By on April 18, 2012


Bryan writes:


I bought a salvage-title 2007 Honda Fit with 73k miles. Since then I’ve put 10k miles on it.

The owner’s manual has no maintenance schedule. Instead, everything is driven by the “maintenance minder”. A small display shows alphanumeric codes when certain conditions are reached. For example, the “1A” service is oil, filter, and hose/boot checks. Other codes like “1C” and “2C” are more rigorous things like belts & plugs, trans fluid, etc. There is an infamous oil life monitor which, if followed, has me draining blackstrap molasses at enormous intervals.

I’m stumped as to the mileage or conditions that prompt these. Without any previous service history I don’t know when to change plugs (are they 30k or 100k plugs?), transmission fluids (either on a normal or severe schedule) or serpentine belt (it was nearly dust at 74k).

Is there a database that reveals the mileage behind these reminders? I’d like to keep the car as long as possible. I love it and I love car maintenance. How can I be a maintenance hypochondriac with a maintenance minder?

Sajeev Answers:

As this informative–yet questionably biased–blog post shows, Honda’s maintenance minder is all about telling you when you need stuff. Lotsa stuff! And apparently you must use Honda approved oil…which means no synthetic oil.  Other than that depressing note, this system is a good idea for a self-proclaimed “Maintenance Hypochondriac”such as yourself.

Combined with the fairly low-maintenance nature of modern cars, I am a little concerned for your well-being. Because, by definition, Hypochondria is a serious illness not to be taken lightly.

I have yet to Google a relevant analysis of how these maintenance minders (Honda or otherwise) actually work.  And I rarely doubt modern “minders”, but my older cars that run Mobil 1 are a different story: I’m not throwing out perfectly good, still kinda golden, M1 oil after 3500-4500 miles no matter what my dashboard says.  It would be nice to see an algorithm that explains how driving styles affect oil life, how engine performance (determined by the rather brilliant sensors in your EFI system) degrades to the point of needing a tune up, etc. but it seems like a case of “Pay No Attention to that Minder behind the Curtain.” The world may never know!

My advice?  Question the machine by doing a visual on the wear items in question. Definitely get your oil analyzed the moment a warning light comes on: you know, just for funzies. Then you’ll know which items to trust, especially if Hypochondria is a valid concern.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

If you wish to seek the truth, check your spark plugs. That is all. 


Send your queries to [email protected]. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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41 Comments on “Piston Slap: Pay No Attention to that Minder behind the Curtain!...”

  • avatar

    The service manual should tell you. I have a TSX with the same issue — no service intervals in the owner’s manual other than “You will change the oil WHEN WE TELL YOU TO CHANGE THE OIL BWAHAHAAA! At the dealer, of course.” Per the service manual it’s 10,000 miles, which is pretty typical these days. I get the light around 6500, though, which makes me think it does have some algorithm based on driving habits. I give her the whip pretty regularly.

  • avatar

    Thanks for addressing this because I have simply been trusting the ‘maintenance minder’ in my Element since I got it (while taking a look under the hood every now and then). While I recognize that I may end up spending a little more than someone who is more knowledgeable about these things (vehicles have gotten too complex for me to monitor and handle anymore), I’m willing to accept that as a general aspect of vehicle ownership. Still, it’s nice to know that I’m not completely misguided in trusting the Element to tell me when most work needs to be done.

    • 0 avatar

      We put about 12K on our 07 element per year, and I seem to end up doing two oil changes a year on it following the minder.

      For the OP, on a car with no maintenance history I’d change all the fluids and go from there. It’s cheap insurance.

  • avatar

    I’ll throw in two cents since I work in the service department at a Honda dealership…

    At my particular store in metro Chicago, we only recommend what is called for by maintenance minder. I am not aware of any problems that an owner has had by simply following the codes as they appear when they appear (system was first seen with the introduction of the 2005 Odyssey).

    The previous poster who said they think the rate the oil life going down is related to driving habits is correct. The more you subject the vehicle to hard driving conditions the more quickly the oil life percentage will drop and the sooner you’ll be in for service (kind of makes sense, eh?).

    Oh, and don’t forget about brake fluid. The system will never display a code for that. According to Honda you should simply change the brake fluid once every 3 calendar years.

    The previous poster who said the detailed info on this is in the owner’s manual is correct. Also, each Honda comes with a maintenance log book separate from the owner’s manual. Each page where you denote what was done at each maintenance service shows all the codes (A,B,1,2,3,4,5,6) and what they call for and also includes a reminder about the three year interval on brake fluid changes.

    Low mileage/infrequent drivers should have their vehicle serviced at least once per year, even if the maintenance minder percentage has not dropped low enough to call for a maintenance service.

    One last note (in case anyone wonders or cares)… we do have customers who choose not to follow the maintenance minder system and have services done more frequently than what the system calls for. We do accommodate those customers as long as they understand that in Honda’s eyes they are overmaintaining their vehicle. Usually they are very insistent and will not be turned away when we tell them they can wait to have their vehicle serviced.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, my local Honda service department tried to get me to do about 500 dollars worth of ‘maintenance’ even though the manual only called for a few items. They’re on Double Secret Probation, now: And I know how to wield the Customer Satisfaction call one gets after a service visit.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes I have heard from customers who have advised of similar incidents at other dealerships. You’re right this is bad, bad, BAD!!! My brother is shortly going to be buying a new CR-V and because he lives in another state will not be able to use my dealership for service. I will be advising him directly on all maintenance needs to ensure the dealership he goes to does not try to recommend expensive maintenance that falls outside of Honda’s maintenance recommendations.

        Do use the survey to voice your concerns… those count for a lot in the Honda world.

      • 0 avatar

        If your Honda dealer is anything like mine was, 500 dollars worth of maintenance amounts to a new HVAC filter and polishing the battery terminals.

        Service advisors make salesmen look like saints.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      At 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) our Acura dealer said the oil and filter must be changed immediately else Acura will void the warranty. I later learned Acuras are delivered with special break-in oil that should remain in place for 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles).

      At 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) the dealer quoted $90 for an inspection and service. Unauthorized services superfluous to Acura’s published maintenance schedule totaling $90 unexpectedly appeared on the invoice doubling the quoted price: motor oil additive $15, transmission additive $15, gasoline additive $15, door and window gasket silicone spray $15, brake rotor polishing disk $15, seat belt retractor lubricant $15.

      I permit service agencies some billing latitude to avoid ugliness but this was clearly way over the top. The invoice was reduced $50, to $130, on complaint. The service manager sniffed, “I thought you would appreciate the extra good care we are giving your car.”

      The car is now serviced by an independent garage.

      The RL is a very nice car, but we won’t buy another Acura.

    • 0 avatar


      As a “service advisor” who only recommends what a car *actually* needs, I would suggest the following:

      Ditch any service advisor who recommends stuff that’s not needed and see someone who approaches it like I do. Simple (and perhaps saintly) enough.

  • avatar

    Sounds iPod requires Apple proprietary software.

    I do find with some GM cars the oil life monitor will not drop a single percentage over a couple hundred miles at highway cruise or just 100 miles on my 120 mile commute. Throw in a a couple of cold starts and some city driving and the oil life monitor drops fast. The modern day algorithms are very good at this.

  • avatar

    I’m sure you could find the maintenance schedule of any Honda/Acura made after 2002 or so and it would be pretty similar. I am on my 2nd, and I’ll tell you most of the big stuff is as follows, at least on an RSX-S and S2000. A friend has a newer CRV and it has the same basic schedule as well.

    every 5k – Oil, filter, inspect crap, and rotate tires
    every 15k – Air Filter, rear differential fluid(S2k only)
    every 30k- transmission fluid, Brake fluid(or 3 years)
    105k – spark plugs, valve adjustment
    120k and every 60k thereafter – coolant flush
    Belts, hoses, and suspension bits as required.

  • avatar

    I change the oil in my wife’s Odyssey every 5k miles. And I always feel like a sucker doing it since the oil minder is at 30% or more. But it’s just habit.

    I see a lot of oil change discussions on car forums for basically any vehicle you can think of.

    My takeaway is that for every two guys that are having an oil change debate, there are a hundreds of folks that are driving the same car and changing the oil when they remember to (often past the 0% oil life point). Yet their car will make it to 200k miles just like Obsessive Oil Change Guy’s car would.

    My advice is to not worry about it and follow the life minder.

  • avatar

    I know some such computers use a calculation of running time and number of start-ups to determine that the oil needs replacing. Thus, it has nothing to do with miles driven other than loose correlations and averages.

    I’m somewhat surprised that there isn’t a method of directly measuring a property of the oil and use that. There are already so many sensors in the car that one or two more won’t make any difference.

    • 0 avatar

      Delphi actually developed one. I dont think any automaker installed them in production cars yet. Best I can tell, it measures dielectric constant in order to gauge contamination.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve heard that the BMW system calculates it from total fuel burned. This makes sense as it is related to total miles but also helps account for aggressive use.

  • avatar

    Its also a good idea when you buy a used car, especially a salvage title car with high-ish miles and questionable history, to run through all the standard maintenance items. Replace plugs, air filter, all the fluids, and if you are really OCD do the belts and hoses too, maybe the cabin filter and any other tune-up items. Inspect the brake pads and swap them out too if they are close. That way you start fresh with all the important things, and track your mileage for the next change.

    Oh, and I use synthentic on my 197k miles CRV, my dad used it since it hit like 120k, and its been going strong since then. Is that a bad idea??

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Good advice, but don’t call doing the belts and hoses “OCD.” Fact is, its very difficult to tell the condition of either just by eyeballing them, and in today’s cars, the most frequent (by far) breakdown that leaves you DFS by the side of the road is a broken belt or a blown hose. Not to mention, if you have a catastrophic failure of the cooling system (i.e. one that drains the coolant out real fast), you have only seconds to shut the engine off before you’re doing major damage.

      It’s also worth noting that, by being made of rubber-like compounds, belts and hoses age even if the car is just sitting in the garage, although not as fast as if the car is being operated.

      • 0 avatar

        This may be good advice, but with the quality of belts/hoses used on newer Honda’s (like the OP’s Fit) it’s virtually unheard of to see a coolant hose that doesn’t last at least 100K, and often over 150K. The serpentine belt will start making noise looooong before it actually fails, again usually well past 100K. Doesn’t hurt to inspect them, but don’t replace them needlessly.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Generally oil changes go something like this. If maintenance is included with your car, it’s every 10,000 miles. If the manitenance isn’t included and the cash is coming out of your pocket, it’s every 3,000…..

    • 0 avatar

      I guess that’s true if you have a warehouse full of 20+ year old, non-synthetic, oil.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Or you own a vintage VW Beetle (which had no oil filter and used the oil as engine coolant). Interestingly, the advice was not to use multigrade oil in your air-cooled VW. So, depending upon the severity of winter, you would change to 20 or 15 weight in the fall and to 30 or 40 weight in the spring. When I had my somewhat modified Karmann Ghia in Houston, I ran 40 weight in the summer. Oil temperatures (I installed gauges for temperature and pressure) ran bettween 270 and 300 degrees, so you can see why.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep – the oil life monitor in our Impala averages 10~12K miles between changes but the Chevy dealer only sees dollar signs and would do almost anything to get us to bring it in every 3K for a $50 service, including offering free tires if we stayed on that schedule. I imagine if GM were footing the bill for oil changes, they wouldn’t be so eager to see me so often.

  • avatar

    Follow the maintenance minder. My 05 TL has had no issues in 130K miles. With that said, you don’t know the history of the car. If the belt is any indication it may have seen some neglect. So, you need to get a baseline by doing most of the usual stuff to start. Also, for good measure I always change every fluid at 100k regardless of the minder (unless its recently done).

  • avatar

    I look at that very gauge daily. Good choice of car, by the way.

    I’d agree: follow the maintenance minder (and only it; if it says “Do the 1A service”, only do the 1A service, don’t let the dealer hose you). If ever anything comes up that’s warranty- or defect-related, following it to the letter is enough for you to go to get compensation.

    You can do maintenance more often, but Honda, unlike BMW (who offers free schedule maintenance, sorta) has no significant incentive for artificially short maintenance intervals.

  • avatar

    I’ve followed the maintenance minder for 110,000 successful trouble free miles. I’m assuming it has a algorithm based on driving habits, so it provides a nice way to get away from the strict mileage based maintenance intervals.

    That said, the Acura dealer always duly resets the maintenance minder, then proceeds to put the sticker on the window with the next milestone and then starts calling me to remind me to schedule maintenance. I guess they don’t get it.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I have an ’08 Honda Pilot. I find the maintenance reminder to be extremely useful. And I don’t find us driving forever on the same load of oil. To the contrary, oil changes seem to be pretty frequent. So, I don’t have concerns about wearing out rings or bearings from dirty oil. The one thing that does chap me, however, is the recommendation to change the oil, but not change the filter at the same time. It seems like the recommendation is to change the filter every second oil change. Given the cost of oil filters, and the fact that it takes about 40 seconds to spin one off and spin a new one on, this seems really dumb. Why not have a new filter with clean oil? I don’t think I’m saving the planet by only changing the filter every other oil change.

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    This might be of interest:
    GM Oil Life System (OLS) and Simplified Maintenance

    If a customer follows the light based upon most of the last 10 years working in GM service they will be fine. Almost no customers follow the oil life system. Most do changes at 3-5k, some before trips (which cause almost no wear to the oil), and some who lease don’t even do oil changes.

    I worked at a hellish GMC dealer where the owner and his son were proprietorial opportunists par excellence.

    One Saturday a woman comes in with a Yukon with an engine noise. A quick in the lane dx shows the oil is very black and barely registers on the stick. Not it’s low a quart, just the very tip of the stick was covered with a black viscous fluid.

    The truck has >22k and had never had any service at all. There were quite a few items that needed to be looked at and the list to do maintenance was ~200 bucks. Customer declined.

    Customer declined a simple LOF because she did not have an hour to wait.

    I topped off the oil in the lane no charge, no receipt because I wanted the woman gone, I did not want a paper trail coming back to me when the engine failed, and I wanted to keep the psycho owners son happy.

    After she left I told the kid who I overheard discussing new lease opportunities with her that the truck was a ticking time bomb and he should not take it back in trade.

    Naturally this was considered a good opportunity to ‘coach’ me on sales techniques and suggested closes for an oil change.

    The truck came back into the dealers hands and the next owner suffered engine failure in short order. The psycho asked why I didn’t follow up on the declined LOF service.

  • avatar

    Honda Ridgeline

    I follow the minder down to 0%. The interval can be quite long. I am currently at 7k kms and at 40%.

    To counter this longish interval I use a good quality synthetic (Castrol Edge) and filter.

    Oil at 40% is a deep golden hue. Looking good.

  • avatar

    I asked this very question a few times after we bought our ’11 Odyssey. My dealer was generally clueless, although said I was over-maintaining by changing the oil before the minder – but still put the generic 3 month 3000 mile sticker on the inside window. Quite contradictory.

    The blog Sajeev linked to says that the factory fill oil has added molybdenum – I haven’t heard that from any other source – anyone know if that is true? I did first oil and filter change around 2500 miles, then again when maint minder said it was time (IIRC around 6000 miles). I’m not terribly worried about longevity of the engine, even with our record of keeping cars past 12 years / 140k.

  • avatar


    As a “service advisor” who only recommends what a car *actually* needs, I would suggest the following:

    Ditch any service advisor who recommends stuff that’s not needed and see someone who approaches it like I do. Simple (and perhaps saintly) enough.

  • avatar

    GM has had a system for oil change notification for a good 15 years now. The system bases its decision on oil life monitoring based on environmental conditions, driving habits, and load on the engine reading the data off of the OBDII and using a formula to come up with the percentage of oil life remaining.

    Crawl in summertime stop and go traffic while pulling a trailer? Yup, the oil life goes by fast. Gentle driving in the suburbs where the engine gets to properly warm up – you may hit 12 months (of which the oil is then recommended to be changed regardless) before you hit the life.

    Several magazines, blogs, and companies have put it to the test. Sending out oil for testing, inspecting engines, etc. etc. and have found the oil life monitor is spot on to leaning conservative – that is the oil could go a bit further then when notified.

    I have followed oil life monitors since 2001 and have never had an oil related failure or problem. The oil that is drained out is definitely spent, but still viscous.

    If you have OnStar enabled it will monitor the oil life percentage and note and resets. Coupled with maintenance records serves as great proof if there ever was a dispute. Some GM models made the reset easy (2004 to 2009 Pontiac Grand Prix) while others have the reset buried deep.

    It is my understanding that the Honda system uses a similar solution and has been subject to the same scrutiny.

  • avatar

    I have a 2009 Honda Fit, and I was a bit skeptical of the maintenance minder at first, so I went to the trouble of actually having the oil tested. My driving patterns result in my maintenance minder recommending an oil change around 10k miles. The company doing the oil analysis (Blackstone) suggested I could probably go out to 12 or 13k miles. I do mostly drive in rural areas though.

    You should probably rotate your tires sooner though. I also did a transmission fluid change at about 30k miles and a brake fluid change after 3 years. I rely on visual inspection of the air and cabin filters, and changed those out around 30k as well (myself, it’s really easy and the dealer was going to charge like $120 for a 10 minute job with $30 in parts).

  • avatar

    I have a 2007 Honda Fit with 160k on the clock.
    I watch the minder but have my own schedule based on my driving habits (moderately conservative).

    every 6k – Oil, filter, and rotate tires
    @ 60k/100k/150k- transmission fluid
    50k/100k/160k – tires
    60k/120k – front brake pads
    105k – spark plugs, valve adjustment, brake fluid, coil pack (bad)
    120k – coolant flush
    150k – serp belt

    Hoses and other – when required.
    Air filter – when dirty.
    Still haven’t changed the rear brakes yet.
    Fuel – this is a Fit, c’mon now…

  • avatar

    My first encounter with a maintenance minder was in my ’88 BMW. It consisted of 5 green lights, a yellow light, and a SERVICE NOW! red light. I never let more than three green segments go out, and two was more typical. I’d say that 10,000 miles would be a conservative estimate of when it would have directed me to change the oil. Conventional oil looked like raw crude after 3,500 miles, and even pure synthetic was gook by 5,000 miles.

    My Honda gets serviced by the maintenance minder. I’m still a bit conservative and take it in with between 10% and 15% of life left, but that works out to 5,000 to 5,500 miles the way I drive. The oil stays reasonably clean. I still check the oil every third time I buy gas or so, seven previous German cars having ingrained the need to check it constantly. It took me about a year to stop checking it every time I pulled into a gas station. I haven’t checked the oil on the Audi yet. It is a lease, so Audi can worry about whether or not it still has any useful life left when they get it back in 42K miles. I’m not even sure it has a dipstick. BMWs don’t have them anymore, which would have been enough to kill my last two.

  • avatar

    I have a ’10 Fit on a lease.. just hit 40,000 km on it on the weekend.

    My minder says every 16,000 km for oil, which is when I do it.. I did start putting full synth in it though, as most of my driving is all short trips (<5km) now… sure, the engine warms up in about 2 blocks, but I'd much rather have the better oil in it. When I'm doing oil changes once a year, why worry about saving 20 bucks?

    Keep in mind that just because the minder told someone to do something, they didn't just push the button in and tell it to shut up.

    I'll probably be putting new tires on the Fit this year, as they're nearing the wear bars.. oddly the brakes haven't worn out yet. I use winter tires, so there's actually less than 40k on these.

    If a dealership did the maintenance, can one of them pull up the history? Did that on my '96 T/A, discovered both head gaskets had to be replaced at 5,000km.. everything through a dealership seems to get logged somewhere or another.

  • avatar

    My 2000 GMC Sierra seemed to have some sort of ability to detect when I was heading to the dealer for service. Twice, the oil change indicator came on as I turned into the dealer’s driveway. A couple of other times, I was within sight and it came on. Weird. I usually would change the oil about every 3 months, regardless of mileage.

  • avatar

    I’d follow it while under warranty. Off warranty, I’d just go with typical modern maintenance intervals.

  • avatar

    Before getting my 2006 Accord V6, I was a dyed-in-the-wool 3 month/3,000 mile guy, and questioned the Maintenance Minder at first. But I sent samples of the first couple of fills to Blackstone, and both times, the useful additive (TBN) matched the percentage shown on the dash; Blackstone advised me that the oil-life computers are pretty darn good, and not to sweat it.

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