Engine Oil and Filter Maintenance

We all look forward to summer weather, vacations and weekend getaways. Many of us go to special lengths to make sure we look great in that new swimsuit, but often, we don’t take the steps necessary to ensure that our cars are ready to keep up with our summer travel plans.

There are a number of things to check, replace, clean and maintain in order to get your car or truck ready for warm weather driving. Among the most important items on the maintenance list are the oil and oil filter.

This may not be the most exciting part of preparing for that relaxing drive to a vacation or getaway spot, but paying attention to these details might make the difference between a great family trip and a frustrating loss of precious time off.

Simply put, oil keeps your engine parts working smoothly and efficiently. Oil helps keep your engine cool and keeps friction to a minimum. The hot, long miles of summertime driving can put an inordinate amount of strain on your engine, and summertime is when your vehicle is more likely to overheat.

Your car’s owner’s manual probably suggests that you change the oil at least every 7,500 miles or so. Some manufacturers and many mechanics and oil change specialists recommend a change every 3,000 miles or three months, whichever comes first. Before embarking on a long vacation drive you should check your last oil change date, mileage, and oil level.

Your owner’s manual will also provide information on the preferred type of oil for your specific model.

Automotive motor oil is available in both conventional and synthetic blends and in two grades. Single grade motor oil is distinguished by an SAE (Society of American Engineers) rating which is often referred to as "weight". The higher the SAE number, the more heat resistant the oil is. SAE30 and SAE40 are the most commonly used single grade oils. Multi-grade oils are identified by two double digit numbers separated by a "W" as in 10W40. Multi-grade oils are designed to perform well in both extreme hot and cold temperatures.

Conventional motor oil is simply a byproduct of the refining process applied to crude oil. Conventional motor oil is less expensive and typically deteriorates more quickly than synthetic motor oils. Conventional motor oil also emits higher levels of pollutants than synthetics.

Synthetic motor oils are more expensive than conventional motor oils because synthetics are comprised of chemical compounds known as polyalphaolefins, or PAO. Synthetic motor oils are cleaner than conventional motor oils and retain their viscosity under demanding operating conditions and temperature extremes.

Checking the oil yourself is simple. First, make sure your vehicle is sitting on level ground. Run the engine for a few minutes to ensure an accurate reading. During idle times, engine oil collects in the oil pan and can cause your oil level to appear low. After your engine has idled for a few minutes, turn it off. Remove the dipstick to check the appearance, smell and feel of the oil on the dipstick. If the oil has a strong smell like burned rubber, it may be an indication that it needs to be replaced. Make sure the oil isn’t too thick or dark in color. The oil may appear lighter or darker and have a thicker consistency depending on the age of your car and the mileage on the odometer and how long it has been since your last oil change. It should have a slick or slippery feeling when rubbed between your index finger and thumb. Check to make sure there is no visible debris present in the oil on the dipstick. After performing a visual inspection, thoroughly wipe the dipstick using a clean cloth or paper towel making sure that no cloth or paper fibers become attached to the dipstick. Next, return the dipstick into the dipstick tube. Make sure that the dipstick is fully inserted into the tube to ensure an accurate reading. Pull the dipstick from the tube once more and check to see if the oil level is within the acceptable range indicated by tiny marks etched into the dipstick. What you see on the dipstick will tell you if you need to top off your oil with another quart or change the oil completely. It’s always a good idea to change the oil filter whenever you change the oil.

Remember to recycle your car’s oil and filter if doing the job yourself. Recycling ensures that groundwater and local streams are not polluted with petroleum products. Place the old oil in an empty recyclable plastic container and the oil filter in a plastic bag (after letting it drain). Take both to your local recycling facility or oil change service station.

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