The Oil Change: Who, What, When, Where, Why… And… Huh?

By on December 19, 2017

Oil changes.

Should they be done every 3000 miles? 5000 miles? 10,000 miles?

Or should you pay a premium and go for that ultra-long marathon of 15,000 miles with the right oil and filter combination?

Those of us who drive our cars for quite a while are usually focused on mileage above all else. But what about those vehicles that we rarely drive?

Should the Sunday drivers and infrequent haulers of rubbish be given the same regimen?

What about using time as a yardstick instead? 6 months… 1 year… 2 years?

Everyone thinks the answer is different. But for most vehicles, it’s painfully simple.

Your owner’s manual has recommendations that were created by a small army of chemical and mechanical engineers. Take that advice. Always. There’s a reason why these professionals spend their careers figuring out the optimal fluids for your daily driver.

The internet likes to publicize a few exceptions. Some higher end motor oils and filters can last as long as 15,000 miles, but from my experiences, it’s better to slightly overdue oil changes it if it bothers you that much. It shouldn’t , but sometimes in life you end up with way too much free time and not enough real life experience. If you really want to prolong the life of your car check your oil between oil changes and top it off if needed. This also helps you discover little engine related issues before they become big ones.

Most engines will outlast the rest of the vehicle. The brand does not matter. Just make sure the oil you use passes the American Petroleum Institute standards for that engine and that you’re using the right oil viscosity and amount. You’ll find that in the vehicle specifications section of your owner’s manual. Don’t have the manual? Just click here.

What else should we do just in case? Nothing more. If you want to use synthetic, that’s fine. Over the years I’ve heard endless variations of what I like to call the, “Hallelujah synthetic choir.” The song of praise usually comes in an anecdotal ballad that sounds a bit like this.

“But… but… but Steve? I have a 1990 Eagle Premiere whose engine is as clean as it was when it left the factory floor. And I’m almost 110% sure it’s because I use synthetic!”

Well, I like synthetic too. But you don’t need synthetic oil unless your owner’s manual says it. Or in those few special cases (we’re talking less than 1% of vehicles out there) where there is some lubrication issues inherent within the engine’s design that make frequent changes with synthetic a better choice. A visit to an enthusiast forum for a given make and model will often help clarify that real quick.

From my experiences of buying, selling and financing cars, which now number well into the several thousands of vehicles, the brand of motor oil makes no difference for the overwhelming majority of vehicles out there. Buy the oil that’s on sale. Buy recycled oil. Heck, if you visit this place on an infrequent basis, you will likely get the top quality oils at prices that are on par or less than conventional oil.

But for 99+% of you, it won’t make a difference. Zero. The socks you wear will have a greater daily impact on your life than the type of oil you keep in your car.

As for oil filters, I do invest slightly more in their ability to make a difference given the variants in today’s marketplace. A larger filtration area, better filtration materials, and a solid design all help keep engine contaminants at a minimum. If you go to and scour through the oil filters section for your vehicle, you’ll find the site shows filtration efficiency for most of the oil filters. The same efficiency ratings are also available for air filters.

With all that said, don’t go overboard with it. Most folks will be fine with basic brands such as Wix , FRAM, and Purolator Classic. Want to go up a notch? Do it. I have a liking for Purolator Pure One, Hastings, and AC Delco brand filters. They cost a few dollars more than the store brands and often times, that spread is negated by an oil change special which lowers the price of buying the oil and filter together.

A lot of older enthusiasts are now following the lead of their less caring car owners and opting for the Quickie Lube and 5k change oil places. After all, $20 for an oil change is often times more efficient than buying all the materials outright, taking the time to do it yourself, and then transporting the used oil back so that it can be recycled. For most vehicles, the return on your DIY time has more to do with investing in premium filters and fluids and less to do with the money you save.

If the lube place of your choice does a good job of bringing the oil to the appropriate level, and stands by the product with some form of warranty, I would still pass on it. No joke. The better alternative in nearly all cases is to have an independent garage do it instead if you don’t do it yourself.

A shop that hires mechanics who look at automobiles all day can catch little problems related to your engine far better than a quickie lube place that pays their people commissions by pushing unneeded maintenance services. Consider the extra money you pay the shop a fair trade for a better set of eyeballs and less long-term stress.

If that works for you, guess what? It works for me too. Then again the fun factor goes far south in the car business when you’re faced with doing 20 oil changes a month.


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