A common sense guide to keeping your engine oil fresh

If you asked the good folks in my neighborhood how often they’re supposed to change their oil, I guarantee you they’d all give the same response: “Every 3,000 miles.”

And if you followed up by asking them what motor oils their cars require, how many quarts of oil their cars take, and which motor oil brandsare the best, I guarantee you’d get a lot of blank stares.

oil changeThat’s because most people in this country believe the myth that every car needs an oil change every 3,000 miles. And once they drop the car off at the garage, they trust that the mechanics on duty will get all of the details right.

In fact, most cars can safely go far more than 3,000 miles between changes. And when it’s finally time for an oil change, you should know just as much about what your car needs as a knowledgeable mechanic.

Debunking the 3,000-Mile Myth

I’m not sure how this one got started, but it has sure put a lot of big oil executives’ kids through college. Listen, you can either trust the mechanic who suggests the same 3,000-mile interval to every single customer, or you can consult the service schedule in your owner’s manual and trust the people who built your car.

I know people who build cars, and they design their vehicles to withstand far more stress than the service schedule allows. So if your owner’s manual recommends an oil change every 7,500 miles, rest assured that your engine is designed to go even longer on a batch of oil without missing a beat.

Trust me on this one. Don’t worry about draining perfectly good engine oil every 3,000 miles. Only change it when your car’s engineers say you should.

Knowledge is Power

Here’s what I do every time I go in for an oil change, and I recommend you do the same.

1. Know Your Viscosity

Viscosity is that funny combination of numbers and letters you see on a bottle of engine oil. 5W-30 is a common one; so is 10W-40. It basically refers to how easily the oil flows at different temperatures. Consult your owner’s manual for the recommended viscosity, and double-check with your mechanic that he plans to use it.

2. Know Your Car’s Oil Capacity

Find the page in your manual where oil capacity is specified. It will probably be in the neighborhood of five quarts, although some specialized engines can take eight or more. Keep that number in mind, and ask your mechanic how many quarts he’ll be putting in. It’s a good way to guard against overfilling, and also to make sure your mechanic’s on the ball.

3. Choose a Quality Engine Oil

I’ll give you a couple options here, depending on how involved you want to get. At a minimum, you’ll want to ask your mechanic about his motor oil brands of choice, and why. All motor oils are not created equal; you should only use motor oils with the American Petroleum Institute’s seal of approval. You might also want to read up on the benefits of synthetic oil and mention that, too. And if you’re a real stickler like me, hey, don’t be afraid to buy your own oil and bring it to your mechanic. That’s the best way to ensure that a high-quality product is keeping your car’s heart beating.

Editor’s note: If you do your own car maintenance, you can save even more with Oil Change Specials from Advance Auto Parts. Advance will also recycle your used motor oil free of charge—at one of more than 3,500 stores. (Most locations, unless prohibited by law.)

 

The importance of Engine Oil: the sweet fluid that keeps your car running smoothly

I work a lot of long hours. I start early and often finish late, and as anyone around me (particularly my wife) knows, I drink a lot of coffee. It’s the sweet black elixir that keeps me going and helps me through the day.

image of engine oil

Speaking of precious elixirs (You were waiting for that, weren’t you?), engine oil—commonly known as motor oil—is the same thing for cars. Your car’s engine is a series of complicated, hot, fast-moving parts, and engine oil is what keeps all those parts lubricated and running smoothly. As the parts heat up, so does the oil, so it’s very important to have the right type of motor oil, in the right amount, and keep it changed regularly.

The bottom line is, pay attention to the specifications in your owner’s manual and you’ll be happier than my wife during a sale at Macy’s. Buy the correct type of engine oil, in the correct weight. Some manufacturers specifically recommend synthetic motor oil, and if you use a different kind, it could void your warranty. Weight has to do with the temperatures in which you run your car (winter or summer) and also how thick the oil becomes when heated. Bear in mind that you don’t want it too thick when it’s cold or too thin when the engine heats up. This is particularly important in new cars, where the tolerances (gaps between moving parts) can be extremely thin, so you want to make sure the oil isn’t thicker than recommended.

If you’re committed to a lot of do-it-yourself jobs, changing your own engine oil is very easy and relatively painless (although it can get really messy) but even if your mechanic changes your engine oil as a part of your regular service, it’s never a bad idea to keep a quart in your car and do a quick check of your oil levels when you fill your tank up…just be careful, as your engine gets VERY hot and its really best to check oil when the engine is cooler. So make gassing up and checking oil your first stop.

Just make sure the motor oil quart has certification on it from whatever your manual recommends: likely the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and preferably the API (American Petroleum Institute). They regulate and make sure the oil is of good quality and thickness.

The bottom line is, your car needs engine oil the way you need water (or I need coffee). It’s very easy to keep an eye on the engine oil and change it regularly for many years of happy, reliable engine life. Happy motoring.

 

Editor’s Note: Advance Auto Parts can assist you in finding the optimal engine oil, plus all of the right tools such as jacks, oil drain pans, gloves and more—to ensure the job goes smoothly. On top of that, Advance Auto Parts also recycles used motor oil.  So after you perform an oil change, bring your used oil back to the store for clean and easy recycling.