Why is an oil change is the single most important thing you can do for your vehicle?
Have you ever stopped to think what life would be like if suddenly you didn't have your car? Getting to work or college becomes challenging. Not to mention there are only so many places that deliver food to your door. I don't know about you, but I couldn't live on Chinese and pizza for very long. Still dating? Puts a hamper on Friday night. Got kids? Makes it hard to get them to their various activities. So unless you're a hermit (and there is nothing wrong with that!), you need your vehicle to keep you on track in your busy life. Changing the oil in your vehicle's engine is the best insurance against the most expensive vehicle repair bill possible- a blown engine. And it happens more often that you might imagine.
Let's talk a little about what goes on inside the engine, and what oil really does. First, you need to understand that metal is anti-social! What I mean is, the metal parts inside your engine- they don't like each other. If they touch, well, they get into a fight. And that fight usually ends in damage- major damage! What oil does is act as a referee. A VERY good referee. Not like the ones at the hockey games that let the players slug it out for a while before stopping it. Oil separates moving parts inside the engine, and keeps them from coming into contact with each other. Oil also helps to keep the parts cool. This reduces expansion and swelling, which certain parts are very critical of (expansion as little as a sheet or two of paper can cause damage in some areas of the engine). Another job of the oil is clean up duty. Oil has detergent in it that scrubs away deposits from the parts, and cycles it through the oil filter to keep it clean.
So why does oil need to be changed so often? Well, it's under pressure anytime the engine is running. It's under severe heat as well. Add time to the mix, and oil begins to breakdown (as does most other things). As oil breaks down, it becomes thicker and acidic. Both of these conditions are of major concern. As the oil thickens, it can't squeeze in between those very small spaces between the parts (remember, those parts are metal, and they don't like each other!). This increases the chance of contact between moving parts inside the engine. As it becomes more acidic, the oil can actually eat away at the polished surfaces of key points inside the engine. Not only does this leave a rough spot, it also opens up the clearance between some of these parts (remember when we talked about certain parts not tolerating expansion beyond a piece or two of paper?). This can cause parts to no longer be in correct placement, and at the speeds that they move inside the engine, one false moving part can spell disaster! Increased clearance also causes the oil pressure to drop as there is now a larger area the supply of oil must fill. This can lead to a lack of oil to parts downstream of the damaged area. When your engine is running in your driveway, some parts are rotating 12-plus times in ONE second! Having no oil for even a brief period is harmful.
We now know why an oil change is important. Let's talk about how often it should be done. The old rule of thumb has been to change the oil every 3 months, or 3,000 miles- whichever comes first (when using conventional, non-synthetic oil). Lately, some manufactures have pushed away from this recommendation. Now they say to follow the reminder on your dash. It will tell you when the vehicle is due for an oil change. There is some truth, and some deception, to that recommendation. The truth is- The computer is watching how you drive your car. Are you hard on the accelerator? Do you do a lot of stop and go, in traffic, driving? This will cause the computer to recommend an oil change sooner than later (approx 3,000 miles, give or take, and depends on the model of vehicle). Do you cruise out on the highway, follow the speed limits? Then the computer might only recommend an oil change every 15,000 miles! And that is where the problem lies. The oil is still being subjected to heat, pressure, and time. The oil begins to break down as soon as its poured out of its container (we didn't discuss that oil doesn't like moisture, and the air is full of moisture in most areas). The other part they don't tell you about is why they now recommend longer intervals between oil changes. Its not due to some fancy technology. For the most part, motor oil hasn't changed much in the past few decades. Its not due to better engines. In fact, those tight spaces between parts we talked about? They are even TIGHTER on the newer vehicles, and require the use of even THINNER oils than before. This means they are less forgiving to errant movement of parts, dirt, buildup, etc.
So why do manufacturers now recommend longer intervals between oil changes? One word. Marketing! Vehicles these days compete on every level. One of those levels is 'Cost of Maintenance'. If brand X cost the same as brand Y, but brand Y has a lower 'Cost of Maintenance', it appears to be the better deal, right? Maybe. The reason for the maybe is due to a factor they use in calculating all of this- Life of the Vehicle. What is the life of a vehicle? Well, that's subjective. To one person, it may be 20-30 years. To another its only as long as it takes for them to use up the factory warranty, and trade it in on a new vehicle. The manufacturers have narrowed this down to 5-7 years. They have learned that the average new car buyer only keeps that car for 5-7 years, then they buy a new one. And since selling NEW cars is all that a manufacturer is motivated by, that's how they determine the life of a car. Once it's on to it's second owner, they don't care about it's longevity. They only need to ensure that the owner does what is needed to keep the car running until they purchase another new car. That can be bad news for any of us that don't want to purchase a brand new car every 5-7 years. Luckily, the majority of us are not willing to have a never-ending car payment. For us, our car is our first or second most expensive purchase. It makes sense to ensure its longevity. Major engine damage is the number one reason a car is not fixed when it breaks down. Most of us can budget for other types of repairs, but an engine replacement- that is usually too much for us to justify.
The lowly oil change is the best thing you can do to keep your engine running strong for years to come. Its not very costly, and on average, most vehicles will need it done 3 times a year. Many of you are capable of performing your own oil change with a little bit of research, and a couple common hand tools. But with the cost of an oil change so low at most shops, it usually make sense to take it in and have it done. Then you don't have to worry about hot oil running down your arm, or where you're going to properly dispose of the waste oil. Northwest Automotive uses quality oil and filters, and performs a digital courtesy inspection. All at a very reasonable price!