Oil Changes: What You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
Here’s a question you probably don’t ask yourself often enough:
“When’s my car due for its next oil change?”
If you’re like many drivers, changing your car’s oil might be something you think about doing before a long road trip, but it’s a vital component of proper automobile maintenance that all too often gets lost in the bustle of day-to-day life. Of course, there’s those handy reminders your mechanic will often stick to the underside of your windshield, but when’s the last time you looked at it? Quick—without peeking, can you remember what it says? No? Well, you’re not alone.
It’s easy to neglect a task like getting an oil change until the moment a warning light appears on your dashboard, but our goal is to help you avoid that moment at all costs. Here’s all you need to know about standard automobile oil changes for your used or new car to help you:
- Understand what’s at stake if you don’t change your oil.
- Understand the difference between synthetic and regular oil.
- Understand how a standard oil change is done.
- Prolong the life of your car with regular oil changes.
What will happen if I don’t change the oil in my car on time?
Have you ever heard the expression, “Runs like a well-oiled machine”? Well, “oil” is the key reason why that expression means what it means: a well-oiled machine runs well, smoothly and efficiently. In a car, motor oil has two jobs:
- Lubricate the engine.
- Carry heat away from the engine.
Over time, as the oil does its job helping your engine’s many components work smoothly together without overheating, it’ll start collecting bits of dirt and debris. The dirtier the oil becomes, the less effective it is and it will need to be changed before the real damage begins: overheating as well as warped and damaged components.
In extreme cases, you may be dealing with an engine that has completely shut down. Replacement for a broken down engine will cost thousands of dollars and many people opt to scrap the car outright rather than invest in a new engine. But this is a fate that can be entirely avoided by taking the time to schedule regular, low-cost oil changes.
How long can I go between oil changes?
The length of time you can safely stretch between oil changes will depend on so many factors that you may want to take them all into account before deciding on a general “rule of thumb” for your vehicle. For example, each of your vehicles may need a slightly different schedule. Here’s what you need to consider:
- Type of engine oil being used
- The age and model of the vehicle
- The vehicle’s frequency of use or your driving habits
The catch-all recommendation used to be “every three months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first,” but if your car was made after 2008, you can go ahead and purge your mind of this advice.
Service interval recommendations are based normal and severe conditions. Definitions of these conditions are as follows
Severe service defined
Use severe service intervals if you primarily operate your vehicle under any of the following conditions:
- Driving less than 8 Kilometers (5 miles) per trip or in freezing temperatures.
- Driving less than 16 Kilometers (10 miles) per trip.
- Driving in temperatures over 32°C (90°F).
- Driving in conditions less than 0°C (32°F)
- Extensive idling or long periods of stop and go driving.
- Driving roof-top carrier or driving in mountainous conditions.
- Driving on muddy, dusty or de-iced roads.
Normal service defined
- Use the normal service intervals if the vehicle is primarily operated under conditions other than those listed above.
As you can see if you think about the conditions listed out above, Utah driving conditions will qualify your car for the severe service schedule.
Severe service recommended service interval
- 2008 or newer vehicles. Severe service conditions. Every 6 months or 5,000 miles.
- 2007 or older vehicles. Severe service conditions. Every 3 months or 3,000 miles.
Normal service recommended service interval
- 2008 or newer vehicles. Normal service conditions.. Every 6 months or 7,500 miles.
- 2007 or older vehicles. Normal service conditions. Every 6 months or 5,000 miles.
Interestingly, research has indicated that the worst type of driving for the longevity of your motor oil is in-town driving rather than highway driving. When in doubt about your own vehicle and the impact your driving habits may have on the state of your engine oil, take a look at your owner’s manual or talk to your mechanic.
What’s the difference between regular and synthetic oil?
While it’s true that switching from regular (conventional) oil to synthetic is an upgrade, which is reflected in a slightly higher price tag, it’s important to remember that both types of oils will do the job of protecting your engine just fine as long as it’s changed at the appropriate intervals. It’s also a myth that you can’t go back to conventional oil for your vehicle once you’ve used synthetic, so the stakes are low if you decide to give synthetic a try. Here’s why it’s worth considering.
Both types of oil are derived from crude oil, but synthetic goes a step further with additives and modifications to smooth out impurities that results in more uniform properties. Simply put, synthetics improve upon the benefits of conventional oil while addressing the natural downsides.
The downsides of conventional oil are the tendency to:
- Lose viscosity (thickness), leading to dry starts in engines that have sat for a long period of time.
- Break down, leaving deposits that are baked onto engine parts and referred to as “sludge” or “scaling.”
Meanwhile, synthetics are known for their ability to further decrease wear and tear on engine parts and for boosting the engine’s longevity through:
- Improved lubrication.
- Prolonged viscosity.
- Greater durability.
- Greatly reduced chance of scaling.
While synthetics are suitable for cars of any age and almost every type of engine, there are different types and blends of synthetic oil that are designed for specific purposes, such as:
- increasing the life and performance of high-mileage cars,
- protecting certain kinds of high-performance engines,
- and increasing fuel mileage, to name a few.
While you’re deciding on which type of oil would be best for your budget and vehicle, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional.
How long can you go without an oil change if you use synthetic oil?
There are many incentives to stretch the life of engine oil and the large majority of newer car models are being designed with the use of synthetic oils in mind, extending oil-change intervals to upwards of 10,000 miles in some models. That’s a far cry from the hard-and-fast 3,000 mile rule of yesteryear, which is a habitual recommendation that has been hard to break for the overcautious driver and the overzealous mechanic. In fact, too-frequent oil changes are being scrutinized not only for the waste of good oil, let alone the needless waste of your hard-earned dollars, but for the impact on the environment.
The extended oil-change interval recommendations that we are seeing today are due in part to the advancements in automotive technology, but these advances certainly include the advent and evolution of synthetics. However, remember that using a synthetic oil shouldn’t be an excuse to stretch the interval of time between oil changes well beyond the recommended period for your vehicle and driving habits, or to change it irregularly. But it should make you more confident about the quality of care you’re taking of your engine between services.
How often should I check my oil level?
If you’re set on getting the absolute most mileage out of your engine oil, keeping an eye on your mileage is only a start, but regularly checking your car’s engine oil level is a must. Both are great proactive habits that should be cultivated in the value-conscious driver. Here’s how to do it and what to look for.
The good news is that checking the state of your engine oil level only takes a minute. And if you’re pushing toward the end of your recommended mileage interval, it’s a great way to give yourself some peace of mind. Regardless, checking your oil level is something that’s advisable to do once a month or every other trip to the gas station for a fill-up. What you’re looking for is the level of the oil and its color.
Step 1: Make sure you have a rag, tissue, or paper towel on hand. In fact, keep a roll in your trunk with your other emergency supplies and tools.
Step 2: Consult the owner’s manual for the location of the oil dipstick or additional instructions. These instructions are for traditional dipsticks. Some newer models of vehicles use electronic oil monitors that require a different process.
Step 3: Park the car on level ground and allow the engine to cool (unless the owner’s manual specifically recommends that the engine be warmed up).
Step 4: With the engine off and the hood propped open, locate the dipstick and pull it out of the engine.
Step 5: Using the rag or paper towel, clean off the end of the stick until all oil residue is removed and you can clearly see the markings on the end that indicate the oil level. These markings can be two pinholes, the letters “L” and “H” for low and high, the words MIN and MAX, etc.
Step 6: Insert the dipstick back into the engine and then draw it out for a fresh reading.
What You’re Looking For
- If the indicator shows that the level isn’t low and the color is a clean brown or black, you’re in the clear.
- If it’s low, but still clean, you can use the oil filler cap to add the recommended grade of oil for your vehicle (in half-quart increments) to the engine. Wait a minute between increments and recheck the level with the dipstick, being extremely cautious not to overfill, which is bad for the engine. This will protect your engine in the time it will take to schedule your oil change and to inspect for possible oil leaks if the levels seem abnormally low.
- If the oil is dirty, whether or not it’s high or low, schedule an oil change immediately. A milky appearance can mean coolant has gotten into the engine while particles in the oil can indicate oil break-down or engine damage.
How long does an oil change take and how much does it cost?
The entire process of an oil change can take 30 minutes to an hour. Some places can even take an average of two hours. At Dickerson, we tell our customers to expect a wait time of 1 hour. In terms of pricing, the national average for an oil change using conventional oil is $46, while synthetic can be as high as $100.
Here’s what goes in to the basic oil change process to give you a better idea of what’s going on in the shop while you’re waiting:
- Lifting the car so that it can be drained from below. (And lowering it later.)
- Opening the drain plug and letting the engine oil drip into a pan. This is the longest part of the process.
- Changing the oil filters, which can also take 10-20 minutes.
- Adding the new oil and confirming the level with the dipstick.
Keep in mind that oil changes, like tire rotations, balancing, and alignment, are all maintenance opportunities that will allow you not only to prolong the life of your car, but to spot problems before they can become automotive catastrophes. Your car will run like the well-oiled machine it was always meant to be.
What makes an oil change at Dickerson Automotive different?
We actually take the time to perform the inspections of your vehicle the way the manufacturer intended it to be done when an oil change service is due. For example here is what you can expect from us.
- Oil filter change
- Existing oil drained from crankcase and new oil installed.
- Steering and suspension inspected
- Tire pressure adjusted and tires are inspected for even wear.
- Tire rotation and brake lining inspection while tires are off.
- Drive belt inspection
- Inspection of remaining vital fluids and level adjustment if necessary .
- Inspection of engine air filter and in most cases cabin air filter inspection.
We do this all at prices starting as low as $37.95 on most vehicles, call us for details.
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