Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Often Should I Get An Oil Change?

Both drivers and technicians each have ideas about just how long your vehicle can or should go between oil changes, and there is no shortage of rumor on the subject. Although cost is a factor to consider, just how many miles should you put on your engine before getting that oil changed? Will more frequent oil changes positively affect your vehicle's performance? The truth is, there is no set limit, the frequency of oil changes depends entirely on the type of vehicle you drive, how you drive, and the requirements of the engine powering it.

Typically, the factory recommended oil change interval for most vehicles is once a year or every 5,000 to 7,000 miles (whichever comes first). There are some manufacturers who even recommend a lengthy interval of up to 10,000 miles. The generally accepted interval is every 3,000 miles or six months, whichever comes first.

The documentation which accompanies every vehicle normally states somewhere in the fine print that the recommended service interval is for vehicle operation under "ideal operating conditions", but just what are those conditions? As far as driving habits go, what most people would consider normal operation is actually very hard on your engine's oil. Rapid and repeated acceleration is engine oil's worst nightmare, yet generally that is how most cars and trucks are driven today. This is sometimes referred to as severe service driving.

Severe service driving includes, but is not limited to, the following characteristics:

* Sustaining interstate highway speeds during hot weather

* Frequent, short trips of 1-10 miles, particularly during extremely cold or hot weather

* Stop-and-go urban traffic

* Dusty conditions such as dirt and gravel roads, driveways, etc.

From the list above, it can be safely assumed that most of us operate our vehicle in one or more of those conditions, in which case a maximum recommended oil change interval is every 3,000 miles. Many drivers take a more preventative approach and have their oil changed every 3k miles or 6 months regardless of driving habits or vehicle usage. In some cases, however, this can be considered excessive, as newer low-mileage engines normally do not require a new supply of oil that often, especially if it is being driven for 10 miles or more one way and operated mainly on the highway.

Some owners opt for the opposite side of the spectrum and have their oil changed every 7k miles or even more. Some manufacturers which previously recommended more lengthy service intervals have run into problems with sludging, which can lead to very costly repairs. As the mileage of a vehicle's engine increases, the rate of blow-by also increases. Blow-by is the leakage of gases from the combustion cylinder of an engine between the piston and cylinder wall into the crankcase. This phenomenon, over time, will dilute the oil with unburned fuel leading to sludge and acids, and if the oil is not changed often enough it could result in untimely engine failure due to accelerated wear. For vehicles with older engines, and those with high miles, it is recommended that the oil be changed once every 3,000 miles.

Engines using high quality synthetic oil can generally run longer on each oil change, however using synthetic does not necessarily mean that your interval should be drastically lengthened, and the engine manufacturer requirements may vary. High performance engines in many European imports such as BMW and Mercedes using synthetic oil still require a regular oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, and these fine-tuned engines can suffer even greater from delayed service.

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