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 brands are 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.)