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What are Severe Driving Conditions?

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Severe vs. Normal Driving Conditions

When scheduling any automotive maintenance, you can probably expect to be asked about the driving conditions that you put your vehicle through, you have only 2 choices, normal and severe. If you’re just an average American and don’t use your car to compete in motor sports, surely you fall into the normal driving conditions right? You might be right, but you might be wrong, that’s mostly due to the misleading terms for conditions assigned by the auto industry. The Filter Manufacturers Council saw this as an issue and suggests you think of the labels a little differently, think of “normal” as ideal driving conditions and think of “severe” as average conditions.

It’s important to look up what these conditions look like for your specific vehicle, this information can easily be found in your owner’s manual or online. In order to best prevent any major repair work down the road, it is important to follow your vehicle’s manufacturer suggested preventative maintenance schedule, which can vary greatly between normal and severe (ideal and average) driving conditions. The service intervals are developed by manufacturers in order to minimize the risk of any major repairs, but they need  to be properly observed according to your actual driving habits.

Severe and Normal Driving Conditions Compared

To address your vehicle’s average driving conditions, look to these guideline to determine whether your driving habits are average or ideal.

  •  Normal (Ideal) Conditions
    • Driving at highway speed
    • Driving a long distance
    • Driving in optimal weather conditions for your engine
    • Driving in clean air with no dust
  •  Severe (Average) Conditions
    • Driving short trips of less than 5-10 miles
    • Driving in temperature greatly below or above average
    • Driving in any dusty conditions
    • Idling more than recommended such as in traffic
    • Driving with a heavy load or while towing a load

From the list above, you can see why severe is a misleading term for that type of driving, it is a much more common driving experience than the type defined as normal. According to a survey performed by the a member company of the Filter Manufacturers Council, only about 20% of vehicles on the road are regularly driven under “normal” conditions. This shows that normal isn’t actually that normal, which is why many experts find the ideal and average labels to be more justified.

An example of how these conditions can affect your vehicle’s maintenance routine to minimize future problems is the frequency of oil changes. Let’s say that, like some vehicles, your vehicle’s owner’ manual recommends an oil change every 7,500 miles or 12 months and a filter change at the first oil change and then every other oil change after that under “normal” driving conditions. That’s very specific but bear with me.

On the same vehicle, the recommendation while driving under “severe” conditions is an oil change every 3,000 miles and to change the filter at every oil change. If you compare these two guidelines, it is easy to make a potential mistake with your maintenance as most people do not think of themselves as driving in “severe” conditions and these guidelines are very different.

The best guidance is to consult your trusted service advisor and see what they recommend for addressing your specific vehicle’s maintenance needs.  But, next time you’re scheduling maintenance on your vehicle, remember that 80% of the vehicles on the road are operating under “severe” conditions.


One response to “What are Severe Driving Conditions?”

  1. Ron Jones says:

    I have my doubts when either an oil company or a filter company makes recommendations as to the timing of an oil change. With todays modern engines and the use of synthetic oils changing times can be extended. The fictitious number of 3000 mile oil/filter changes has long past. I suggest the auto maintenance industry come into the 21st century.

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