Under the hood: You’re probably getting your oil changed more than necessary

Stock image | Photo by sumnersgraphicsinc/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — I change my oil once a year.

At this point, you’re probably thinking either I really don’t drive much or I am criminally abusive to my car. I can assure you it’s not the former, and given all the misinformation out there I don’t blame you for thinking the latter.

Truth is, I drive between 15,000 to 20,000 miles annually and have improved my gas mileage, reduced my maintenance expenses and only had to spend about 20 minutes a year dealing with my oil change. And after 169k miles on my truck, I have an engine that is so clean inside someone once accused me of steam cleaning it.

By “inside” I literally mean the inside of the engine, not the outside. How do I know the inside of my engine is clean you ask? Because I used a flashlight to look. Anal retentive you say? I stand guilty as charged, but my engine is still really clean inside.

So how can this be? Everyone knows that the three certainties in life are death, taxes and the 3,000-mile oil change. Should the foolhardy push but 1 mile over 3,000 on their oil, spontaneous engine disintegration will be the inevitable result. Or will it?

Having owned and operated a shop, I can tell you many people have proven that even plain conventional oil can last longer – much longer – than 3,000 miles.

So what gives? Every corner quick-change shop, all those compelling commercials and probably even your dad have told you to change your oil every 3,000 miles. The short answer to this can be summed up in one word: profits. The more oil changes these companies sell, the more they make.

It is simply too easy to sell a message of “better to be safe than sorry.” While I agree with that conservative approach, you don’t have to overdo it to the extent they promote. Today’s engine oils, even the cheapest generic brands, meet basic minimum standards. A “minimum spec” oil will easily last 5,000 miles in a properly running engine. A good synthetic will go upwards of 10,000 miles. A premium synthetic like the one I use will last 20,000 miles or one year, whichever comes first.

Chemistry and better engine technology have made all of this possible. Engines didn’t always run as clean as they do now. The chemistry of today’s oils, specifically synthetic oil, is light years ahead of what it was when your father performed his own oil change.

But promoting longer oil change intervals and selling less oil is simply not in the best interest of the petroleum industry, so don’t expect the messaging to change anytime soon. But you can still be a more informed consumer and enjoy the same benefits I do.

Image by Ake Ngiamsanguan/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

First off, only use synthetic oil in your vehicles. The benefits are many, including longevity, improved mileage and extended life of the engine. And it keeps it really clean inside, which I verify when I use my aforementioned flashlight. Synthetic oil also saves me time from fewer oil changes, and even though the oil change itself is more expensive, it saves me money because I only change it once a year.

The trick here is to use a “true” synthetic oil.

Here’s another marketing secret: Not all synthetic oil is actually synthetic based. Due to consumer marketing laws, manufacturers can label a petroleum-based oil as being synthetic if it meets certain performance standards. The fact is petroleum oil is not capable of performing like a synthetic product designed specifically for the task at hand. If you want to maximize the benefits listed above, then you must go with a “true” synthetic oil in your vehicle.

In addition to using synthetic oil, I also use a synthetic “polyester media” oil filter instead of a paper media filter. A polyester filter element can be designed for the task at hand, trapping smaller dirt particles and lasting longer than a natural element like paper. The combination of using a true synthetic oil and a premium synthetic filter allows me to go 20,000 miles or one year in all of my vehicles with zero oil leaks.

There are many rumors out there about using synthetic oil in your vehicle, such as not being able to mix it with petroleum based oil, it makes your engine leak or that it’s no better than regular oil. None of this is true, but in my experience people believe what they want to believe. We embrace technology in almost every part of our lives, so why not do the same with our vehicles’ oil.

In addition to the above, vehicle manufacturers are using synthetic oil to help them meet the higher EPA ratings. Synthetic oil has more lubricity than conventional, so it provides increased fuel economy and less internal wear of components.

My Toyota Tundra is over 14 years old, and the engine looks and runs like the day I drove it off the lot. The day I purchased my truck I drained the “brand new” oil and replaced it with a true synthetic oil and polyester filter. The results speak for themselves.

If you like this idea of saving time and money and want to make the switch, I make all my purchases at this Amsoil website. Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of options. They have a convenient “Vehicle Lookup” button at the top to help.

You can also reach out to me at [email protected], and I will be happy to help you select the appropriate products. I can also tell you how to save some money on your purchase. When I find a good thing, I want to share it with others, and to date I have helped hundreds of vehicles run more efficiently and save their owners money every year.

If you’re not ready to make the switch to synthetics in your vehicle, you can just look up the scheduled service interval in your owner’s manual and service your vehicle accordingly, probably between 6,000 and 8,000 miles with conventional oil. Whatever you choose, I hope you no longer buy into the misleading messaging that promotes the necessity of the 3,000-mile oil change. The industry has preyed upon the driving public for far too long. I aim to change that, even if it’s just with one oil change a year. I hope you join me.

Written by ZAK ANDEREGG.

Anderegg opened Utah’s first full scale do-it-yourself repair shop in 2009 in Salt Lake City, which was featured on numerous local TV networks. He has also worked with several businesses to help them reduce expenses and improve vehicle longevity through the use of synthetic lubricants and filters. Anderegg currently owns a mobile ATV/UTV service business in St. George. Feel free to reach out with questions about using synthetics in your vehicles and equipment or other questions related to the care and feeding of your vehicle. He can be reached at [email protected].

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

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  • sheepobserver January 5, 2019 at 8:31 am

    I’ve never had an internal engine mechanical problem in my life. I’ve been a proponent of 10,000 plus oil changes my whole life using conventional oil (NON synthetic). Put 300k on one car and sold it running great, 240k on another and sold it running great, currently have 180k on my daily driver, and it’s running great. I haven’t been driving much in the last four or five years, and put less than 7k miles on per year now. I haven’t changed the oil in the 4cyl 4Runner (180k miles) in about two years or so.

    I grew up next to a car mechanic and he scoffed at the idea of people changing their oil at less than 10,000 miles. He had an old Mercedes with 500k miles on it.

    I also re-purpose my used motor oil as chain lube on my well used mountain bikes. Works great, lasts longer than any other oil I’ve used for a bike chain, and I seem to get the same amount of wear on the gears/chain as any of the more expensive lubes I used when I was younger. (one thing, I do often have a nice big black chain ring mark on my right calf when I rest against it, lol)
    I also oil my swamp cooler bearings with the used oil…….and a whole lot of other things…….

    • Comment January 5, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      I went thru a phase where I was trying to make use of used motor oil in similar ways. Oiling motorcycle chains was one. I decided new oil was cheap enough that in wasn’t worth dealing with the black crap that gets flung off the chains. And it just doesn’t take much oil to lube chains. I haven’t found many practical uses for it. I’d be curious what other things you’ve done w/ it.

      • sheepobserver January 5, 2019 at 6:37 pm

        Well, Comment, now that you’ve called me out on it…….

        I guess I don’t use it for “a whole lot of other things” as I wrote. Maybe just a few random things other than the bike chain (which I do use it on quite often……every third ride or so), and the occasional lube of the swamp cooler bearings. lol

        I know I’ve used it on squeaky door hinges which aren’t too common, and a long time ago when I lived in the Sierras, I used to use it in my chain saw for bar/chain lube. I know I used it mixed with acetone to loosen bolts on an old Jeep’s a while back too, but again, not that common of a use.

        I wouldn’t use it on a gun, or anything with a lot of value, but it definitely has “lube” qualities that make it worth the NON-effort not to take it down the the gas station to recycle it (if you change your own oil, which I’ve always done).

  • Comment January 5, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Pretty much agree. One important lesson I’ve learned over the years is to be very careful where you get oil changes done. I recommend never ever using the quicky lube chains/franchises. My very elderly father had used jiffy lube for years. They have screwed up simple oil changes numerous times and I’ve finally convinced him not to used them (or any other quicky lube franchises). One time they overfilled the car by over 3 quarts of oil! At least once they didn’t even bother to change the oil! I’ve caught them not bothering to change the oil filter at least once (I put a specific mark on the old one to test this, and sure enough…). Another family member had catastrophic engine failure result from them failing to torque the drain plug properly. On and on the list goes. They are a combination of dishonest and incompetent. It isn’t just Jiffy lube either. It’s the culture of how these quick lube franchises are run.

    Since I’m on the topic, I’m not sure if Big O Tires has cleaned up their act since I was last in there a few years ago. But the last time I dealt with them they were dishonest to the point of criminal fraud. Maybe they are capable of selling and mounting tires w/o cooking up scams and fraud schemes, but I’d never trust them for that or any mechanic work.

    I’d be careful about taking this oil longevity to extremes also, esp with non-synthetic. I’d go with what the service manual recommends. I’ve seen more than one engine that smoked because the owners failed on timely oil changes. The oil turned black and sludgy, wore down the rings, and once a car begins to smoke that engine is worn out.

    And most newer cars require 0w-20 which is almost always synthetic from what i’ve seen. That’s another thing quick lube shops have been know to do is put in improper viscosities. Quite often they’ll dump in 5w-30 in place of 0w-20 because it’s non-synthetic and cheaper. Not a good idea.

  • tazzman January 5, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    True. Most news cars today don’t require 3k oil changes. That is the dealerships and smaller quickie franchises selling car owners on more changes the necessary.
    I usually go 5-7k. Works for me. Car still runs good with 270k on it.

  • Mike P January 6, 2019 at 10:35 am

    I’m an “old school” certified mechanic so I’m not going to get into this “how often” subject but I will comment on the “quick change” places. I believe the one (most important) reason these places have so many issues and cause so many problems is the high turnover of employees. They bring in “trainees” (so they can pay low trainee wages) that just don’t know ANYTHING about vehicles, let alone oil changes. If you regularly bring your vehicle to one of these places, I bet you would be hard pressed to find ANY of the same employees that were there the last time you came in. Just sayin’.

  • Uncle Rico January 6, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    The car dealer I purchased my Korean made vehicle from likes to pull the “void your warranty” card if you don’t get your car serviced by them. That is a good way to stop a second buy imo.

    • Comment January 6, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      That’s commonly what I’ve heard about hyundai’s 10yr/100,000 mile deal. If it sounds too good to be true… But I’ve heard they’ll hunt for any excuse not to pay for major repairs thru warranty, “Your engine is knocking you say? oops, sorry sir, but you missed your 20,000mi air freshener service. You’re warranty is now void. Better luck next time”.

  • Comment January 6, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    I disagree, Michael. I believe it is the “secret” policy of these places to try to sell as many extras and services as possible, whether it’s needed or not: radiator flush, oil system flush, wipers, radiator caps, etc… I’m not sure what else they typically sell right off hand. And claiming you need certain services when you don’t is fraudulent in it’s own right. Yes, employee turnover is extremely high also. I’ve got the impression from some of them that these were people who just got out of rehab or prison/jail. When you pay rock bottom garbage wages you don’t get real mechanics of any kind (or even honest, quality employees in their case).

    As I stated above how Jiffy Lube failed to change the oil filter–what was very unusual is what they did with the one already installed, so it wasn’t a case of it simply being overlooked by a scatter-brained $8/hr employee. They went in there and cranked the thing on incredibly tight–insanely tight. You know how I know they did this: because I was the one who installed it. I was relieved to discover that they hadn’t damaged the threads to the post or the gasket surface after I finally got the thing off with a pair of channel locks, and it was not easy.

    So for those of you taking your cars into these quicky lube chains, with your $20 “basic oil change” coupon or whatever, keep in my that you are rolling the dice as to what they are actually doing to your car. And I’ve even had a dealership screw up an oil change. It was Stephen wade chrysler/dodge/fiat. Maybe they had forgotten to bring their brains that day–left them at home. smh, idiots.

    • Mike P January 6, 2019 at 3:10 pm

      Agreed comment. My favorite is the “Brake Fluid” flush and replace. I almost @#$% my pants laughing the first time I saw that one. As far as the Hyundai warrantee thing. I believe, BY LAW, they can’t pull that crap any more if you can prove you you’ve done all recommended service RELATED to the issue. They can’t legally blame oil consumption on the fact you didn’t replace wiper blades. So, even if you did the service yourself and you kept the receipts, it will stand up in court because it’s law. Don’t let the dealer pull a fast one! cuz they will certainty try. I’m a bit surprised about the warrantee issue people have had with Hyundai and Kia. My experience with this Korean car manufacturer has been positive and the FACTORY has always stood behind their product even if the dishonest dealership doesn’t.

      P.S. No, I never worked for Hyundai , but I still follow what’s going on in the industry

      • Comment January 6, 2019 at 4:19 pm

        Yeah, I haven’t looked into it in awhile, but I did hear they were extremely stringent with records in regard to warranty work. If you changed your own oil it could void your warranty, so what people were doing was buying whatever kind of fancy premium oil they wanted to use and they’d have some small private shop do the change. Or I guess they’d have jiffy lube do it, etc. But the point is YOU HAD TO HAVE A RECORD FROM AN ACTUAL AUTO SHOP of the service. If you just showed them the receipt from a jug of oil you bought or something they could void you. The laws forbid them from requiring all services at Hyundai, otherwise they would. To some extent I don’t blame them for being so stringent, as 10yr/100k is a hella long time. And the things people are able to do to cars, boy oh boy… And the things places like Jiffy lube and big-o-tires are able to do to cars… I mostly do my own maintenance on my cars, because I have had so many crap experiences with supposed “auto technicians”. The car repair industry is one shady-as-hell industry these days. It’s a shame.

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