Ya know, it has been a very long time since anyone has had to worry about trying to place a call only to find that someone was already on the “party line”. Heck, we don’t even have a pigtail tethering our phones to the wall anymore. When we are hungry, we do not need to go shoot something to put on the table. We need only to make a call and someone will hunt down and deliver our groceries to the door. See, times have changed, and some of the things we used to do or took for granted in society, are no longer applicable to our lives. We ask our questions of Alexa or Siri instead of an encyclopedia. For directions, we use apps, not maps. And while we are still not able to fly around like the Jetsons, our vehicle technology has been evolving nonetheless.
Sometimes our practices do not quite keep up with those changes. Sometimes we still do things because “that’s the way they’ve always been done”. For instance, many drivers have grown up with the belief that they should change the oil in their cars every three months or three thousand miles, whichever comes first. While that was (probably) true years ago when our engines were made to less-precise standards, it is not the case today. Changing your oil every three thousand miles will not hurt your engine (and, in some cases, might even still be a good idea), but it is one of those outdated ideas, like landlines or windshield-sized paper maps, that are no longer relevant.
The purpose of motor oil
To understand why it was ever suggested that vehicle owners change their oil at three-thousand-mile intervals, it is first important to understand why an engine uses oil in the first place. Motor oil serves to lubricate all of the moving metal parts inside an engine. A thin layer of oil coats the pistons, cylinder walls, valves, camshafts, and the like to keep them from coming into contact with one another. Without this paper-thin layer of lubricant, those components would make metal-to-metal contact and wear away, even to the point of welding themselves together.
Engines of the past did not use oil as efficiently as those made today. And motor oil technology has advanced significantly. The motor oil in the average engine today is a lighter-weight, lower-viscosity product than it was years ago. And many manufacturers are using synthetic oil straight from the factory. With tighter engine tolerances and thinner lubricants, oil changes are just as important as they ever were. They just are not needed as often.
When should motor oil be changed?
No, today we do not follow a standard rule when it comes to the time between oil changes. Just as there are many different grades (weights) of oil, 10W-30, 5W-20, 0W-20, and so forth, there are different intervals for changing them. If there is no standard interval, how do we know when the oil in our engines should be changed?
The answer comes directly from the manufacturer. The company that built your car, truck, or SUV designed your engine to work with a specific type and weight of oil. And through a significant amount of testing, they have determined how long you should go between oil changes. They list that information in your vehicle owner’s manual. It is also included in any routine maintenance schedule that may have come with your car. When should you change your oil? When the manufacturer tells you to.
So, how often might that be? Most manufacturers recommend changing your oil and oil filter somewhere around 7.5K miles. On the extreme end, a few recommend upwards of 15K miles. No manufacturer suggests changing the oil more frequently than every 5K miles under normal operating conditions.
Is it always necessary to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation?
Again, changing your oil every three thousand miles will not harm your engine. It just might not help either. Changing your oil more frequently than necessary may only serve to drain your wallet.
But there are times when it might be appropriate to depart from the manufacturer’s recommendation. For example, if you switch from conventional to synthetic motor oil (provided your engine does not already require synthetic), you could extend the time between oil changes. Synthetic motor oil is created artificially in a lab, rather than being distilled from crude oil. Therefore it is more stable, consistent, and resistant to thermal breakdown. Products such as Mobil 1™ full synthetic oil last longer than conventional motor oils.
Another reason to deviate from the manufacturer’s recommendation is if your driving habits or conditions warrant more frequent changes. If you regularly drive ten miles or less, your engine never really gets a chance to heat up to its optimum operating temperature. Moisture has a tendency, in that case, to build up inside your engine and degrade your oil. And most of the wear on an engine happens when you start it up, especially in extremely cold temperatures. That condition is exacerbated when you do not drive very far. More frequent oil changes help to mitigate the problem. Three thousand mile intervals are actually a good option if this is the case with your car.
In any case, if you drive your car infrequently, make sure to change your oil and filter at least once per year regardless of the number of miles you add to the odometer.
Yes, automotive and lubricant technologies have changed over the years. So have the recommendations for routine maintenance. Three months or three thousand miles is no longer the standard. One thing that has not changed? The need to change your engine’s oil and filter at some point – yes, even if you end up in a flying car. So, check with the manufacturer for details about when to change your oil. Maybe you could ask Alexa. Better yet, check with a qualified technician at a trusted repair shop near you.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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