Automobile engines have many moving parts. As these parts move and rub against each other, the force of friction creates heat. Oil lubricates the engine and absorbs heat, allowing the internal parts to work together effectively without overheating. Over time, dirt can cause corrosion and decrease the life of an engine. Also as time goes on, oil breaks down and turns to “sludge.” The name of the game is to keep the engine clean. Routine oil and filter changes help remove particles and sludge and keep engines at peak condition. Here are some our guidelines:
1. When to Change the Oil
The answer to a lot of these questions is the same: Check your owner’s manual. It should be your car maintenance and operation bible. Don’t make assumptions on the interval based on past experiences, because the timing has evolved over the years. Many cars, pickups, and SUVs now have service reminder monitors that alert drivers when to change their oil. These systems typically monitor the number of miles a vehicle has traveled, and they also sense how hard the car is being driven. Make sure you get your oil change soon after you receive such an alert.
2. How Often to Check the Oil Level
You should keep an eye on your car’s oil levels. We recommend checking your oil level at least once a month. Be sure to get repairs done at the first sign of a leak. Some newer cars have electronic oil monitors and don't have traditional dipsticks for manual inspection. If you do have a dipstick, and you’re checking it yourself, make sure the car is parked on level ground. If the engine has been running, be aware of potential hot spots under the hood.With the engine off, open the car’s hood and find the dipstick. Pull the dipstick out from the engine and wipe any oil off from its end. Then insert the dipstick back into its tube and push it all the way back in. Pull it back out, and this time quickly look at both sides of the dipstick to see where the oil is on the end. Every dipstick has some way of indicating the proper oil level, whether it be two pinholes, the letters L and H (low and high), the words MIN and MAX, or simply an area of crosshatching. If the top of the oil “streak” is between the two marks or within the crosshatched area, the level is fine. But if the oil is below the minimum mark, you need to add oil.
Pay close attention to the oil’s color. It should appear brown or black. But if it has a light, milky appearance, this could mean coolant is leaking into the engine. Look closely for any metal particles, too, because this could mean there is internal engine damage. If you see either of these conditions, bring the car in for further diagnosis. If everything is okay, wipe off the dipstick again and insert it back into its tube, making sure it’s fully seated. Close the hood and you’re done.
3. How Often to Change the Oil
Some swear by the “every 3,000 miles or every 3 months” rule, but advances in engines and oil have made that guidance obsolete. Many automakers have oil-change intervals at 7,500 or even 10,000 miles and 6 or 12 months for time. Your owner’s manual has more detailed information about your car. And it’s not just about miles: If you don’t drive your car a lot, your oil still needs to be kept fresh. Even if you drive fewer miles each year than your automaker suggests changing the oil (say, 6,000 miles, with suggested oil-change intervals at 7,500 miles), you should still be getting that oil changed twice a year. Why? Oil becomes less effective as it ages, and by not getting the engine warm enough, excess moisture that forms in the engine will not be removed, which can lead to shorter engine life.
4. Choosing the Right Oil for Your Car
Again, take a look at your owner’s manual. Don’t use synthetic oil if there is no need. In many newer models, the weight of your car’s motor oil is printed on the cap where you add oil. Make sure you know what’s recommended or required by your automaker. If you have a much older car, do you need special motor oil? Maybe nor, if its running well.
5. Do You Need Synthetic Oil?
Synthetic oil is designed to be more effective at resisting breakdown (and because of that, it lasts longer) and withstanding high temperatures. There are situations where that resistance to breakdown can help prolong the life of your engine. If you make lots of short trips, standard motor oil may never get warm enough to burn off moisture and impurities, which means it may not be doing enough to protect your engine. Also, because we live in the Upper Valley, with very cold winters and very hot summers, synthetic oil is considered a best bet by a lot of our customers.