How often should I change my oil? This is one of the most common questions related to caring for our vehicles. The short answer is that the old adage of "3 months or 3,000 miles" is still a good one. Let me explain.
If you have looked at your car's owners manual (I know, how boring), and your car is less than 10 years old, it probably tells you to change your oil at 5,000 or even 7,500 miles. Those figures are based on the fact that today's motor oils are significantly better than they were 10 years ago; or five years ago for that matter. The issue that still exists, however, is that the inside of an internal combustion engine is a violent, dirty place. Your oil takes a serious beating. While its primary purpose is to reduce friction on moving parts, it also takes the dirt and grime created by combustion and daily operation away from the engine so it will last longer. Your oil filter can only remove so much of that dirt and eventually, your oil gets dirty. In fact, it gets dirty long before it loses its lubricant properties. While you CAN run beyond 3,000 mile level, most people who really understand engines (and we think we do), recommend sticking to the 3 months or 3,000 mile rule.
Before the skeptics out there say that this is just a money grab on the part of auto care providers, please realize that we don't make much on a typical oil change. We'd be more profitable if we recommended longer oil change intervals and then performed the inevitable repairs that resulted from the damage done to the engine. However, our job is to care for your vehicle and ensure that it performs for you when you need it. For that reason, we want to see you every 3 months or 3,000 miles. It's the best investment you can make in the longevity of your vehicle. The longer it lasts, the longer it is until you have to buy a new car. That saves you a bundle in the long run.
Should I be using synthetic oil? An excellent question. If your vehicle's manufacturer recommends it (i.e., did it come brand new with synthetic oil in the crankcase?), then absolutely. What most people wonder is whether they should switch to synthetic from conventional oil. There are a few things to consider.
First, synthetic oil is 2-3 times more expensive than conventional oil. Will it lubricate better? Yes. It's very slippery stuff. Will it last longer? Yes, but please see the answer to the question above. It still gets dirty. If you don't mind the extra cost, go for it.
Second, how old is your vehicle? If it has under 100,000 miles and most of them were highway miles (gentler miles than stop and go traffic miles), then there probably isn't a huge benefit (the synthetic manufacturers may say otherwise).
Third, how has your vehicle been driven? If you have a high mileage vehicle that's been driven hard (stop and go, lot's of towing, dirt roads, etc.), it may help your engine last longer and be worth the cost to make the switch to synthetic.
If you have more questions, give us a call or stop by and see us. We'll be happy to discuss your specific situation.
Washing your car. I know...right about now you are wondering why a mechanical shop is talking about washing your car. That's more about body work, isn't it? Trust me, I have a good reason. Over the early months of this summer, we've been under a lot of cars and we've noticed that it's increasingly obvious which ones got regularly washed during the winter and which ones did not. Those that got washed, probably with the under-body flush, have significantly less rust and corrosion that those that were not washed.
Why should you care? Some of the most safety-critical parts in your automobile are on the underside (brakes, shocks/struts, springs, the frame). If you allow the salt to sit on there all winter, these parts will fail much sooner; putting you and your family at greater risk. Do your car (and yourself) a big favor. Wash the car regularly and put on a good quality wax. And during the winter, spend the extra $2 and get the under body flush. Your car will last longer which will save you money over the long-term. It's also much easier for us to work on, which means you won't be charged as much for those repairs that are necessary.
Annual Maintenance Expectations. A lot of people find the cost of auto repair to be astonishing. There's no doubt that parts aren't getting any cheaper nor is the cost of labor and overhead. However, national surveys show that, for cars at least six years old, you can plan on spending approximately $1,000 per year to keep the vehicle properly maintained. That sounds like a lot and it is. However, compare that to the annual car payments on a new vehicle ($3,000 - $6,000 per year) and it becomes a much better deal. Many of our clients keep their older cards for exactly that reason. We encourage all of them to stay on top of the maintenance. Letting it go too long will increase the costs well beyond $1,000 per year.
Should I use Ethanol-based Fuel? A lot has been said about the benefits and costs of using ethanol-based fuels. I won't re-hash what the media has amply commented upon (nor will I opine on their motives). I will say this...measure your fuel economy using 2 full tanks of E-10 and then 2 full tanks of 87 octane regular unleaded. In our area, the cost of E-10 (89 octane) is around $3.50 per gallon. Regular unleaded is near $3.60. That extra $.10 amounts to 2.85% higher cost per GALLON. If, after doing your measurements, your fuel economy with 87 octane regular is greater than 89 octane E-10 by more than 2.85%, then your cost per MILE will be lower using regular gasoline. That is the most important figure.
In my personal vehicles, the difference is between 9 and 12%. Needless to say, we run regular gasoline. If my farming cousins read this, they won't be happy with me. However, the savings are clear and my engines seem to run quieter with regular gasoline (I have a 98 Astro and an 01 Regal). Your results may be different. Do your homework and don't just accept what the media tells you.