Q: What is an Oil Change?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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An oil change is one of the most basic aspects of automotive ownership. The motor oil used in a vehicle is essential for the machine's operation. However, the oil becomes ineffective after a while and must be replaced with new, fresh oil. This is accomplished with an oil change. There are some prominent myths about oil changes and when they must occur. There is also some very basic information available to help owners of any car wade through the myths.

An oil change occurs when the drain screw at the bottom of the oil pan is removed. The process takes place over a disposal container to prevent oil waste (and an oily mess on the shop floor). Once the oil is drained, the drain screw is placed back into the car's oil pan and the oil filter is replaced. Next, new oil is poured into the vehicle from an access spout on top of the engine. Some places may recommend replacing other items during an oil change, for example, windshield wipers and air filters, but an oil change is merely the process of removing old oil and oil filter, and putting new oil (and a new oil filter) back into the car. The oil old is disposed of with other mechanical waste.

Failing to replace the old oil can quickly turn into a problem for drivers. As old oil cycles through the engine, it becomes thick, like petroleum sludge. This gets into the engine and can stop the parts from moving. The first signs of a problem are knocking vibrations and sounds coming from the engine. At this point, you can change the oil and maybe do some minor repairs to get the car back in good shape. If you ignore the vibrations and sounds, the next step is a seized engine. A seized engine will not run. The car is essentially useless until a new engine is installed.

One of the most prominent myths about oil changes states that you should change the oil every 3,000 miles that your car runs. However, a car running under normal conditions can run up to 7,500 miles without an oil change. The best oil-change advice on the planet is this: You can determine how many miles your car can run without an oil change by checking the owner's manual. Normal driving conditions means no towing, excessive uphill driving, deep snow driving, or driving in excessive traffic. Changing the oil too often will not damage the vehicle. However, it will lead to excess petroleum waste, which is bad for the environment.

One thing to remember is that, while it is still maintenance, an oil change is not a car tune-up. A tune-up involves spark plugs, cables, and other engine-related parts that go beyond the scope of an oil change.

Your vehicle's owner's manual contains a lot of useful information about oil changes and can help debunk other myths about the process. The manual will tell you whether the car requires synthetic or regular oil. The manual also states which viscosity of oil is needed. So, before going to a car dealership for the oil change or buying supplies to do the job yourself, familiarize yourself with the types of oil and the oil pan location on your car by looking into the owner's manual.

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