Getting the oil changed in your vehicle is a routine part of automotive maintenance. It’s also critical, so it’s best not to leave anything to doubt. Here are answers to common questions about the job.
How often do you really need an oil change?
As technology evolves, so do maintenance standards. Many of us have heard that we should change the oil every three months or 3,000 miles. But while that may have been true for your grandpa’s Gremlin, with modern vehicles, it no longer applies, says Jarrett Kerrigan, auto repair manager for AAA Northern California.
The real answer is that it all depends on your vehicle’s make and model. “Some new vehicles only require a change in engine oil every 10,000 miles,” Kerrigan says, while older vehicles might call for more frequent intervals. The guidelines you should follow are printed in your vehicle’s service manual. Changing the oil more frequently than what’s recommended won’t do any harm, but it’s an unnecessary expense.
What does it mean when the oil light comes on?
There are actually two lights to consider, Kerrigan says. The first is a small red oil light that looks like an oil can with a drip. This indicator is designed to come on when the vehicle has low oil pressure. Low oil pressure is a problem because it prevents the oil from moving through small passages to provide lubrication to the engine parts that need it. Low oil pressure is usually a sign that your oil is either filled too high or too low. It may also be a sign that you have high oil consumption, which can point to other problems. If this light comes on, Kerrigan says to “pull over and check your oil ASAP.”
The second light or indicator is a maintenance light. It is designed to appear based on the mileage you have driven, usually corresponding to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. However, in many cases, it may indicate that your vehicle needs more than an oil change. If you see this light, bring your vehicle to a trusted auto repair shop to get it checked.
Are there other signs you might need an oil change?
Oil will become darker as it runs through an engine, so changes in color aren’t always a clue that it’s time for a change. But if the oil is dark and gritty, then it’s likely picking up dirt and other particles, which prevents the oil from doing its job properly.
A common perception is that old or dirty oil can reduce fuel efficiency and affect other aspects of your vehicle’s performance. But according to Randy Tinsley, an auto service manager with AAA Arizona, there is no hard evidence that this is true. “If there is proof that it has any impact on your gas mileage, I haven’t seen it,” Tinsley says. Kerrigan agrees.
Any other impact on performance, such as reduced horsepower, is likely to go unnoticed by the average driver. And besides, Kerrigan notes, “if it gets to that point, you may have already done damage to your vehicle.” The bottom line, he says, is that it’s important to be vigilant and keep a close watch on your oil, “because it’s better to be safe than sorry.”