There was a time when much of the maintenance on a car was performed by its owner. A day when a driveway oil change was not uncommon. But with busy lives and advances in vehicle technology, fewer and fewer auto owners are taking maintenance matters into their own hands.
Maybe that is not a bad thing. When a vehicle was simpler, there was less margin for error, less chance that you could do more harm than good. For instance, washing your car by hand at home has always had the potential to cause scratches and swirls in the paint, but with today’s high-tech clearcoat finish, those scratches are more likely to be noticed – and they require the special tools and training of a professional detailer to remove.
Likewise, oil changes used to be relatively simple: drain the old oil, install a new oil filter, and add fresh oil. Most engines used the same type and weight oil, usually 30-weight oil (or later, 10W-30), and few oil filter options existed. Disposal was not much of a concern because, back then, people were less concerned with the environmental impact. And too, a greater number of people knew at least the basics of car maintenance and possessed the few tools needed to get the job done.
But these days, a significant percentage of the population lacks the knowledge, skills, and desire to maintain their cars themselves. A recent study revealed that only forty-two percent of Americans surveyed were completely confident changing a flat tire, and so they call AAA or phone a friend. Nearly sixty percent did not know how to change the oil in their engine, therefore they rely on a professional. Something seemingly as simple as an oil change has exited the common knowledge pool.
But is an oil change as simple as it once was? Let’s look at what might go into a “typical” oil change, and why it might be a better idea to trust a professional for the service. (These steps will be similar for any car, truck or SUV).
Identify and obtain the correct oil and filter.
The first item on the agenda is determining what oil and filter to use. Where once you could run to the auto parts store and easily pick up four quarts of 10W-30 oil and a filter, you now have hundreds of filters from which to choose, each specific to a given set of engines, and a host of brands, grades, and types of oil. You can still run to the store, but you will have some research to do to make sure you make the right selections. A repair shop has access to a database that informs them of the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations specific to your car’s year, make, and model. They can also inform you of your options between conventional, synthetic, synthetic-blend, or high-mileage oil products depending on your vehicle’s needs.
Lift and support your vehicle.
Once the proper oil products have been procured, the vehicle will most likely need to be raised off of the ground for access to the oil pan (and possibly the filter). Unless you have a floor hoist in your garage, or a drive-over pit (illegal in some areas and an insurance issue in all), that means lifting your car up with a jack and placing it on jack stands. That procedure is not as easy (or safe) as it once may have been, back when most vehicles featured a full frame underneath that allowed for multiple lift and support points. Modern unibody vehicles require lifting from very specific locations, otherwise significant damage or injury is likely. The professionals in a repair shop either work from an inspection pit or use a hoist. In either case, they have been thoroughly trained on safety procedures. And professionals know that you never support a vehicle on a floor jack or other hydraulic lifting device.
Drain the old oil and remove the oil filter.
Next, the dirty old oil must be drained from the oil pan (reservoir) on the underside of your engine. A repair shop collects the old oil and sends it out for recycling. Same with the contaminated filter. Since it is illegal to dispose of oil in the trash, sewers, or any drainage system in the US (a single gallon of oil – less than what comes out of most engines – can contaminate a million gallons of drinking water), it is essential that the old oil be disposed of safely and legally.
Add fresh oil.
Once the old oil is drained from your engine and a new oil filter is in place, fresh oil is installed. At this time, you can opt to go with the conventional oil that lubricates many engines from the factory, or you might choose to upgrade to synthetic oil (such as Mobil 1™ full synthetic motor oil) or a synthetic blend. Because of the advantages of synthetic oil, some manufacturers have switched to synthetics in their engines. It is essential in these instances to stick with synthetic oil. You might also ask about oil additives that improve the performance of your oil.
Lubricate chassis components.
At one time, a standard oil change service (termed a “lube, oil, and filter”) consisted of not only replacement of the oil and filter, but lubrication of multiple points on suspension and steering components. Many of those components no longer require lubrication. Instead, they are sealed with the lubricant inside. However, manufacturers still recommend inspection of those components on a regular basis, and some still require lubrication. A repair shop will lubricate any chassis components of your vehicle according to the requirements of the manufacturer.
While performing an oil change, many shops include an inspection of your vehicle. A technician will inspect for issues that the average auto owner does not know to look for or have access to. Common items for inspection might include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Other fluids and filters (transmission, brake, and power steering fluids; engine coolant; engine air, cabin, and fuel filters; etc.)
- Tire condition and pressure
- Brake system components
- Suspension and steering system components
- Drive axles and CV joints and boots
- Fuel lines
- Drive belt
- Wiper blades
- Fluid leaks
- And more…
If any of these components need attention, they will either be addressed at no cost during the oil change (top off fluids, inflate tires) or a technician will make a recommendation for repairs (i.e. replace wiper blades, brake pads or other brake job service, serpentine belt replacement, et al.). In addition to identifying potential issues with your car, an inspection by a professional helps to prolong the life of your vehicle and ensure that you drive away confident in the safety of your car.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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