Maintenance Schedule

Just bought an LE ECO, (almost through the first tank and at 47.6 mpg according to computer, mostly highway, little AC use).

I didn't spend a ton of time reading the manuals yet, but the maintenance schedule seems to provide very little in the way of real info. Other than oil and filter changes, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of hard info on when things like spark plugs, coolant, break fluid, CVT fluid, valve adjustments, gets changed. Everything seems to be described as inspect and replace if needed. That leaves a lot of discretion and profit opportunity for dealers to do needless "inspections" and too-soon replacements. My Hondas always gave concrete intervals for these changes - 100k miles for plugs, 3 years on break fluid, 100k miles for coolant and manual trans fluid etc. These "inspect"-driven menus end up costing hundreds of dollars with very little actually being done.

Did I just not read carefully enough (the maintenance manual and the operators manual keep referrring back to the other but neither gives much real info) or is the schedule really this vague? I don't like that.

Also, does anyone know if the CVT fluid ever gets changed? Some automakers seem to think this is a lifetime fluid and changing it does more harm than good. I would rather Toyota engineers give concrete guidelines on that than a profit-centered service advisor making this decision based on his own self-interest.


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Glad I was not the only one that found Toyota Owner's manuals, how can I say it Lack of information. Maybe I can find my 1991 owner's manual, and see if that had more info?

Can be looked at in a number of ways, and I will go by how I have maintained my cars, and say I hope you find the answers you are looking for? In the Toy Corolla family, It is a Night and Day with Honda, GH Honda, that is!
This is what I did on my Matrix, and what I will do on my Corolla. It is overkill, but there are several factors that will change your schedules. For instance, I drive aggressively and live in a desert, so some things I will change more often than others on this forum will.

This list is cascading, meaning, if you are on a 20k interval, do everything at the 5k and 10k interval, etc.

Every 5k:
Rotate tires
Check all fluid levels
Inspect brake linings

Every 10k:
Change oil and oil filter
Change cabin air filter

Every 20k:
Change engine air filter
Change PCV valve

Every 60k:
Change Spark Plugs
Change upstream Heated Oxygen Sensor (HO2S)

Every 100k:
Drain engine coolant, flush, and refill.

As far as the CVT goes, supposedly, it does not need to be changed unless you drive the car in extreme conditions (i.e. extreme hot or cold, towing, dusty environment, etc.). If those apply to you, probably every 60k is good enough.

I change my air filter often because I live in a desert. I also change my spark plugs and my upstream HO2S often because I drive aggressively and typically coat my oxygen sensor in crud and about burn off the center electrode in my spark plugs by 60k miles.

I change my cabin air filter every six months so that it is fresh when the seasons change. If you are unaffected by allergies or live in a clean environment, you can probably wait 20k to change it, all up to you (I wouldn't go past 30k ... changed my girl's at around 33k and it looked like the previous owner never touched it, and it was caked in dirt, leaves, etc.)
Thanks, that's pretty helpful. I'll probably do oil every 5k, air and cabin filters every 30k. The plugs, based on the type installed, as well as the coolant, should go for 100k for me I believe.

Honda always says break fluid every 3 years regardless of mileage. I may just stick with that.

Still, I think Toyota should do a better job of specifying these intervals to take out the guesswork and the likelihood of service departments pressuring for overkill maintenance.
I think Donabed's list is good, though I'd figure a CVT fluid change at least at 100k under normal driving conditions. I keep cars to 200k miles +. I can't believe any fluid can last 10+ years. I do need to look into how a sealed CVT transmission's fluid is changed, though.

You are right about the vagueness of the owner's manual. I think it's written that way because a) it give the dealer an opportunity to sell services after an "inspection", and/or b) they expect people to just trade in their 100k mile cars and buy new ones. My manuals from 1990 and 2000 Hondas are much more specific.

I change the oil at 5000 miles, but that's just me. The car does a lot of <5 mile trips.
Some manufacturers, Subaru in particular, have reported an increase in CVT failures after a fluid change and now recommend against changing the fluid. Honestly, we're in a bit of a beta-test situation on the CVT as far as maintenance and longevity. The CVT is designed basically as a standalone sealed unit, for better or worse. Unless we get better info, I don't plan on disturbing the system unless it causes problems. Of course that's a LONG way down the road.
Waiting until there are problems with the automatic transmission could be waiting too long and could necessitate a transmission rebuild costing thousands of dollars.
The biggest factor here is the automotive review magazines (consumer reports, Car and Driver, Edmunds).

For example, if it costs $100 to replace the brake fluid and Toyota says to change it every 3-years, that's a $100 strike against their cost-of-ownership comparison. If they say inspect every three years, they only get dinged for the lower cost of inspection.

As far as specific questions:

I think the manual does specify a 100K plug interval - if not, that is reasonable for most drivers.

With ABS - it's a good idea to flush brake fluid every 3 years regardless of mileage.

The CVT is an unknown. The Hyundai Elantra uses a conventional Automatic and specifies no change interval at all for normal service and 60K replacement for severe service. The Corolla manual never specifies any replacement, but my dealer recommended 80K miles for replacement. That seems reasonable to me, although with an Elantra, I might run it to 100K, and that is PROBABLY safe in the Corolla as well.
Tiger I never thought about the factor of estimated cost of ownership. You may be right. In the end though all of those "inspections" probably end up costing more than actual specified replacement intervals. I do know that some publications actually factor in the cost of typical repairs into their estimates. I think Edmund's.might be one, but I could be wrong. Without specifying intervals, you can bet most people are just not going to do anything, and this could begin to reflect poorly on CR reliability ratings. I think its short-sighted on the part of carmakers.

Tiger and Scott, I know little about the CVT, most of us don't probably. If I knew it was prudent to replace the fluid at a certain interval, I would certainly do that. The fact that its been reported that CVT failure has been reported soon after fluid changes on some cars gives me some pause. Of course, that could be due to it not being done properly or using wrong fluid. The performance and longevity of these has got to highly dependent on the exact volume and viscosity of the fluid. Its notoriously difficult to get all fluid out of transmissions and I could see cases where it ends up overfilled and causing failure. I love the MPG and smoothness of the CVT, but longevity and maintenance are concerning. Getting to be a lot of CVTs out there now. Hopefully in a few years much more will be known about keeping them running long and properly.
There are definitely downsides to the way things are worded.

I was on another forum and it was HIGHLY recommended to replace brake fluid every three years or so to prevent water intrusion (brake fluid can absorb water and your brakes won't work as well - aside from corroding the expensive ABS components).

But the manual just says "Inspect brake fluid" the same way it says "Inspect belts and hoses", which before I read the other info would mean "Yep - it has fluid - checked".

I think the carmakers are trying to have it both ways: It's only an inspection, so it's hard to figure a cost for it. OTOH, they want you to have the dealer inspect it so the dealer can upsell you fuel injection cleaner and ...

Too early to tell on the CVT - in theory they are simpler in operation than a traditional automatic, but many transmission shops aren't fully familiar with them yet. It's one of the few things that I would likely go back to the dealer for service for even outside of the warranty.
.... Honestly, we're in a bit of a beta-test situation on the CVT as far as maintenance and longevity. The CVT is designed basically as a standalone sealed unit, for better or worse. Unless we get better info, I don't plan on disturbing the system unless it causes problems. Of course that's a LONG way down the road.
Yep, my feeling exactly.

I just can't believe that a sealed unit's fluid can last a decade or more.
Doing some surfing, I found a thread on a Scion iQ forum about changing the CVT fluid. I believe this car has a very similar CVT to the Corolla, definitely same manufacturer. It linked to a detailed procedure for changing CVT fluid in other non-US Toyotas with similar CVT's.

The CVT's have been in service in other countries for some time so there have been a lot of people who have had the fluid changed. A lot of experiences with techs putting regular ATF in, which of course is a death sentence. Also, not draining the fluid properly and ending up WAY overfilling, which is also a death sentence. Some people were getting only half of a liter of fluid out and adding another 4 liters!

It sounds like to do it right, you have to drop the sump in order to get it all out, along with any metal shavings caught by the magnets on the bottom of the sump. And there are lots of delicate sensors around the sump and the fill port which are easily damaged. Then you need to be sure you get a perfect seal on the gasket when you re-attach the sump and torque things exactly. You can't suck the fluid out because of the sensors getting fried.

It was very interesting reading. I don't know how much of this is applicable to North America, as a lot of the experiences were in the Middle East, but it shows how easily things can go wrong quickly. Let's hope Toyota dealers' service departments learn and practice proper procedure. If done carefully and properly, it is not a huge job, but do it wrong and its toast. No wonder Toyota is very vague and not specifying an interval. It sounds like they're afraid of screw-ups.
Changing transmission fluid before it reaches the point of falling flat on its face, causing the transmission to fail and hitting the wallet with a huge repair bill, doesn't cause problems. That would be like saying changing the engine oi, or tires, or brake pads, etc., will cause problems. Of course, it makes the vehicle more expensive to own vs other vehicles, so the original equipment vehicle manufacturer may not recommend transmission fluid changes for the, "life of the transmission", (which means 50,000 miles, 100,000 miles or when the transmission is no longer covered under warranty?), to keep the cost of ownership down so that factor compares favorably with other makes of vehicles.

Why would a vehicle manufacturer want to do this? To sell more vehicles, of course. :thumbsup:

Do they care if the transmission fails when it is out of warranty and the consumer has to pay for the very, very expensive transmission rebuild? I'll give you one guess. :laughing:

The moral of the story is take care of your transmission with regular fluid changes. You can pay a little now, or a lot more later.

As I've recommended to my customers all throughout my automotive repair/maintenance industry career, maintenance costs are more regular than repair costs, but they are much, much less costly than repair costs because of a lack of maintenance.

"You can pay me now or you can pay me later" <--- Automotive repair technician.
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I agree, changing the fluid will not cause trans failure - doing it incorrectly definitely can, and in this case it seems to be fairly easily messed up. That really was just the point. The CVT is a sensitive part of the car and of course needs proper maintenance. Improper maintenance can be worse than none. Subaru, for one, has tired of the CVT failures following service and no longer recommends it.

I do disagree that the automaker doesn't care if it fails out of warranty but in what seems unreasonable to the customer. It gives them a bad name and bad publicity. Its why car makers often pick up or share in the cost of major failures just out of warranty. Do you really think Toyota would be just fine with thousands of customers having failed transmissions at 61k miles and broadcasting it all over the internet?

I plan on maintaining mine, but you can bet I'll be taking extra precaution that its done right.
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Of the cars that i've had for long periods of time, I always flushed the brake fluid every 50-60 k miles. It's a cheap service and it keeps the system clean including the wheel cylinders, not to mention it keeps you safer, why risk it for 80 bucks. If you have ever taken a wheel cylinder apart that has never been serviced you will understand. remember an ounce of prevention. on those same cars I flushed the trans fluid at least once a year, but I drove a lot of miles at the time, And as far as oil goes, Im just warming up to 5k oil changes. I also flushed the radiator at least once a year and I dont use radiator flush chemicals just water.Modern fluids are better than they use to be but Fluids still get dirty. If your going to keep a car for 10 years you could do these services for less than a thousand bucks and thats a lot cheaper than a transmision. Remember, fluids are cheaper than metals.
There is a difference between the CVT and the Automatic Transmission.

I agree - no real harm in changing a traditional CVT fluid every 30K miles - although it's probably overkill on a modern Auto Trans.

On the CVT, you have to be sure the shop uses the correct fluid and knows what they are doing, and CVT's on North American Toyota's are too new to assume that.
Hell ... I had to bring the manual in to the dealership so I could get my turn signal changed from 3 flashes to 7.
That's not very re-assuring. Dealerships tend to vary a lot in skill and knowledge level, from extremely knowledgeable to Jiffy Lube-esque. I plan on having a detailed discussion with a couple of service managers about their CVT maintenance procedures. I expect the most frequent answer will be the canned "lifetime fluid" response. I wonder what Toyota corporate would say if the question was put to them.

Really, if a dealership is capable of an engine rebuild, there should be no reason why they can't properly change CVT fluid. Laziness and lack of keeping up with latest technology and training are the culprit.

By the way, the fluid removed from the CVT's in the sites that I've come across does indeed show it to look degraded and burned, so it absolutely has a finite lifetime, although these were primarily in very hot climates, which would be considered sever driving conditions.