When it comes to preventative maintenance, how well do you understand the unique demands of your vehicle? Even with a service as crucial as an oil change, it’s surprisingly common for many drivers to disregard the recommended scheduling, delaying the service and increasing the risk of permanent damage to their engine. And all-too-often, that lack of prioritization stems from little more than an absence of convenience.
But we also understand that some of our customers simply aren’t that comfortable when it comes to all-things-automotive. So, with that in mind let’s explore oil changes (and some general maintenance) to create a better understanding of the role played by oil, as well as that played by the owner themselves.
The Importance of Oil
Simply put, your engine is full of metal components operating at high speeds, in unison with one another. To ensure smooth operation, lubrication of those parts is required. Without lubrication, they would rub and grind against one other, damaging them and increasing temperature through friction. The result could be engine seizure, or worse.
With the understanding that oil provides that lubrication, it is only effective for a certain duration. Through repeated use, temperature spikes and contamination from dirt particles, oil begins to thicken, increasing its viscosity. With a higher viscosity it becomes less effective at lubricating the moving parts, lessening your engine’s efficiency. Also, oil levels will drop over time. In turn, the oil must be changed out for new oil periodically.
Frequency of Oil Changes
Each kind of vehicle has distinct needs in terms of preventative maintenance, which includes the changing of its oils. Some people default to a strict 3-month / 3,000-mile, or 5-month / 5,000-mile rule. And while that’s certainly prudent, it’s important for any owner to recognize their own responsibility in familiarizing themselves with the unique demands of their own vehicle.
The first step of doing so should come with one’s familiarization with their vehicle’s owner manual. Prepared by the automaker themselves, the manual should be viewed as a bible of operations. In it, the automaker will reiterate the type and weight of motor oil, while specifying the frequency with which it must be changed.
Understanding the manufacturer’s recommendations is critical, and should always be prioritized ahead of a general recommendation made by a mechanic or service center. Many garages, for example, will stick to the 3/3,000 rule, regardless of vehicle or oil used. Aside from a business’ interest in creating more incremental business, it’s simply best practice to care for a vehicle as intended by its engineers.
Of course, today’s vehicles are widely equipped with dozens of sensors which help to monitor its functions as well as communicate its needs to the driver. Traditionally, oil change notifications are calibrated by mileage, and only effective when aligned with a diligent maintenance schedule. That said, there are a number of tools responsible to help you be diligent, but the ultimate responsibility is yours and yours alone.
Checking Oil Levels
As alluded to above, the driver’s responsibility to oil maintenance does not begin and end with scheduled changes. To ensure proper lubrication and protection of one’s engine, oil levels should be monitored at all times.
Regardless of your make or model, it’s recommended that you check your oil levels once a month. Once again, your manual will specify its requirements but the first step is to determine whether or not your vehicle is equipped with a dipstick.
If so, the process is as simple as removing the dipstick, cleaning it off, reinserting it and removing it to show how far up the dipstick oil reaches. The means of measuring the Min/Max levels differ depending on the make of the vehicle, but your manual can help interpret everything if it’s not clear.
Should the oil be below the Minimum marker, it is imperative to add oil. A skilled eye can also note issues with coloring and consistency of oil, although we’ll leave that conversation to another time.
Choosing the Right Oil
Once again, we preface the following with the directive to read your owner’s manual. The automaker will have specified the correct oil weight to use (and hint: you might even find it reinforced in writing, on the cap of your oil tank located under the hood). In many cases, a 5W-20 or 5W-30 oil might be specified for lower temperatures, with the option of moving to a 10W-30 if needed. These are the three most common weights of engine oil that you’ll encounter, although there is also the distinction to be made between conventional oils and synthetics.
There are even blended oils, which combine both organic and synthetics – as well as specially engineered oils intended for performance or higher-mileage vehicles. Do your research and, throughout the life of your vehicle explore any other options that might be worth considering.
Do You Require Synthetic Oil?
Synthetic oils were introduced as a means of withstanding higher temperatures, adding resistance to breakdown and reducing oil buildup. Some automakers will specify the use of synthetics (as opposed to conventional oils) but the owner should always be conscious of their vehicle’s requirements because it could have a huge impact on their budget. Why? Because, on average, synthetic oil can cost anywhere from 2-4 times the cost of conventional oil.
There are many oil additive products available in today’s marketplace. Designed to treat any (one or combination of) moisture, corrosion, rust, wear and oxygenation, these additives help oil to perform with greater efficiency while improving longevity.
That said, oil isn’t made more effective by loading it with supplemental additives. Unless you’re knowledgable in engine functions, it’s best not to treat your oil unless it’s under the advisement of a skilled professional (or knowledgable party).
Trusting Your Service Provider
Knowledge is key when it comes to any component of your vehicle’s maintenance. While we’re not expecting that many of you would be ready to climb under your hood after reading this, we hope that we’ve provided a clearer understanding of your vehicle’s needs, and some of the considerations related to basic oil maintenance.
Which brings us to the actual task of getting the job done. Acknowledging what might be best described as a limitation in the mechanical ability of some readers, it’s important to understand the importance of placing your trust in a skilled and capable person. Granted, that person might very well be you, a family member or friend – but there’s also no shame in placing your trust in a professional. In fact, the evolution of today’s cars, trucks and SUVs might make it necessary, if not preferable, to bring your vehicle to a dealership or garage. Perhaps it has something to do with the vehicle’s warranty, or specialized tools and equipment required.
The most important takeaway is that there are a variety of options available to you. For those of you whose experience with your dealership has formed a trustful relationship, going to that dealership for simple preventative maintenance might be a no-brainer. But not everyone is so fortunate. Luckily, there is always the option of finding another dealership, placing your trust in local garages, or even relying upon trustworthy quick-lube locations. Remember, there will inevitably be the occasion criticism placed upon any service provider. Some of those criticisms might have merit, others might not. Perform your due diligence and trust your gut and we’re sure that you’ll find the ideal caretaker for your car.
Don’t diminish the importance of your choice. An oil change might only count as basic vehicle maintenance, but that’s not due to lack of importance. If anything, it’s considered ‘basic’ due to its core importance to the vehicle’s operation and longevity. Don’t short-sell it, and you can avoid costly repairs or even the unexpected need to replace an engine, or your vehicle as a whole.