Of all the maintenance you perform on your vehicle, none will extend its life more than regular oil changes. But, that begs the question, “what is a regular oil change?” Most manufacturers recommend changing the oil somewhere between three and five thousand miles. But, depending on what you drive, and how you drive it, those numbers may actually be far too low. You might be able to get more than twice the recommended mileage, especially if you use synthetic oil. While it never hurts to err on the side of caution, replacing perfectly healthy engine oil three or four times a year doesn’t make sense either. There are several methods to determine if your oil still has enough viscosity.
The simplest method is to visually inspect your oil to determine if it needs changing. Pull the dipstick out, clean it, reinsert it, then pull it out again. Healthy oil looks transparent and amber in color. You should be able to see the dipstick through it. Oil that looks black needs changing. A muddy brown color indicates the presence of water, a potentially serious problem.
High mileage vehicles may burn oil. A low oil warning light usually indicates that you are down at least two quarts and it might be a good time to change the oil, as well.
Although it costs more, synthetic oil can last up to twice as long as traditional oil. It also handles extreme hot and cold climates better, too.
Even if you don’t put many miles on your vehicle, change the oil at least twice a year as motor oil becomes less effective with age. An oil change also removes excess moisture that tends to form in engines that see light use.
With regular inspection, you’ll soon get a sense of your vehicle’s oil life. It may be the same as the manufacturer’s recommendation, but then again, you may be able to save yourself one or two changes a year and hundreds of dollars over the span of your ownership. Not bad for a few minutes of effort every so often.