Engine oil is what lubricates a car's engine, allowing it to run smoothly and last longer. Car owners must maintain a car's engine by changing the oil and using the oil appropriate for their cars make and model. Every car comes with a "check oil" light and an oil filter under the hood. These components allow car owners to monitor their oil levels and add oil as needed without having to hire a mechanic.
Changing the Oil
An important part of routine car maintenance is changing the oil regularly. The necessary frequency of oil changes has become a point of contention among experts. The Engine Oil Bible maintains that engine oil can't be changed often enough, but Nordic Group insists that, with the advent of detergent oils and multi-weight oils, some vehicles can go as far as 6,000 miles before needing an oil change. The best course of action is to check the owner's manual and follow manufacturer's recommendations.
An obvious benefit of changing one's own oil is saving money, but oil change services frequently advertise bargains. If the "check engine oil" light comes on while driving, this is a strong indication that the car is running low on oil. A driver does not need a mechanic to add oil. However, if the oil light stays on or lights up shortly after adding oil, there may be a leak, and a mechanic should look at the car.
There was a time when no automotive vehicle manufacturers required synthetic engine oils in their vehicles. That time has long gone, with many vehicles now requiring either synthetic or synthetic blend engine oils. Now, more than ever, it is critical that the correct engine oil be used. Proper engine operation, fuel economy, factory warranty, Federal Emissions warranty, and engine longevity are just a few of the many reasons. While it is more common with "higher dollar" vehicles, all vehicles have specific oil requirements and many utilize previously uncommon engine oils.
First and foremost, if you don't have documented proof of proper vehicle service you won't get very far with any Factory, Federal Emission, or Extended warranty issues. Manufacturers are quick to deny claims if proper service isn't documented, and that includes use of proper fluids and filters. Your vehicle may be out of its Factory warranty, but there are Federal Emissions and Extended warranties that could go as far as 10 years or 120,000 miles. It is beneficial to do everything possible to maintain access to those warranties, should you need them.
Engine oil has many attributes. As a consumer you should be most interested in viscosity, type, and in some cases even specific brands. The best place to start in regards to these requirements is your Owner's or Maintenance Manual. Sometimes manufacturers update their requirements and those can be found in the form of Technical Service Bulletins. As a consumer you may not have easy access to that information, but we at John's Bascom Automotive do -- and we review it regularly.
Viscosity is important for a variety of reasons, including new engine technologies and energy saving ratings. Many new vehicles have variable valve timing systems that may not work properly if the viscosity is incorrect. Modern engines also run with much lower drag and may require "lighter" oils. They may not be as efficient without them. They may also exhibit noise when cold, or may develop leaks. One size does not fit all today.
Type of oil is also very important. Have you noticed that your vehicle now has a 5,000 mile oil change interval? 7,500? 15,000? How can that be? Many of those manufacturers are relying upon the quality and properties of synthetic oils. In some cases they are also relying upon very specific brands of oil. If your vehicle takes non-synthetic oil you should not substitute synethic. The engine may not operate quite the same, and the oil change intervals can not safely be extended. It is best to use what the factory recommends -- after all, they've spent a lot of time and money to determine what the best oil is for protecting their vehicles through and beyond their warranty period.
Modern Diesel engines, for example, have very specific oil requirements and very rapid engine damage can occur. At the very least, many of the Diesel injection systems may not operate properly. Many of the turbocharged vehicles also require synthetic oils or heavy coking can occur which can also cause engine damage. Some Hybrids have exotic oil viscosity requirements, as well. Something as simple as an oil change with the wrong oil can potentially ruin your investment. As a consumer it is important to ask the facility servicing your vehicle about its specific requirements and how they know those requirements. If they can't answer your questions, perhaps it is time to look for another facility.
The picture on the left is a Passat engine oil pickup. That screen is almost entirely clogged with coked oil. This screen should be clean as engine oil is drawn in through this pipe to feed the rest of the engine. This was causing an oil starvation issue in the engine. The engine would rattle, make noise upon acceleration, and a "STOP!" warning would be displayed on the dash. Fortuntately for the customer the top end of the engine -- the camshafts -- were not damaged. The timing chain tensioner for the variable valve timing system was, as seen in the right hand picture. While the customer was fortunate no more serious damage occurred, the cost of repairing this problem was about $2,000. The customer not only did not use the proper synthetic oil, but also had a pattern of going beyond the published service intervals. It is also worth noting that the vehicle only had 56,000 miles on it. What may have been saved by not putting in synthetic oil was well exceeded by the cost of the repair.
Vehicles require specific and regular maintenance. We take no part of service or maintenance casually. Changing the oil and rotating the tires are just as vital as any other service that might be performed on your vehicle, and we treat them as such. We understand that vehicles are expensive to own and to operate and we want to help you protect your investment by performing the necessary services correctly.