engineering and fluids have changed, so what I’ve said in the article may not be true for a 1999 model year. Therefore, you should do the same thing that we do at Art’s: read the maintenance guide. If your copy isn’t in your glovebox anymore, or it’s buried under too many napkins and ketchup packets, Toyota has an online version for you. I’d recommend using the PDF copy of the booklet rather than the “search by mileage” feature.