- Car Care & Maintenance
The Facts About Oil Changes For Your Car
Oil changes in your car
As an experienced service center manager of over 19 years, I felt compelled to write about some everyday issues and concerns people have about changing the motor oil in their car. As a former regional manager for 14 stores and over 200 employees, I have seen recommendations on oil changes for cars change over the course of the years as well as products developed that can be misleading to consumers, and yes, even people getting ripped off.
3,000 mile theory
First, allow me to give you the facts behind the change your oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles whichever comes first. If you happen to look in the back of your owner's manual you should see two different types of maintenance schedules for your car Severe and Normal driving conditions. 80% of us do drive in what categorizes us as 'severe' drivers. This includes stop and go driving, trips of less then 10 miles, and in-climate weather such as rain, snow, and extreme hot or cold temperatures having an impact. What is considered normal driving conditions is simply starting your car, letting it get to temperature and then driving about 100 miles non-stop, almost on cruise control the entire time before it is ever shut off. You can see how the 'normal' condition doesn't apply to many of us.
So, if you fall under the severe driver category you will see that the recommendation for oil and filter change is between 3,000 and 5,000 miles. This is a fair mileage interval and does provide the ideal service schedule for your vehicles engine oil. But, what happens if you go over that mileage? The truth is oil is oil. No matter what brand you use or prefer, oil breaks down due to internal heat and friction as does it's additive package hence why it needs replaced after so many miles. Even synthetic oils, which some feel can last longer, also breakdown and require changing. All oil manufacturer's want you to think that 3,000 miles is the maximum and then change it. Why? Because they sell oil, and the more frequent that you change your oil, the more they can sell. An easy visual relation is to put a spoonful of butter in a cold frying pan, turn the heat on the pan to low, the butter will melt but coats the pan, the longer you leave the pan on, the hotter the butter gets, and eventually even though the pan is coated, the butter will burn.
Your best bet is to make sure you at least stay within the manufacturer's suggestions since they are the ones providing the warranty on the car. Once the warranty expires, I would strongly suggest you stay in accordance to what you did prior.
5w30 vs. 10w30
The next issue that comes up a lot is what kind of oil should you use? Most vehicles indicate right on top of the oil cap what weight of oil they recommend as well as in your owner's manual. 5w30 and 10w30 are the most common, year round oils for the majority of vehicles today. Some cars have also gone with a 0w20 and a 5w20. However, if you have a diesel engine, the standard oil is 15w40. Let me give you the first fact. The 'W' in 5w20 or any other weighted oil does NOT stand for weight. It stands for winter. These multi-viscosity oils have temperature responsibilities and variables in order to function correctly. The hardest thing on an engine from a lubrication standpoint is the start up. First thing in the morning, all of the engine oil is sitting at the bottom of the oil pan, until the oil pump pushes the oil from the pan to the top of the motor. The thinner the oil, the faster it can get to the top of your motor to lubricate the upper parts of the engine. So, simple math would tell you that the number to the left of the w is the cold start or 'winter' weight. 5w30 gets to the top of the motor twice as fast as 10w30 during a cold start. 5 x 2=10. For the most part once the engine oil has warmed up to temperature, it operates at a 30w temperature. This can also be illustrated in most owner's manuals that show you the temperature range of the different oil weights based on the outside temperature.
Secondarily, anybody who tells you that you can't switch oil brands or oil types is simply wrong. Unless, you are under a manufacturer's warranty and that manufacturer must provide your oil changes for free, according to the Magnussen-Moss act, you can use whatever brand you prefer. Don't let them tell you otherwise. Chrysler tried that years ago and ended up paying a fortune out to consumers who were duped into thinking they did something wrong and voided their warranties.
My engine oil light
The last piece I'll mention is the change oil soon light or the oil life index. These lights or gauges help remind owners when their vehicle is due for an oil change. Although, they are helpful, unless they are reset and understood for their purpose can sometimes be misleading. With the exception of a few vehicles, such as BMW and alike, these lights can all be reset without having to go pay somebody to do it. More importantly, these lights may not be in sync with the proper interval. These change oil lights have no idea if you oil is good, new, or empty. These lights or gauges go strictly off of your odometer mileage. Here are two examples:
You changed your oil today, drove to the grocery store and then back home. Now the change oil light came on. Why? Answer: clearly the gauge wasn't reset at the time oil was changed.
You've driven 4,642 miles and the oil change light still says you have 45% left or hasn't come on saying change oil. Why? Answer: Most of these lights are set to come on at 5,000 or 7,500 some even higher. You have to set the light to go off the same intervals you are changing oil at.
Some of this may still sound confusing, if so, I apologize but can easily answer any questions you may have. Something as easy as this shouldn't be so complicated but it is for many due to information from dealers being different from mechanics, quick lube centers, and employees working on commission. I hope I was able to give you a few tips to help save you a few bucks.
Please click and read my other two related automotive posts: