Is that pesky maintenance light on, again? Engine oil is the lifeblood of a car. And changing it regularly, combined with a quality mechanic that you trust? That’s the foundation of a car that has a long life ahead of it. Understanding what type of oil your car needs, why it needs it, and how often to change it, will help you take the best care of your car.
What kind of oil do I need?
Different cars require different types of engine oil. Most commonly, cars require either synthetic or conventional. Of course, electric vehicles don’t require engine oil at all.
Synthetic: Most newer cars require this oil. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a new player, it’s been around for a long time in the luxury, and in some cases, foreign market, but it’s new when it comes to the average car. This oil flows through the engine better in low temperatures and because of this reduces engine wear during cold seasons. Using synthetic oil may also help reduce the build-up of sludge in older engines. Synthetic oil has a much higher burning temperature and doesn’t break down quickly. This oil lasts approximately double the length of time of conventional oil.
Conventional: This is the standard 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. If you change it at proper intervals, it will do a good job of protecting your engine. However, if your car requires synthetic oil, conventional oil isn’t the budget equivalent. It won’t do the job properly, and you’ll shorten the life of your engine.
High Mileage Oil: High mileage oil isn’t its own type of oil, but rather, it’s synthetic, conventional, or a blend of the two, with additives added to it. These additives are designed to 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 anymore. This oil definitely won’t hurt the car, but it’s not a requirement from any vehicle manufacturers.
How often do I have to change my oil?
Different types of oil, and different vehicles, have different maintenance intervals. For conventional oil, it’s usually recommended every three months, or three thousand miles, whichever comes first. But for synthetic, it’s a little more complicated. It can be as often as every 5,000 miles, or as long as every 10,000 miles.
Your best bet is to look in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Located in the glove box, you can find a digital version by googling the year, make, and model of your vehicle, and the words, “owner’s manual.” The owner’s manual has a list of maintenance services your vehicle needs, including oil changes, and how often those services are needed. Your vehicle manufacturer designed the owner’s manual to guide you through preventative maintenance, and it’s there to answer exactly those questions.
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.
Most cars require checking the engine oil while the engine is cold. This allows all the oil to settle and your reading to be accurate. If your engine oil is below the bottom mark on your tip stick, add a little oil at a time, checking again to be sure not to overfill. Overfilling 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 month if your car has less than 100,000 miles. For older cars, or ones with over 100,000 miles, you’ll want to do that twice a month. If your oil has to be topped off more than a quart, bring your car into the shop to get checked. You may have an oil leak or your engine might be burning too much oil. 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 straightforward 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 advise against this service. If your car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, I would stay away from oil system cleaning because they may void warranties.
I hope you keep these tips in mind when it comes to maintaining your vehicle!