As engine and lubrication technologies improve, vehicle manufacturers are able to reduce routine maintenance requirements. For instance, it used to be common to check your automatic transmission fluid regularly. Now, most vehicles do not even have a dipstick to check it with, and some manufacturers recommend waiting for 100K miles to change it. In fact, transmission fluid is often not user-serviceable at all.
Oil change intervals have evolved as well. What was once a standard practice of changing the oil every three months or three thousand miles has lengthened. Today, automakers recommend replacing your oil and filter every five thousand miles at the least under normal operating conditions. Some suggest upwards of ten thousand miles between changes.
Less-frequent oil changes allow auto owners to conserve a precious resource and reduce carbon emissions. Fewer oil changes can also mean fewer trips to the shop to have the service performed and less out-of-pocket expense.
But those blessings are mixed with a potentially devastating downside. Longer oil change intervals do not mean that your car can be ignored. Yet many vehicle owners forget to check the oil level in their engines between oil changes. And that can lead to trouble. Especially if the oil used in an engine is not approved by the manufacturer.
Your oil needs monitoring
Forgetting to check your oil during those extended service intervals can lead to problems caused by low oil levels. Too little motor oil means not enough oil to lubricate all of the moving parts inside your engine. And since motor oil also helps to control excess heat, keeping your engine cool becomes a problem as well. When your engine runs low on oil, the concentration of contaminants increases and the formation of sludge follows right along.
To help reduce the likelihood of engine damage, vehicle manufacturers install oil level sensors designed to alert a driver when the oil level becomes critically low. Unfortunately, many older vehicles do not come so equipped. And it is always possible that the sensor might not do its job properly. It is still essential that the oil level be manually checked periodically – once a month at least – to make sure the oil level does not drop considerably.
Another innovation in modern automobiles is the oil life monitor. This device monitors data from the Engine Control Module (or Powertrain Control Module) computer to calculate oil life. Aspects such as engine load, average operating temperature, trip length, and more are used to measure how long the oil might last. If your car is equipped with this safeguard, it will notify you when the next expected oil change should occur. But the oil life monitor is only of value if the oil used meets or exceeds the manufacturer’s requirements for extended mileage. The performance of the oil you use must be capable of meeting the demands of your engine.
Choosing cheap oil
All motor oil has a certain amount of useful life. The lubricant does not last forever. And not all motor oils are equal. For instance, synthetic motor oil (such as Mobil 1 synthetic) has advantages over conventional oil, including how long it lasts. Just as opting for a cheap brake service could compromise your safety, choosing cheap oil could impair the ability of your engine.
Oxidation and contamination, brought about by condensation and combustion byproducts, cause acids to develop in the oil and sludge to form. Quality oil has the resilience (and special additives) to combat these conditions; cheap oil does not. And inexpensive oil that does not meet original equipment specifications will not hold up to the forces inside your engine. An all-to-common result is an engine that is ruined by a buildup of varnish and sludge.
Modern engine oils are also formulated to prevent carbon from forming in the combustion chamber and to keep piston rings from sticking. This is important in an engine that utilizes tight-fitting rings to seal inside its cylinders. Those rings reduce oil consumption and cylinder wear. Unfortunately, when the wrong oil is used, those rings tend to stick and cause problems.
Quality motor oil is also created from more refined base oils capable of preventing wear that, in the past, was mitigated by the use of zinc and phosphorus-based anti-scuff additives no longer used because of their effects on catalytic converter efficiency. Cheap oil is not able to adequately protect against wear, especially in newer, direct injection engines that require a high degree of anti-scuff protection.
Neglecting your oil can ruin even the best motor oil, never mind the cheap stuff.
Should your oil change interval really be extended?
Another problem associated with extended oil change intervals is the definition most automakers use to determine whether you should stick with their standard recommendation or their “special circumstances” or “severe use” guidelines.
Sure, the three-thousand-mile mantra may no longer be accurate, but neither is the extended interval in many cases. If you drive in what are considered to be severe conditions, the manufacturer’s recommendation is often half the time between oil changes than otherwise. A ten thousand mile interval suddenly becomes five thousand miles. Five thousand becomes three.
The trouble is what is labeled as severe. Driving on dirt roads, towing, using a car-top carrier, repeated trips less than five miles in the cold, or frequent driving less than fifty miles per hour in the heat are all examples of “severe” conditions. So is driving in stop-and-go traffic. These descriptions put many drivers squarely in the “severe” column. And that means more frequent oil changes. Just like that, three thousand mile oil changes are relevant again.
Neglected oil level checks and oil changes can ruin even the best motor oils, never mind the cheap stuff. And all that extra time between oil changes means that other routine maintenance procedures are neglected too. Drivers who rely on a courtesy inspection at the time of their oil change service might put off those other operations that are not supposed to be delayed. While it might be tempting to wait as long as possible to have your oil changed – and to use bargain products in the process – it just does not pay off in the end. Quality manufacturer-approved oil at the correct intervals is the wiser choice.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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