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Ask the Car Guy: The Oil Change Myth

“Ask the car Guy" is a blog for those with any car question but were afraid to ask. Heck, If it’s about cars, ask away!

 

Q:

Is it ok to go past my mileage on an oil change?

A:

Ah, that age old ticking time bomb known as “the miles past your oil change”. You look at the sticker on the inside of your windshield and literally count the miles you have put on BEYOND the recommended change interval, wondering when implosion, explosion or some type of major detonation will occur.

The good news is that for the most part, going beyond within reason, isn’t the “death knell” for your engine.

Motor oil by design, lubricates moving parts in most all internal combustion engines and helps minimize the friction between these internal parts (which causes wear). Motor oil creates a slippery "film" that prevents direct contact with these parts and helps prevent abnormal friction, higher heat and increased wear, as the engine is operated.

Now, the rubbing of the parts together, even aided by the film the oil provides, still produces wear and even microscopic metal fragments that are picked up by the oil filter and oil pan. Plus, the heat and hard work of the internal parts causes the oil to become dirty and “thicker” since the additives break down over hard usage and time, thus reducing the oil's effectiveness at keeping things “slippery.”

Here is where it gets good: Fragments in the oil pan, potential sludge, heighten operating temperatures in the engine, lower RPMs, increased fuel consumption and of course, cause potential engine failure.

These are all BAD things that can come from ignoring that sticker and postponing your oil change.

The type of miles you have driven since your last oil change - distance driven, type of trips taken, number of cold starts, etc. - still remains the BEST indicator of when oil should be changed.

Luckily, today’s advanced vehicles have the technology to take all these things into account and then some, in order to trigger the “idiot light” on your dash and remind you that it's “time." But for some of us, the oil change sticker from the dealer, “quick lube” or reputable local shop are still reliable reminders.

Try not to go thousands of miles past the interval and most “experts” say that you will be ok. But I don’t recommend bending the rule, because in the end… a complete engine repair or replacement expense is far more more costly than a simple oil change.  

Don’t you agree?

Editor's Note: Blain Boudreau is a 20 year veteran of the auto industry with a vast array of "car guy" knowledge. Have an auto question for Blain? Email Andy.Ambrosius@patch.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Anyone but Obama August 06, 2012 at 07:16 PM
$90 for an oil and filter change??? Good grief!! In New Hampshire you can routinely get them just about anywhere for under $25 w/o a coupon. $90 isn't just a ripoff - it's downright highway robbery.
Carrie August 11, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Assuming you have bought you tool and education and have worked most of your life in this field I was wondering How you felt about wages that a mechanic recieves for his work! I am coming from a diffeent view point then most of your readers because my husband happens to be a mechanic! he is currently making oonly 10 $ an hour and currently the company is telling him he will be dropped down to 8.25 an hr! He is not a burger flipper he went to school for this ! I dont really think people know what hard work it is for a person to get up close and personal with your car! Its not like they wave a wand and ta da your car is fixed ! If you could comment I would be greatful!
Carrie August 11, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Your paying the cost of oil and the fliter possabily a new plug =22 $ labor is the rest!
Carrie August 11, 2012 at 01:08 PM
How much do you think an oil filter oil and a plug cost? Probably around 20 something $! Add the labor charge which does not all go to the mechanic but to the company aswell ! Might I add that at 90 thats a deal! The poor man working on your car probably has a wife and a couple of kids a student loan and tool loans aswell ! Sadly the mechanic probably only gets 10 $ an hr outta that whole job! Dont blame our mechanic its the companies they work for that take most of the money!
kadi August 21, 2012 at 04:24 PM
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Scott Rex September 06, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I commute to San Diego 3 times a week and I change my oil every 3,000 miles. 232,000 miles and still running strong. I've never had an oil related breakdown and put 200,000 + miles on all of my cars. The only exception is our Dodge 3500 Diesel I cange every 5,000 Miles
Lloyd Progroup September 20, 2012 at 09:14 PM
It is funny and you are 100% right! Why do we try to postpone the inevitable when it comes to SIMPLE car maintenance? Changing your oil is CHEAP insurance to help protect you car -- COMPARED to the option of having a blown engine. Lloyd Pro Group | Nationwide Insurance 2980 Cobb Parkway Southeast #172, Atlanta, GA 30339 (404) 892-2864 (404) 892-2572 (Fax) http://wwww.lloydprogroup.com http://atlantainsurance.com/atlanta-auto-insurance.html
Racer X September 23, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Lots of good stuff here but I strongly believe the manufacturer of the oil is relevant. Even with SAE ratings that are the same, it is important to go with a brand you trust. If you have a choice between, say, Valvoline and Walmart brand, go with the Valvoline, unless your car is just a heap that you are nursing along, then anything goes.
Racer X September 23, 2012 at 01:06 PM
There are also kits available that pressurize your oil system before start up using residual pressure kept in a small tank from the last time the engine was run. They use this system in off-shore power boats a lot and it is available for cars. One of my customers had one on an old MGB and it worked great.
Don Sherman September 29, 2012 at 06:18 PM
The flaw in Hoffa's logical explanation is that the clearances between moving parts may be designed for the "flowability" of a 5W. Substituting a 10W for a 5W MAY cause spikes in the initial oil pressure at cold start shearing oil pump drives or belts. The oil may also flow more slowly through the clearances taking longer to reach the ends of galleries or chains of moving parts, causing extra wear on those parts farthest from the pump. I understand the "more is better" engine-oil theory, but it is most often wrong. High-mileage cars with increased clearances caused by wear may tolerate "heavier" oils, like the one step from 5W to 10W, but the average owner will never know whether the clearances are sufficient to make the "heavier" oil the best oil for the application. If you experience no knocking on cold start, and the oil pressure light goes out or the gauge moves to the "normal" range, stick with the oil specified by the engine manufacturer. An aside: Tom Kamenick suggested you "[...] can also go by the dashboard light [...]". Not a good idea. If the light is on, or the gauge indicates low, the oil pressure is too low to protect your engine. DO NOT run the engine. (It is possible some very new cars have an engine-oil condition indicator; check your manual to determine whether your light serves that function also.)
Harry Obnrian October 21, 2012 at 12:51 PM
I send a sample of my oil out for analysis that checks viscosity, engine wear metals and contamination. By doing this I attain extremely long oil change intervals, when using synthetics I can get 15 to 20k per oil change which more than pays for the $25 analysis.
VietNam Vet October 23, 2012 at 07:31 AM
Craig, If you have a car with over 100,000 miles on it, I would use a 10W-40 if you want to ue a synthetic I would go with that. We recommend that for a car with high mileage. I am a dealer for Amsoil 100% Sythetic oil, no in between and I don't recommend mixing your own blend because the synthetic blended oils ar blended with a blending additive. I use a 10W-40 in my wifes car and a 5W-30 oil in my car, the 5-30 is a 10,000 mile oil and the 10-40 is a 15,000 mile oil and our oil filters are among the best on th market. Most oil filters are rate about 40-80% efficient, but our flters are rated at 98.7% efficient. The oil isn't cheap but you will see an increase in fuel mileage and better performance and less wear and tare on your engine. This is fact not speculation.
VietNam Vet October 23, 2012 at 07:35 AM
Tom, if you switch to a good synthetic oil you can extend your drain intervals out way beyond that range, I can get you a great oil that you can extend to 1 year or 25,000 miles. I have done it my car with no problems. I use Amsoil synthetic oils, the First in Synthetics.
VietNam Vet October 23, 2012 at 07:41 AM
$$$, if you use a good synthetic oil you can extend your drains well pas what they recommend today. I use Amsoil synthetic oils and they ARE 100% synthetic, they are The First in Synthetics.
VietNam Vet October 23, 2012 at 07:49 AM
Craig, there are many cars coming out today that recommend using a 0W-20 oil, I personally wouldn't use something like that, but to each his own. Most customers with older cars antique and classic cars ue ou Z-Rod oils for the flat tappet engines, they need the Zinc that many oils today don't have. I have a customer who has a 69 Chevelle and a 67 Chevy Nova both with large engines and he only uses the Amsoil Z-rod synthetic oils and has for years and won't use anything else.
Dave Doherty November 03, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Maybe thats the way to go. I was always doing every 4,000 miles - If I use all synthetics I could up it to 8k to 10k and pay the same - or even save a little
Lucas Valdano November 07, 2012 at 07:12 PM
It doesn't bother me changing my oil frequently. I use a <a href=www.qwikvalve.com>fumoto oil drain valve</a> to ease my oil changes.
Mike Paquette December 13, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Wow, all that from "oil change". Good exchange
Nikki January 07, 2013 at 07:41 PM
Tom. This statement is not necessarily correct. The manufacturer will admit that climate should also be considered as a guide tool to getting the oil changed. We are located in a "severe" climate coded by automobile guidelines and in most cases, depending on the driving done also, the automobile manufacturer will advise to change the oil more frequently. There "tests" and determinations do not take severe climate states into consideration.
Joe Theragman January 22, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Almost twenty five years ago I bought my first FRANTZ Oil filter from my ole Friend KERMIT, who lives in IB. I installed it on three of my vehicles over the years and always got good service from the motors it was installed on. It works on a Sub Micron filtering concept using a toilette paper roll inside the Filter Canister. I change the Toilette paper roll once a month and add one quart of new oil to the Motor. You can buy the pre made rolls at any Frantz Oil Filter distributor or online. However you can just buy a case of Commercial Toilette paper that is "TWO PLY" and "500 sheets per roll". The new complete Filter units are a bit "Pricey", however I feel they are worth the price, when you consider the level of protection to your motor. I have even seen the filters installed to The Transmission, and the Fuel lines. One unit I had installed to my Isuzu I mark Diesel car both on the Motor Oil system and also to the Diesel Fuel system. that was when the Fuel Prices were high in the US and I would go to Mexico to buy Diesel fuel there as it was cheaper. I also had two extra ten gallon saddle tanks mounted in the trunk. So I would get thirty gallons of Diesel Fuel at a time. I never had a problem with my Diesel Injectors although many others I know said the Diesel fuel had significant sediment in it. I never had a problem as I had my Frantz Filter on the Fuel as well. So, there were many great ideas in the above comments. Do anything that works, just do SOMETHING!
Philipp February 12, 2013 at 04:24 AM
If you really want to know all about motor oil performance, check out the forums at http://www.bobistheoilguy.com - thousands of posts about people sending in their oil to the lab for analysis to measure performance.
Luke February 19, 2013 at 12:52 PM
The manual for my wife's new car says to change the oil every 10,000 miles. The manual for my electric car does not recommend any oil changes. ;)
Rita C February 25, 2013 at 01:46 PM
I have a 2002 Altima, 2.5. I drive locally and only put on 3-4000 miles annually. I've been having my mechanic change the oil, etc. just once a year, at the annual inspection time. Car runs great. Do you see this as a problem??
Bob Laird March 01, 2013 at 02:54 PM
Craig, I've worked on Kohler engines in the past. One common problem was that if someone engaged the starter while the engine was running it would break the block every time. Don't know if this is what happened to you, but it does happen.
Voltaire March 12, 2013 at 05:59 PM
I would be very careful about stretching out oil changes. Manufacture's specify the interval for oil changes for a reason. Hey, they designed and built the engine. There are a number of oil sludge class action lawsuits out there but if you can't prove that you changed your oil as the manufacturer specified then you lose. It's cheap insurance for a long lasting engine.
Lisa May 03, 2013 at 12:29 PM
I live in Wisconsin and there are always coupons for $19.99 oil changes various places. My hubby works for a car dealership and gets this price all the time along with the convenience of them doing his car while he is at work so no time wasted waiting for the car during off hours.
Lisa May 03, 2013 at 12:34 PM
@ Carrie: My hubby does work for a car dealership, not working on repairing cars, more like washing them in t he wash area (like where you'd take your car to be washed), and other odd jobs involving cars, transporting customers etc and you are right on The $10 an hour thing, this is after a few raises and working there for 11 years though so he started out at $8 or so an hour. And with $1,100 a month health insurance he really doesn't bring home much at all! Do the math yup we are broke. He works full time for less than part time pay with the insurance so high and yes this insurance is through his work with his work paying a bunch.
Racer X May 05, 2013 at 12:15 PM
Rita C- You are doing the right thing and taking much better care of your car than most people, good job.
Racer X May 05, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Where does your manual tell you to dump the waste batteries when you need to replace them?
Racer X May 05, 2013 at 12:20 PM
If you hate your car, cheap out on maintenance. This includes using toilet paper for an oil filter. I hate to see what you wipe your butt with.

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