Start Using a Vehicle Maintenance Log

Jim TrummSep 28, 2017

“Keep a vehicle maintenance log? Not more paperwork! Why should I do that?”

That’s an understandable reaction. 

But what is a vehicle maintenance log and why is it a good idea to start using one? How will it save you time and money in the long run?

What Is a Vehicle Maintenance Log?

A vehicle maintenance log is a chronological list of all problems, repairs, and routine maintenance that’s done to a particular car or truck. They can be kept on paper – it’s easy to buy blank logbooks for this purpose – but many people now use electronic logs, many of which can be downloaded for free. There are also smartphone apps for that purpose.

Each time you change or top up your oil, rotate or inflate your tires, add power steering, brake, or transmission fluid, get a tune-up, flush your radiator, etc., you should make a note of the date and place of service. Each time you notice a problem with your car, log it. And each time you have maintenance or repair work done, fill in the details. Some people even note each time they gas up, the amount purchased, and the odometer mileage.

Sure, you could just keep receipts, but do you really want to have to decipher your mechanic’s handwriting or sort through a whole folder of greasy papers just to see when the last time you rotated your tires was? Keeping a record in one place makes it easier for you, your mechanic, and the person to whom you eventually sell your car to understand the vehicle’s history.

Why Should You Keep a Vehicle Maintenance Log?

One of the most important reasons to maintain a log is to be able to show that you have complied with the terms of your car warranty. Both new car and used car warranties generally require the owner to perform routine maintenance to the vehicle in order to keep the warranty in force. To put it another way, warranties will not cover problems caused by improper or inadequate maintenance.

Regardless of whether you’ve bought a new car that comes with a manufacturer’s warranty or you’ve purchased a warranty from a separate company, you’ve paid for warranty coverage – and keeping a maintenance log protects that investment. If, for example, your engine seizes up, your ability to demonstrate that you checked and changed the oil regularly will help ensure that your car warranty will pay for an expensive repair.

Similarly, lease contracts also require you to perform routine maintenance. Documenting everything you have done to the vehicle while it’s in your possession will help prove that you’ve honored the lease and possibly save you an unpleasant hassle at the end of the lease term.

A log may also help your mechanic diagnose problems with your car. Which happened first, the noise in your front suspension or the shimmy in your steering? That kind of information may help a professional mechanic piece together what’s going on with your vehicle.

A good principle of vehicle maintenance is to address small problems before they become big ones. A log will help you do just that. If you see that you are adding a quart of oil to your truck every ten weeks, you might be looking at evidence of a slow leak or of an engine that is burning oil. If you keep track of your fuel purchases, a log will help you spot a slow but significant loss of fuel economy – a warning sign that something is going wrong in your engine. Looking into those issues early, before they become more serious, will save you aggravation later – not to mention money.

Some defects in newer vehicles cannot be repaired, even after many aggravating trips to the dealer. Fortunately, many states have lemon laws which give consumers compensation for vehicles with substantial defects that cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts. If you are one of those unhappy few who bought a lemon, showing that the vehicle was maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations will assist you in arbitrating your lemon claim.

Maintaining a vehicle log can also help you save on taxes if you use your vehicle for work. While many people simply take the federal government’s per-mile tax deduction for their work mileage, others deduct all vehicle-related expenses instead. If you’re in that latter group, it will help at tax time to have a running total of your maintenance costs. Again, who wants to fumble through a bunch of mechanic’s receipts at tax time - and hope that you’ve found all of them?

When it comes time for you to turn your vehicle in, trade it in, or sell it, showing a consistent record of maintenance will help you argue for a higher value for your car. Vehicles that have been regularly maintained are worth more in a sale – and being able to prove that means more money in your pocket.

A surprising benefit of logging your vehicle maintenance is that it may save you money on fuel. Doing things as simple as changing or cleaning your air filter, changing your oil, replacing old spark plugs, and regularly checking your tires for proper inflation can boost a vehicle’s fuel economy and lengthen the life of your tires. For example, one Canadian study showed that vehicles whose tires are underinflated by as little as 8 psi consume 4% more fuel per mile than vehicles with correctly inflated tires. That’s good for your wallet – and the environment as well. Older vehicles that use carburetors, rather than computer-controlled fuel injection, will see a substantial increase in fuel economy if their air filters are cleaned and replaced regularly. And even newer cars will see an improvement in acceleration performance if their air filters are kept clean.

How Can You Help Control Vehicle Maintenance Costs?

The principle behind keeping a vehicle maintenance log boils down to this: that which you monitor, you can control. Recording your car’s problems, repairs, maintenance, and fuel and fluid consumption will not just give you mildly interesting information, but will actually help you save money, spot problems early, get better fuel economy, protect the environment, and increase your vehicle’s resale value. And if you combine keeping a log with the purchase of a car warranty from one of our top ten car warranty companies, you’ll be doing a lot to protect one of the largest consumer investments you have.