With the movement control order (MCO) and work-from-home directives, car owners everywhere recorded much lower usage in 2020. We all love driving and many of us took to the streets the moment the MCO and interstate travel restrictions were lifted.

However, with the new norm of working from home, yours truly only recorded 6,000 kilometres of driving last year, a huge drop of 70% compared to the year before. With such low mileage, it is not even reaching the stipulated “service at every 10,000 kilometres” in 12 months.

As such, should we still stick to the kilometre-reading or follow the other rule- every six months?

What happens if you didn’t follow the specified maintenance schedule?

All dealerships require the owners of new cars to return for maintenance activities at a stipulated schedule. The majority of mass-market vehicles have a schedule of every 10,000 km travelled or six calendar months from the last date of service, whichever occurs first.

Volkswagen in Malaysia meanwhile require customers to return just once a year, or every 15,000 km, applied to every car from the Polo 1.6 to the Golf R. Check your owner’s and servicing manual for specifics.

Service interval of every 12 months or 15,000 km for Volkswagen cars in Malaysia

Servicing is important as the engine oil is changed, together with the oil filter and other inspection that ensures the vehicle performs at its best. At certain intervals, transmission fluid is replaced, air and fuel filters swapped to new units, as well as replenishing the brake fluid.

With such little driving done last year, owners of new vehicles must still adhere to the time-based servicing schedule of every six months, or as stipulated in the individual manufacturer’s requirement such as Volkswagen.

It sounds like wastage as your engine oil might have only done minimal work, but remember, adhering to the manufacturer prescribed service schedule is one of the key methods to keep your warranty valid. Apart from wear during operation, oil in the engine also deteriorates with time.

Oxidation occurs when oxygen molecules interact with oil molecules which will lead to chemical breakdown, reducing the oil’s protective capabilities plus an increase in viscosity.

Carefully blended additives in the engine oil are also designed to deplete with time. Anti-wear additives are added to oils to form a sacrificial barrier and it is this sacrificial nature that makes engine oils lose their effectiveness and must be changed.

By not adhering to the six-month schedule, the dealership has a strong reason to deny any replacement on parts that fall under the warranty coverage. New car owners should also return to only authorised dealerships for all scheduled preventive maintenance servicing. This is to ensure all fluids and replacement parts are genuine items.

Filters might be clogged up if you overstretched your servicing schedule, making the vehicle consume more fuel and could even cause a breakdown while driving.

The brake system meanwhile might be less effective and suffer more fade, as the corrosion inhibitor additive in the brake fluid has worsened and overheats.

Some new car owners mentioned earlier that they could not get a slot to service their vehicle within the six months interval (MCO, reduced staff, distancing etc). Under these circumstances, the agreement between the dealership and the owner must be clearly laid out. With computerised data logging, remarks can easily be tagged to specific vehicles.

Alright, so you drive a car that is already out of warranty coverage. Well then, it is best to check with your regular mechanic if you can stretch your servicing interval. You might have been using semi-synthetic engine oil and these do not hold their lubricating qualities as long as fully synthetic oils.

Fully synthetic oils are made with base oils that are more resilient to oxidation and heat, while their additives also typically provide better performance.

So, in summary, can I stretch my service interval to follow the 10,000-kilometre distance? For owners of new cars, the answer is no. It will void your warranty and complicate things further being a new car owner. Follow the prescribed month-based schedule even if you only have done 1,000 kilometres.

For owners with a car that is already out of warranty, it’s best is to check with your mechanic. But on a personal recommendation, best to get the oil change by the ninth month since the last change, as it is already a 50% stretch on the life of the engine oil.

We treasure our cars and definitely like to have the best for our passion and hobby. The engine oil is the lifeline of the car, and it is better to spend on servicing rather than deal with a breakdown later, keeping in mind ‘penny wise, pound foolish’.