5 Things to Know About Oil Changes for Your Car

If you’re confused about motor oil—the right time to change it, how often to change it, what’s the best oil for your car—Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic, John Ibbotson, can set you straight.

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 or guidance from mechanics who profit from the work, 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, and adjust accordingly,” Ibbotson says.

Make sure you get your oil change soon after you receive such an alert.

Oil level gauge.

2. How Often to Check the Oil Level

Checking car oil.

You should keep an eye on your car’s oil levels. Our reliability survey results have shown that even newer cars can need the oil to be topped off between changes.

CR recommends checking your oil level at least once a month. Be sure to get repairs done at the first sign of a leak.

Check the owner’s manual and follow the automaker’s recommendations. 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, get the car to a mechanic 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

Changing car 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 than any mechanic does,” Ibbotson says. “Don’t get talked into too-often oil changes. Follow the manual and your car’s engine should stay well-lubricated and perform well.”

Over the course of two years and 30,000 miles, assuming that your oil change costs $40 a pop, you could save $240 if you get it changed every 7,500 miles vs. every 3,000 miles.

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 be upsold into synthetic oil if there is no need,” Ibbotson says.

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 before you visit your mechanic so that you can control the cost of the oil they’re putting in,” he says.

If you have a much older car, do you need special motor oil?

“Not if it’s running well,” Ibbotson says. “If you’re not sure what oil you should be using because you don’t have an owner’s manual, check with your local dealer or an online enthusiast group for your particular model,” he says.

5. Do You Need Synthetic Oil?

Conventional engine oil vs. synthetic engine oil.

“Only if your manufacturer calls for it,” Ibbotson says, “because it can cost from two to four times as much as conventional 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,” Ibbotson says.

Another consideration is your lifestyle. “If you live in a region with very cold winters or very hot summers, or if you use your vehicle for towing or hauling heavy material, synthetic oil is your best bet,” he says. “While synthetic generally holds up better and can serve for more miles, it is equally important to not extend oil changes beyond the time interval recommended by the manufacturer—typically six months or a year if it is a motor that is not driven many miles or on many short trips.”

Synthetic oil can also help engines that are prone to building up sludge; some Volkswagen and Toyota models have had sludge issues in the past. This residue, formed when oil breaks down, can block the flow of oil, leading to the quick death of an engine. Synthetic oil would be beneficial in these engines because it helps to reduce sludge buildup, helping to extend the engine’s lifespan.

Gary Townsend Named Winner of Mitchell 1 “Shift Into High Gear” Facebook Sweepstakes

Gary Townsend of GT Tire Service, Inc. in Pataskala, Ohio, is the lucky grand prize winner of the Mitchell 1 “Shift Into High Gear” Facebook sweepstakes. Townsend has won an all-expense paid trip to attend Mitchell 1’s shop management system training workshop in in Atlantic City, New Jersey, April 25-27, 2019. “We would like to … Read more

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Top 10 Car Care Tips

We have all heard these stories, cars and trucks lasting 200,000, 300,000, even 500,000 miles.

What’s the secret? Three words: maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

“Nobody reads the owner’s manual. Pretty much to make it run that far it’s fluids, timing belts, maintenance by the book,” said Jim Moritz, global technical trainer for an international automotive tool and equipment manufacturing company.

These vehicle owners adhere to every word recommended by the automaker, for them it is a religion. In many cases, they are changing engine oil, transmission and brake fluids more frequently than required. They read that manual from cover to cover.

“I know guys who are getting 300,000 miles out of a F-Series pickup and 400,000 miles from a Hyundai Sonata,” he said. “There is no such thing as too much maintenance, you are not going to hurt it.”

Listed below are 10 maintenance tips to make the engine, transmission and other expensive parts of your vehicle last longer. Most importantly, read the owner’s manual to avoid thousands of dollars in repairs.

  1. Check the oil: The simplest task to increase the life of your vehicle is to maintain the proper amount of oil in the engine. Additionally, change the oil and filter at the intervals recommended in the owner’s manual, for example, every 5,000, 7,500 or 10,000 miles.  Oil lubricates the engine parts. Second, oil is a fluid that disperses heat. Some of the oil is burned off by the engine so it needs to be replenished when the level drops. Make sure it is the proper weight oil for your engine. “An engine runs hotter with less oil in it. The hotter it runs the more strain, stress that is put on the engine parts. You could blow the engine eventually, meaning it will need to be rebuilt or replaced, it’s very expensive. It will not blow up if the engine is a quart of oil down, but when they start getting a couple of quarts down you can run into some interesting issues,” Moritz said.
  2. Fight sludge: There’s a big downside to short trips, stop-and-go traffic, as well as long trips when there is a heavy load on the engine, for example, pulling a trailer. The enemy: Sludge. Sludge is a petroleum byproduct that is a gooey, black-colored substance that builds up in an engine. It is a major contributor to engine problems. Changing the engine oil at prescribed intervals or more frequently will reduce the probability of sludge buildup and extend the life of the engine. Specific driving conditions can cause sludge. It can come from oil solidifying on a long trip at engine temperatures generally above 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Other culprits are short trips that prevent the engine from reaching its proper operating temperature and water in the oil caused by condensation. “It accumulates everywhere in the engine. Sludge drops to the bottom of the oil pan. But when the engine warms up, the oil mixes with the goo and is pumped through the whole engine,” Moritz said. “Sludge does not burn away.” To avoid sludge, follow the owner’s manual for oil and filter changes or switch to synthetic oil, which is not petroleum based. Many fleets use synthetic oil.
  3. Timing belt replacement: Your car’s engine has either a rubber composite timing belt or timing chain. The device connects the crankshaft to the camshaft, which is synchronized with the opening and closing of the engine’s valves. If your car has a timing belt, follow the owner’s manual to determine when the belt should be replaced. “Rubber belts break and when they do that’s the end of the engine, it is catastrophic, you are done,” Moritz said.  To avoid disaster, the timing belt should be replaced at intervals recommended by the automaker, usually between 50,000 and 110,000 miles. The cost to replace the timing belt isn’t cheap but it is thousands less than rebuilding the engine.
  4. Check power steering fluid: Older vehicles and some new models have a hydraulic power steering pump that is lubricated by power steering fluid. The pump’s reservoir has a screw-type cap that lifts off, so the fluid level can be checked. If the pump runs dry, it can fail and require a replacement costing hundreds of dollars. A few symptoms of a power steering problem are squealing noises when turning the steering wheel or heavy or stiff steering. Newer vehicles have electric power steering; there are no fluids.
  5. Transmission fluid replacement: Having the proper amount of fluid is critical because it cools the transmission, lubricates moving parts and smooths the shifts between gears. However, the fluid deteriorates over time. Frequent stop-and-go driving or pulling a trailer accelerates deterioration. Under those conditions the transmission’s operating temperature rises, putting a strain on the transmission’s components and the fluid. Automakers recommend more frequent fluid replacement under those conditions. Check the owner’s manual for details. Signs of transmission problems: If the fluid turns dark or has a burnt smell this could be a signal that the it needs to be changed or that the transmission is developing mechanical issues. Check the fluid level when the engine is running. To avoid transmission failure only use the fluid recommended by the automaker. “I know a guy who mixed fluid on a Honda. His transmission lasted a week,” Moritz said.
  6. Radiator coolant flushing: Coolant has rust inhibitors that break down over time. Rust and corrosion can build up and harm an engine, plug a thermostat and damage a water pump. Some automakers recommend a coolant change every 30,000 miles, some suggest over 100,000 miles. Again, check the owner’s manual.
  7. Top off brake fluid: While you are under the hood checking fluids, it’s a good time to check the brake fluid level. Place the vehicle on a level surface, then unscrew the reservoir cap. The brake fluid level should be between the minimum and maximum marks in the fluid reservoir. Use the automaker’s recommended fluid and add to the proper level. Replacing the brake fluid will not increase the longevity of the brake system but it might save your life. Brake fluid absorbs water over time which degrades its effectiveness in providing stopping power.  “A brake system is not perfectly sealed as you might think so you can get condensation just from the change of cold temperatures to hot,” Moritz said. If you have too much water in the brake fluid, stepping on the brakes hard generates heat which in turn can boil the water in the line and as a result, increase the vehicle’s stopping distance.
  8. Transfer case maintenance: This is a very expensive repair when things go wrong. The fluid inside the transfer case on all-wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles needs to be replace at prescribed intervals. Follow the recommendations in the owner’s manual.
  9. Rotate your tires: Tires are expensive, so you want them to last. The owner’s manual will say when the tires should be rotated and alignment checked. Equally important is maintaining the proper air pressure to get more miles out of each tire. A sticker on the driver’s door frame lists the tire pressure for the front and rear tires.
  10. Have a clean engine air filter: A dirty air filer can reduce miles per gallon, hurt engine performance and contribute to higher engine emissions.

 

No maintenance required

There are some components on cars that at one time required regular maintenance, but because of technological advances, there’s no need anymore. Ball joints and steering linkage which at one time required lubrication, no longer require it; new spark plugs may last 150,000 miles and at one time vehicle batteries (which are now sealed for lift) needed the water level in the electrolyte periodically checked.

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Camp Hill Closing Early 3/22

Due to a personal emergency Camp Hill is closing for the remainder of today. Please visit our Dillsburg or Harrisburg location. Sorry about any inconvenience.

Man Shoots Self at Auto Repair Shop

Man Shoots Self at Auto Repair Shop

A man at Northside Service, an automotive repair shop in Abilene, Texas, was shot in the leg Tuesday afternoon with a 20-gauge shotgun. Initial reports indicate he accidentally shot himself. According to the Abilene Reporter-News, the shooting allegedly happened in the front of the business where several cars were parked. Police arrived at the scene … Read more

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