Engine oil change intervals
In a recent editorial, I commented about the validity of extended oil change intervals that are commonly promoted today by auto makers (ASP September/October 2014 issue). My intent was to provide my own opinion, and not to promote the increased sale of oil (read the editorial in our digital edition on www.autoserviceprofessional.com). This topic has obviously hit a nerve among our readers. Following are just a few of the letters we’ve received regarding this subject.- Ed.
Oil changes are cheap insurance, in my opinion. I have always changed the oil on all my vehicles around the 3,000 mile mark using a good quality oil and a new filter. I have never had a serious engine problem thanks to this regular engine maintenance. Any valve cover I may have pulled to reseal, or intake manifold, always showed a very clean engine inside. “Pay a little now, or a lot later,” I have found has held true through the years.
One of the worst engines I have ever seen due to the lack of oil changes was a customer’s vehicle I worked on in a Chevrolet garage in the early 1990s. A customer’s vehicle with 23,000 miles on it came in with an engine knock. It was an Astro van that had been purchased new from our dealership. Records showed the only oil change was at 12,500 miles. The customer said they thought all they had to do was keep adding oil to keep the level up. Needless to say, pulling a valve cover in the vehicle to check the engine valve train showed the buildup of a black sludge throughout. The motor was toast, a prime example of what can happen when not changing your oil on a regular basis.
Kurt Schleicher, Customer Service Rep
FRESH IS GOOD
Regarding Auto Service Professional’s recent editorial by editor Mike Mavrigian, I could not agree more. I took a variable valve timing (VVT) course a short time ago, and the #1 problem with all the VVT vehicles by all manufactures was sludge and dirty oil. And what do the manufactures do? They EXTEND the oil change intervals! Is this part of a hidden agenda?
P.S.: When my customers ask me what oil to use, I tell them FRESH.
S&S Auto Repair
CHANGE IT AND USE THE CORRECT OIL
Mike, you are so on target with your comments.
I have been in automotive service all my life — 35-plus years. Fluids have always been one of the most important things that will protect your investment, especially in today’s high technology vehicles.
My company services over 5 million vehicles a year. I also maintain a technical service hot line. The reason I bring that up is because we field a large number of oil-related problem calls, more than we have, say, 10 years ago.
One of the popular oil-related calls we get today concerns variable valve timing DTCs with the engine light on. Many of the newer models utilize these systems. We are finding that customers don’t check their oil or anything under the hood like they used to.
These VVT DTCs many times are caused by low oil levels or neglected oil systems. Because of this, if we find low or dirty oil we start the diagnostic by performing a good oil change with the proper oil, and clear the DTC and send the driver on their way. That is the fix, in many cases. If the DTCs come back, and they will if there is a problem, then we get into some real diagnostics. Unfortunately, at this point any money that the customer saved on extended oil changes will now need to be spent on corrective services. In many cases, we find gummed-up solenoids, plugged oil passages or plugged screens. I could go on talking about VVT problems, but I think you get the point.
One thing consumers need to know is that the proper oil viscosity is most important these days. Flow characteristics are most important to VVT systems and the high-tech valve train.
Here is another oil change interval-related problem that we are seeing. In the past, tire rotations would get done every other oil change. Today, if you go with, say, the GM OLS system recommendation for an oil change, you may not see that car for 12 months, maybe even past 7,500 miles between oil changes. What if the tires don’t get rotated with every oil change? Tires can be finicky if they are left on the same axle too long. Noise and abnormal wear is usually not reversible on a tire. This is another hidden expense to the extended oil change interval. We are seeing tires just getting destroyed due to lack of rotations.
One more thing. This is a little off-the-wall. Do you know that there is a new regulation out there that prohibits a service station from putting an oil change sticker on the windshield recommending the next service interval? We can only put the mileage and date the service was done last. I am not sure exactly how many states this applies to, but it is in most that we are in.
As I said at the beginning, one of the most important things that will protect your investment is clean fluids. And if you’re worried about the environment, recycled oils today are just as good and sometimes better than new oil.
Jim Lynch, Training Director
Monro Muffler Brake Inc. [PAGEBREAK]
CHANGE IT, CHANGE IT
In my varied, long mechanical experience (30 years with Ford, seven with Navistar and Cat and two years with the present dealer) I have seen many oil-related failures and driven many so-called cheap vehicles for transportation.
The one conclusion I have come to is that fluid changes are the only saving grace to keeping a vehicles engine running correctly. I once owned a 1986 Ford Tempo that survived 320,000 miles and was still was running perfectly when I sold it. I believe the key to its success was engine service every 3,000 to 5,000 miles and the trans serviced every 6,000 to 10,000 miles! The interesting part of this nine-year test was that it was serviced with components that were on sale at Kmart only, with no specific brand in common.
I have seen customers who swore up and down that the synthetic oil they are using did not have to be changed until 10,000 miles while I was changing their overhead camshaft with flat lobes. Or the time I talked for two hours to convince a customer to change the oil in his 7.3 Ford Powerstroke to remedy an oil foaming concern with synthetic. His comment after was, “WOW... it runs great!”
In my new position, I have seen Mercedes-Benz recommending 10,000-mile intervals — and if neglected, engines frozen tight and full of sludge.
My conclusion of all this is change fluids and change them often no matter what brand or type. You will be able to drive that vehicle until you are sick and tired of it and the body falls off!
Jerry Wolhart, Service Manager
Demaiois Buick, GMC
WHAT CUSTOMERS NEED TO KNOW
I am in total agreement with Mike Mavrigian’s editorial about the need to change engine oil on a more frequent basis.
I wrote the following little sample letter specifically to make a point for potential customers regarding the benefits of a 3,000-mile oil change. This is just an example of a message that could be provided to customers in order to educate them. I have not yet sent this to anyone to solicit business:
“You may have heard that the 3,000-mile oil change is no longer necessary. However, it’s actually more necessary than ever. Here’s why: Today’s cars are more sophisticated than before, as I’m sure you know. And they cost more. And likely you will keep your car quite a long time as it’s a substantial investment.
“In the ‘old days,’ it might have been easier for you to know when something was wrong with your car and identify the problem. As you know, it’s not as easy to do so these days and, as always, small problems can lead to bigger ones if not taken care of properly.
“We at Acme Auto know cars well and would like to get to know yours better. We’d like to get to know you better, as well. Therefore, we suggest the both of you stop in to see us every 3,000 miles — ostensibly for an oil change — which we will do promptly and at a very competitive price. This is not only a good investment for the longevity of your engine when done frequently, but provides an opportunity for us to see how the engine is doing based on the condition of the oil. It also gives us a chance to have a look at the general condition of your car and perhaps discuss any concerns you have — primarily with your car — but, hey, there’s always time for a good customer like you.
“Our oil change equipment is in place and there’s a fresh pot of coffee waiting.
“Don’t be a stranger.
“Sincerely, Joe Owner, Acme Auto”
FREQUENT OIL CHANGE = FREQUENT INSPECTIONS
I read your editorial on oil change intervals and totally agree. I own and operate a tire and service facility and have been in this business for 40 years. Probably like yourself, I have seen it all. We service a lot of newer cars, and many are following these longer oil change interval recommendations, i.e.: 7,500-, 10,000-, 15,000-mile intervals or they are basing it on the car’s oil life monitoring system.
You’re right, that’s not necessarily the best thing to do. In addition to maintaining a clean and functional engine, there are also some other issues and things to consider in deciding how often one should change the oil in your car.
One, all vehicle manufacturers advise to periodically check fluid levels and many of them state in their manuals that their car might use some oil over a certain amount of miles. Few people today ever check their oil level or other fluids for that matter, unless a warning light comes on. So, they come in to get an oil change, it’s been, say, 10,000 miles, and there is no oil registering on the dipstick. Most had no idea, and most would agree, that’s NOT GOOD!
We started checking this prior to performing oil changes for our own info and to educate customers on this exact topic. If they would look at some of the pictures posted online, showing gummed-up engines, they might change their minds.
Secondly, as a result of these longer intervals, folks are going a longer period of time between general checkups on their car. Not good either. Most of us perform courtesy checks when we perform an oil change, so their car would be getting checked more frequently if they were getting oil changes in that 3k to 5k window. For example: If a certain issue with a car is found earlier as opposed to later, the cost of the repair might be less since possible consequential damages were avoided. There are many examples, like worn out brakes and rotors that are unserviceable because they drove the vehicle too long without an inspection. Coolant leaks turn into overheating problems and engine damage, and the list could go on. What if there is a potential safety issue with the vehicle? Wouldn’t it have been better to find it sooner rather than later?
Thirdly, it now seems common practice to rotate tires when an oil change is done and that’s what we generally recommend — do it all in one trip. Most tire manufacturers recommend tire rotation in the 5k to 6k range, not 10k or 15k. So changing oil in the 3k to 5k range also accomplishes frequent tire maintenance which generally prolongs the life of tires and validates tire warranties. Many are having tire issues (uneven wear) if they are going 10k between rotations.
I run synthetic oil in my engines and I change my oil at 5k and rotate my tires, etc. Bottom line, I personally do not condone those longer intervals and try to educate my customers on both the pros and cons, so they can make their own EDUCATED decision. Hope this is helpful.
Richard Leicht, President, NCTDA
Atlantic Avenue Tire & Service
PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING
Mike, your “Straight Talk” editorial was right on! Anyone who follows these extended intervals for oil changes is, in my opinion, asking for trouble. We tell our customers to change the oil and filter every 3,750 miles for our semi-synthetic oil, and no more than 7,500 on synthetic oils (5,000 for turbo engines). We always use oil that meets the manufacturers’ specs. The “one oil for all” doesn’t work anymore.
Here is my horror story about extended oil change intervals. We perform service for a high-end car wholesaler. He has brought us multiple BMWs that are fresh off lease, which he bought at auction sight unseen. Every one has had an engine full of sludge, some noisy, some not. Ever since the factory has started giving “free maintenance” while the car was under warranty, this issue has evolved. You rarely saw it before then. You know those cars are having the oil changed every 10,000 to 15,000 miles, which the manufacturer says is enough. The “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak.
Richard Boyd, President
RIGHT ON TARGET
It’s about time someone besides myself steps up to the plate on this issue about oil changes. I work in the field and I have always told my customers (the ones willing to learn something) that ever since the auto makers came up with their 15,000 miles oil service, I was shocked. Just like you said I don’t care how good the oil is... it’s still oil and it does break down, especially if some idiot with a BMW beats the crap out of the car every time he drives it.
I had a customer that had their 2013 S-Class towed in with 18,000 miles on the clock with the engine seized. The little bit of oil that was drained came out thicker than molasses. It was a lease car (go figure). She never serviced the vehicle. I commend you on your editorial.
BETTER THAN THE OLD DAYS
I am an ASE-certified parts and service advisor in the business since 1971. I did on-the-road sales for many years averaging 5,000 miles per month. Using regular motor oil, I have had many engines with 200,000 miles run like new with oil changes at 5,000-mile intervals.
There is no reason for anyone to change oil every 3,000 miles now days unless they have a problem engine (leaking head gaskets, etc.). With fuel injection and modern engine management systems, the oil doesn’t get contaminated as quickly as in the 1960s and ‘70s! I know all this from experience!
Rick: I agree. My suggestion for a change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles represented a very general range. My point was that I don’t agree with radically extended intervals well beyond about 5,000 miles. - Mike Mavrigian
First off I would like to say how great Auto Service Professional is. I am 64 years old and from the time I was 10, I was told to change oil and filter every 3,000 miles. I continue to do this to this day.
I had a boss at an independent garage tell me that when he first started work for the California Department of Highways that they did a study and found that varnish starts forming at 3,000 miles. I have seen photos and have seen in person engines that were changed at 3,000 miles and those that were not. What a difference.
THREE KEYS FOR LONG LIFE
Mike, I once did a TV spot for a local station about vehicle maintenance. We covered all the services, etc., that are recommended by OE manufactures. Their final question was what is the one thing I would tell my customer to do to make their vehicle last as long as possible. I replied that there are three: Change your oil, change your oil, CHANGE YOUR OIL!
Oakley Moody Service
COMMENTS FROM OUR WEBSITE
I had a customer who purchased a clean, low-mileage Toyota years ago.
On our initial inspection, we recommended replacing a leaking valve cover gasket and oil pressure switch. She said she would bring it back later, but never did.
About a year later she had it towed in with a seized engine and was very upset because she never let it get more than a quart low. She had put over 20,000 miles on it without changing the filter — just added oil about every 10 days. The oil on the dipstick was relatively clean and full, but when we removed the drain plug nothing came out of the pan. With a little coaxing, we did get what looked like licorice Jello to come out. I kept a small jar of that gunk for show and tell for many years.
Changing contaminated oil and then running 3,000 miles on fresh oil that is getting contaminated as you drive helps how? If you have coolant getting in or excess fuel, etc., an oil sample will tell you that and a lot more and allow you to repair the issues before they destroy the engine. Twenty bucks spent could save you thousands.
See "Oil change intervals revisited" here.