Comprehensive Guide to Oil Changes

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Filling up a car with engine oil

My customers, friends and followers ask me all the time about oil changes. They want to know how often they really have to change their oil, what kind of oil to use and all about how to check it. This blog post is a comprehensive guide for a car owner. Please comment on the post if you have further questions or learned something new.

Types of oil:

Synthetic: Most newer car since about 2013 require this oil. This oil flows through the engine better in low temperatures and because of this reduces engine wear during cold seasons. Synthetic oil use also helps reduce the build up of sludge in older engines. Synthetic oil has a much higher burning temperature and doesn’t brake down quickly. This oil lasts double the length of time of regular conventional oil.  This is the oil that I use in my personal car and I recommend it to all of my customers.  Since this oil requires fewer changes, it is better for the environment.

This is high mileage full synthetic oil, just one of the many choices out there.

High Mileage Oil: High mileage oils come in a synthetic blend as well as standard organic oil. This type of oil has additives that help protect an older engine. Some have additives to help prevent wear on the moving parts inside the engine but mainly the oil tends to be thicker by having a higher viscosity which is supposed to protect the engine from wear. It also has detergents to prevent the build up of sludge and oil conditioners which help rejuvenate the oil seals and prevent some oil leaks. Generally I only recommend this oil to customers whose cars are burning a lot of oil and just want to ride the car until the engine doesn’t work any more. This oil definitely won’t hurt the car, but if you are willing to spend more money I would go with the full synthetic oil.


Mechanic filling up a car with full synthetic oil.

Organic or Conventional: This is standard regular oil that has been stock on most vehicles for years. This is best for people who have been / will be religious about changing the oil every three months. While this is not the oil I typically recommend, it is the least expensive option and will work if you change it on time. Better to use organic oil and change in 3 months than synthetic oil and change it once per year. 

How often do I actually have to change it?

I often tell customers to set an alert on their phone or tablet.

For synthetic oil, there are lots of schools of thought for how long it will last. I recommend to my customers to change the oil every 6 months or 6,000 miles whichever comes first. As an example, Toyota recommends that oil be changed every 10,000 miles which would be great if you live in rural towns or other places where you mostly doing highway driving. If you are doing stop and start driving, short trips or let the car sit for days at a time I’d definitely not wait longer then 6 months/6,000 miles. I operate with the belief that maintenance is God but the biggest reason for the 6,000 miles is actually the oil filter, not the engine oil. Oil filters are not made to work properly after 6,000 miles.

With a high mileage oil, if the oil that you utilize is synthetic blend you can change it every 5 months or every 5,000 miles whichever comes first.

If you are choosing to stick with the organic oil, every 3 months or every 3,000 miles whichever comes first is your maintenance interval. Be very vigilant about this. Basic maintenance like changing your oil is crucial for long term engine performance.

How to check your oil:

Above I included a short video of me walking you through the process of checking your oil level. Take a look, and continue reading below for a few further things to watch out for.

Make sure your engine is cold, this allows all the oil to settle and your reading to be accurate. If you engine oil is below the bottom mark, add a little oil at a time, checking again to be sure not to overfill. Over filling your engine can cause other problems so it’s important to avoid doing this.

If you need to add oil, be sure you use the same type of oil that you normally use for your oil changes. Most of my customers keep a bottle in their trunk for times like this.

Check your oil once a week. I suggest picking one day that you will check it every single week.If your oil has to be topped off more then about half of a quart, bring your car into the shop to get checked. You may have an oil leak. Since oil can damage electrical components and even cause a misfiring condition–be sure to have this repaired as quickly as possible.


Multi Point Inspection: If you are paying for an oil change, be sure that a multi point inspection is included in the service. Speak up if you are hearing or feeling anything with your car that may be a problem so that your mechanic can look at it and that can be addressed as well.

Do I really need that oil system cleaning my mechanic is recommending?

This is not a straight forward answer, but if you have an older car and you have waited too long between your oil changes then the answer is it definitely can be beneficial. For some newer cars the manufacturers advises against this service. If you car is still under manufacturers warranty, I would stay away from oil system cleaning because they may void warranties. In my own personal 2002 Toyota Camry, I do an oil system cleaning once every year because of the severe driving I do in NYC.

I hope you keep these tips in mind when it comes to maintaining your vehicle!


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