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When and How to Change Your Engine Oil

October 8, 2020

When and How to Change Your Engine Oil

Maybe no one ever took the time to explain the basics of an oil change and other routine maintenance procedures that are necessary for your car. Or maybe you are new to driving and are on your way to learning. Or maybe you have heard rumors that you should be changing your oil yourself to save time and money, or to make sure the job is done right.

Whatever the case, here are a few tips to consider, some oil change ideas.

What does oil do and why does it need to be changed?

At its most basic level, motor oil (also called engine oil) is used inside your engine to lubricate all of the moving parts that would otherwise make metal-to-metal contact and wear down quickly. Without oil, your engine would not run very long. With the wrong oil, problems can develop – premature wear, sludge buildup, and engine failure. Even with the right oil, your engine can run into trouble if you do not replace it often enough.

You see, motor oil is used to create a thin and slick barrier between engine components like the pistons and cylinder walls (and a host of other parts). When your engine is running, the oil is subject to some pretty harsh conditions, like high heat and shearing forces. Over time, the oil will break down and lose its ability to lubricate. It gets thicker and no longer flows into small spaces like it should. It gums up the parts it is supposed to protect. And eventually, it turns to thick black sludge and clogs up vital passageways.

Motor oil also helps to keep the inside of your engine clean, prevents corrosion, modifies its viscosity (thickness), and more. But over time, these functions decline as well. So, your vehicle manufacturer recommends that the oil (and oil filter) be replaced at regular intervals.

When does it need to be changed?

How often your oil needs to be replaced depends on a number of factors. The vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation is one factor. They suggest (in your vehicle owner’s manual) intervals usually somewhere between every 5K to 7.5K miles. Some even tell you to wait 10K miles or more. It really varies by vehicle make and model.

Another factor is whether the oil you use is conventional or synthetic. Conventional oil is distilled from crude oil pumped from deep underground. It is the type of oil that many drivers think of automatically since it has been used in new and pre-owned cars for decades. But conventional oil has limitations. Because of its natural origins, conventional oil is composed of molecules that are irregular in shape and size. Those molecules do not always move well together.

Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is engineered artificially in a lab and is made up of incredibly uniform molecules. That makes synthetic oil much more consistent and able to be manufactured to a thinner or lower viscosity – the kind needed in many modern engines. Synthetic oil is also more stable across a wide range of temperatures. It begins its life as a highly-refined base oil to which high-quality additives are introduced. Additives that have advanced capabilities. For these reasons and more, synthetic oil is capable of a far longer service life than conventional oils. In recent years, the automotive industry has been moving to synthetic oil in many new cars, trucks, and SUVs.

Besides the manufacturer’s recommendation and the differences between conventional and synthetic oil, another factor that influences how often you change your oil is your driving conditions.

While no manufacturer recommends less than 5K miles between oil changes under normal circumstances, nearly all automakers suggest a shorter duration for what they call “special” or “severe” conditions. Those can include the following:

  • Driving on dirt roads or dusty roads
  • Driving while towing, using a car-top carrier, or heavy vehicle loading
  • Repeated trips of less than five miles in temperatures below 32 degrees
  • Extensive idling and/or low speed driving for a long distance
  • Driving in hot weather stop-and-go traffic
  • Frequent driving at speeds under 50 mph for long distances

Interestingly, these conditions resemble the daily commute of a good many drivers and are the reason why many repair shops continue to suggest having your oil changed every three thousand miles. Ironically, while synthetic oil has given the ability for extended oil change intervals, “special” driving conditions dictate more frequent changes.

What is the right way to change oil?

Once you have determined the recommended interval between oil changes, it is time to change your oil. But what is the right way to do so? You might consider the following list a general “how to” set of oil change instructions:

  1. Determine the correct type, weight, and amount of oil needed for your engine per manufacturer’s recommendations
  2. Head to the auto parts store
  3. Decide on the best brand of oil and locate the correct type and weight
  4. Find the specific oil filter for your car
  5. If you do not already have an oil drain pan, purchase a pan
  6. When you get home, raise your car up into the air and support it on jack stands (Note: this should only be done by someone with proper training and experience)
  7. Pull the oil level dipstick partially from its tube and remove the oil fill cap from the engine
  8. Crawl under the vehicle to remove the drain pan plug
  9. Fail to remove plug because you brought the wrong size wrench
  10. Crawl back out and get the correct wrench
  11. Crawl back underneath and remove the drain pan plug, taking care to ensure the oil drains into the pan
  12. Miss pan
  13. Once the oil has drained completely, screw the drain plug (with new washer) back in place; do not overtorque – or under-torque
  14. Locate the oil filter or filter housing
  15. Fail to remove the oil filter because you do not have the “special” housing wrench
  16. Return to the auto parts store to purchase the special housing wrench
  17. When you get home, remove the filter housing and replace the filter; reinstall housing
  18. Add the proper amount of fresh oil to the engine
  19. Lower vehicle to the ground
  20. Start engine and let run for thirty seconds; turn off the engine
  21. Clean the oil dipstick and insert fully into tube; remove dipstick and make sure that the oil level is at the “full” mark
  22. Replace dipstick, close hood, move vehicle
  23. Clean oil spilled on driveway
  24. Return to auto parts store to dispose of old oil and filter
  25. When you get home, congratulate yourself on all the time and money you saved?

You might get the picture that changing your oil yourself just might be an idea you would like to let pass. Sure, it can be done. But for all of your trouble, you will likely spend more money than you would if you had a repair shop perform the service. Unless you have considerable experience, it certainly can take more time. And what about all of the variables that accompany an oil change on modern vehicles? With so many oil products to consider, and with vehicle-specific filters (and even tools) to buy – not to mention what happens if you put the wrong fluid in the wrong place – the margin for error is higher than it was decades ago when it was more common for an auto owner to change their own oil.

But you also miss out on other things. Oil changes at a reputable shop are an easy way to develop a relationship with a business you can trust for times when your car needs more complex services and repairs. And many shops offer a courtesy inspection of all major vehicle systems while the oil change is being done. You are not going to get that in your driveway.

As it turns out, perhaps the “right” way to change your oil is to schedule an appointment with a qualified technician at a trusted repair shop.

Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

COLUMBIA AUTO CARE & CAR WASH
|
Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.