Oil change? Not so fast!

Fewer oil changes saves money!
Experts now recomend you change your oil only every 7500 miles. photo by Matt Wright, 2007

We all know that oil changes are hugely important to the life of our car or truck's engine. No matter what type of vehicle you drive, there's always an oil change on the horizon. A new car needs oil changes just as often as an older vehicle in most cases, so there's no science it figure out when it comes to this very important piece of regular maintenance. Or is there? Like anything that has to do with science, or cars for that matter, there are lots of opinions being passed around.

There has long been debate about how often you really need to change your car's oil. Of course, big oil companies and the brand names that ride that greasy wave would probably rather you do it weekly, but the 5000-mile interval between oil changes seemed to stick. Who were we to argue? They used chemists and physicists to come up with that number.

While we could debate endlessly over whether their motivations were monetary or metallurgical, the question of oil change frequency has loomed since Stoopid-Lube invented those little stickers for our windshields. Finally, we're being offered an ounce of clarity for our quarts. Ford recently increased its official service interval between oil changes from 5000 to 7500 miles. You may not consider the Ford Motor Company to be the end-all authority on engine care, but considering how safe they're forced to play things, I consider this announcement a huge stride.

Hopefully other auto makers will follow.

Was it a scam all along? No! At least I very seriously doubt it. But the original oil change figures were come up with quite some time ago, and both engines and engine oils have changed for the better since then. Newer oil formulas can reach insane temperatures without breaking down, and the newer detergent additives in oil continue to reduce build-up inside your engine.

 

One of the biggest changes to happen in the engine oil realm was the introduction of synthetic oil formulations to the common market. I say introduction to the common market because synthetic oil has been around for a very long time. But earlier synthetic oil formulas didn't have the ability to offer protection against low viscosity over a long period of time. If your engine oil's viscosity starts to break down, the oil loses its ability to lubricate and protect the moving parts inside from damaging each other. When this happens, your engine will start to machine itself into a giant boat anchor. When synthetics did develop to the point of being able to protect an engine at high temperature for an extended period of time, they were cost prohibitive. This meant that NASA and Formula One racing was diving into the synthetic oil market with both feet, where you and I were starting at a $12 quart of oil in the 1980s wondering why the stuff was even invented. The greatest thing about synthetic oils are their ability to remain stable and lubricating over a very long cycle of life. If the oil in your engine is clean, a synthetic will easily last many thousands of miles. Toyota now recommends a 10,000 mile interval between oil changes on some of its vehicles.

This would have been unheard of years ago!

The introduction of these long oil change intervals is surely cause for celebration, at least for those of us that have to spend an hour in a waiting room or underneath our vehicles to get the job done. It's not because we don't want to change our oil, but we're elated because now we can wait longer - guilt free - and save money! Now we have to worry about whether to pay extra for synthetic oil or stick with the "dinosaur" oil. The world of auto maintenance and repair is never simple, is it?