In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.
(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)
While every car is different, most cars need a change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. There’s a little debate here because officially the best way to know how often for your car is to consult the owner’s manual. However, many car owners feel that the manual will recommend it more often than it needs, wasting your money and time.
Here are some signs you’ve waited too long:
- Drop in fuel economy
- Sluggish engine performance
- Drop in oil level
- Louder than usual engine noise
- Black or gritty appearance when you check the dipstick
What happens if don’t change it often enough? The penalty starts with reduced fuel economy, so you’re not really saving money by putting it off too long. Then increased engine wear, which is the beginning of an expensive penalty phase. Eventually, your engine can seize which is the car equivalent of turning it into a brick.
First, locate your dipstick. Who are we kidding? First, locate your owner’s manual. If you bought used and didn’t get one, search used bookstores, online markets like craigslist, or thrift stores for your exact manual. If you can’t find one, you can search for free PDF versions online and download it to your smartphone.
WITH THE CAR OFF! Grab a rag, locate your dipstick, pull it out and wipe it off. Reinsert it, then pull it out again. You want to make sure the reading you get is when the oil has had a chance to settle back down since it can run higher on the stick when the engine is on. The stick will have clearly marked, or more often, nearly impossible to see cryptic markings that let you know if there is enough oil. Quantity is just one aspect. Check the color. It should be a light honey color. If its black your car is about to die. If its pink, someone put the wrong fluid in and you’ve got big problems.
Once you’ve checked your own fluids a few times over a couple months, comparing it to what your owner’s manual says, you should be able to decide if you agree with your manual or not.
Since the theme of this post is EDC we’d be remiss if we didn’t include some kind of hack or tip. Consider making a quarterly car maintenance schedule and putting it on your calendar. Simply scan forward in your google calendar (or whatever you use) and put in a reminder to get your oil changed every three to four months. Get your tires rotated every oil change just to be safe. You may well want to consider buying some kind of service package for these services so that you aren’t tempted to skip taking proper care of your vehicle.
One caveat. If you’re going to take a long trip, run through a pre-trip maintenance which could mean moving your oil change up a little.