How Often Should You Change Your Car Oil
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Years ago, the old rule of thumb was to follow an oil change frequency of every 3,000 miles for maximum engine longevity.
Although there may have been some truth to that saying at the time, now that isn't the case.
Today's advanced fuel-injected engines, state-of-the-art oil formulations and additives, and manufacturer recommendations typically allow for extended time between oil changes, so you don't have to keep visiting a service center or getting your hands dirty.
But even with newer cars featuring high technology and extended service intervals, how far can you drive between oil changes? What's the difference between conventional and synthetic oil?
Let's explore the subject of motor oil life and the type of oil you need for your car.
The types of motor oil
When deciding on the right oil for your car's engine, you'll have the option of a conventional or a synthetic formula.
And you'll also need to select the proper weight and viscosity as recommended by the manufacturer. This information is usually located on the oil filler cap and in the owner's manual.
Manufacturers make conventional motor oil with petroleum, and when new, it offers excellent engine protection. However, regular oil degrades over time and provides less of a safeguard when driving under high loads than full synthetic oil.
Manufacturers develop synthetic oils from artificial compounds specifically tailored for enhanced engine protection during high temperatures and heavy loads.
While conventional motor oil is adequate for many vehicles, synthetic oil offers superior lubrication and can last much longer before breakdown.
Typically, regular passenger cars require a conventional oil of a specific grade, such as 5w/40, which works fine for everyday driving. But high-performance vehicles, like those with turbochargers, mandate synthetic oil for its capacity to deal with high temperatures.
The base oils that make up synthetic oil are of higher quality than those used in conventional formulas. Because of this, synthetic oils are more chemically stable, less likely to acidify or oxidize, and retain their protective attributes for more miles. Due to these positive attributes, you may only have to change oil every 7,500, 10,000, or even 15,000 miles.
Once you decide whether to go with conventional or synthetic motor oil, you'll need to use the weight and viscosity recommended by your manufacturer, like 10W-30 or 5W-40.
In a 10W-30 motor oil, the 10W signifies its viscosity at cold winter temperatures. And the 30 stands for its increased thickness once an engine warms up to its running temperature.
In the same way your manufacturer requires a specific grade of gasoline, it's essential to use the proper motor oil to ensure your engine runs strong.
Understanding these details is crucial to prolonging your vehicle's lifespan. But when the inevitable time to look for a new car comes, remember, buying a used vehicle can easily save you thousands of dollars.
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When to check your oil
Your engine's dipstick lets you know the oil level and whether or not you need to top it off.
In between changes, it's essential to keep a good supply of oil in your engine for proper lubrication and optimal fuel economy.
Indicator lines on the dipstick tell you whether you need to add oil or whether it's at its maximum capacity, along with everything in between.
But on some newer vehicles, you might have an electronic oil monitor that makes the job easier.
A good practice to follow is checking your engine oil once a month. Before you do, ensure your vehicle's parked on a level surface. With the engine turned off, open the hood and remove the dipstick, wiping off any excess oil.
Then re-insert the dipstick, remove it, and check the reading. Most dipsticks indicate the oil level with an L or an H, Min or Max, crosshatching, or pinholes.
If you see a low reading, it's time to add some oil. Adding oil and re-checking the dipstick until it's at the proper level helps ensure your engine has enough to run its best. And be sure not to overfill your oil tank because that could lead to a decrease in performance or even engine damage.
How often should you change oil?
Like choosing tires, gasoline, or replacement parts, you should follow your manufacturer's recommendation for oil change intervals.
The first place to check is your owner's manual, where you'll find the maintenance schedule for when to change oil. Today, manufacturers typically recommend extended intervals compared to past ones, with some going for 7,500 or 10,000 miles or 6 to 12 months.
Some modern cars have electronic monitors that sound an alert when it's time to change oil. These monitors pay attention to miles driven and engine loads and suggest service intervals accordingly. If you receive a warning from one of these systems, it's wise to change the oil quickly.
If your make and model of vehicle recommends an extended oil change interval, there's no benefit to doing so earlier, like at 3,000 miles. And with less frequent oil changes, you also keep necessary funds in your bank account for other important obligations.
Those who don't drive a lot should still change oil regularly because short trips where the engine doesn't warm up can form condensation, which lessens engine longevity.
And aside from paying attention to miles driven, oil degrades over time, so paying close attention to the suggestions in your owner's manual keeps your engine well-protected for mile after mile.
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