Many car owners go about their daily routines without giving much thought to what’s going on under the hood. The engine starts and you head off to work or errands. Yet, none of this can happen without engine oil. It’s a crucial element that can get overlooked. This lubrication reduces engine friction which in turn helps the powerplant run more efficiently and with fewer mechanical issues.
At the same time, there’s a lot of confusion over how regularly to change engine oil (and the filter). “Quick-lube” shops may recommend every 3,000-5,000 miles and engine oil companies may promise up to every 7,500 miles. But, the correct answer to the question “How often should you change your car’s oil?” The question is determined by the car’s manufacturer.
Automakers know how their engines work and how to best maintain these complex machines. So, always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance when determining when to change engine oil. You’ll find this information in the owner’s manual or in a separate maintenance schedule document. If you can’t locate these details, contact your local dealer or reach out to the automaker’s customer service.
Automaker oil change recommendations will vary greatly depending on the type of vehicle and the driving conditions it encounters. For example, Chevrolet advises that a more recent Silverado 1500 pickup (with the base engine) should have its oil and filter changed annually or every 7,500 miles (whichever comes first). In contrast, a newer Toyota Camry (with the standard engine) has an oil change recommendation of 5,000 miles or every six months, whichever comes first.
But in addition to mileage and time factors affecting the oil change schedule, so do driving conditions. If that Chevy Silverado gets used for a lot of towing or is driven in rugged surroundings, the manufacturer recommends a more frequent oil change regimen.
And there are more extreme cases like the Kansas woman who put 1,000,000 miles on her Hyundai Elantra in just five years. Working as an auto parts courier, she was able to keep her car going without incident thanks to an oil change every two weeks (or every 7,500, within the manufacturer’s recommendation).
Plus, the type of oil used can also affect the length of time between oil changes. Conventional oil (which comes from petroleum), for instance, can last 3,000-5,000 miles. Yet, synthetic oil (which combines highly processed oil with complex additives) can be rated for up to 7,500 miles. Depending on your car, the manufacturer may recommend one or both types of engine oil.
Among all regular car maintenance activities, an oil change is among the simplest tasks. In fact, for someone with modest mechanical skills who is not bothered by a bit of grime, it’s a reasonable DIY job (we’ll save the details for another article). Regardless of who’s doing the oil change, here’s an overview of what’s involved.
Prepare The Care: Place the car on a lift, ramp, or jack stands to allow safe access to the engine from the bottom.
Drain The Oil: The plug is removed from the oil pan to allow the oil to drain from the engine. Most mechanics will let gravity do the work as the oil drains into a safe container. But, newer technology uses a vacuum system to remove the oil. Not only does this speed things up, but it also does a better job of removing old (and possibly contaminated) oil.
Change The Filter: As the oil is removed, the old oil filter is replaced with a new one.
Refill The Engine: With the new filter in place, the plug is re-inserted into the oil pan and tightened. The engine is refilled with compatible oil as per the car manufacturer’s specs.
A qualified mechanic can change a car’s oil in less than one hour. Of course, some factors can affect completion time.
Delaying or skipping an oil change is ill-advised as the consequences can be expensive. Oil is designed to reduce the friction that occurs between the moving internal parts of an engine. As oil gets older, its protective ability lessens, and a car’s systems are affected.
At some point, engine failure is the likely result of oil that’s past its prime. The power plant has to work harder when lubrication is reduced, and all it takes is one failed component to take the entire engine down. The trouble not only comes from increased friction but with parts operating at higher temperatures.
Modern engines are designed to operate at peak efficiency, which occurs when all the parts are moving as effortlessly as possible. This can’t happen with degraded oil. And maximum fuel economy isn’t likely either, costing you more at the pump.
Besides poor fuel economy, old engine oil impacts the environment in another way. A less-efficient engine produces more tailpipe emissions. The effectiveness of modern pollution control technology all depends on optimum engine performance.
Generally, no, unless the manufacturer says this is OK. Short of some advanced turbocharged Diesel engines (which require specialized engine oil), you’re unlikely to find a vehicle that can safely work around a 10,000-mile oil change. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations for oil change frequency and oil type recommendations.
In most cases, spending an extra $30-$40 for synthetic oil is worth the money. The engine benefits from additional protection, and it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind. On the other hand, if you drive the car very little or will be trading it in soon, sticking with conventional oil may save you a few bucks.
Full synthetic oil will last 5,000-7,000 miles, depending on the oil manufacturer’s and the automaker’s recommendations. Always follow these guidelines.
Engine oil doesn’t last forever. Its protective additives will break down over time, regardless of mileage. So, even if you don’t hit mileage limits, have the oil changed annually.
Follow the automaker’s guidelines, but changing engine oil every three months isn’t necessary unless you’re driving a lot during this timeframe.
Avoid going past the mileage use limits for oil. Doing so may increase the risk of engine damage and give the automaker a reason to deny any related warranty claims.
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