It’s odd there is one bit of car maintenance that has it’s own speciality industry: The oil change market. It’s been drilled into your head for years that you have to change your oil every 3,000 miles, and most people judiciously spend that 30 minutes in a quicky lube place once every few months doing just that.
But is that the right thing to do? I used to do the same thing, thinking “It’s too hard or messy to change my own oil, plus why not leave it to the pros”. Then I learned they are not pros at all. Most oil change places are staffed by high schoolers or care as much about your car as they do their minimum wage paycheck. Do you want to trust your car’s lifeblood to them?
Type – First, most quick change places use low quality oil, and almost never worry about the proper weight of the oil. If you look inside their garage, there is typically only one or two big vats of 10W-30 motor oil, and one of synthetic. Sometimes they have one or two more, but it’s the rare place that actually does what your manufacturer recommends. While the type of oil is somewhat decided by your climate, the type of engine also comes into play. Most fuel efficient cars want 5W-30, and most luxury cars want full synthetics. Check your owners manual for what you need.
Care – While it seems like a pro should do a better job, they are working on hundreds of cars each day, and it’s easy to make a mistake when speed is valued over quality. I once had them leave the oil cap off before a 4,000 mile road trip. I’ve certainly heard other failures such as loose oil pan screws and filters, or forgetting to put oil in at all.
Upsells – Oil change places also usually try to upsell you on things like air filters, PCV valves and other fluids. While those are all things you should be paying attention to, they are also all things you can do yourself in less than five minutes. Following your manufacturers guide, not what someone is trying to sell you.
Frequency – Oil change places almost always give you a sticker telling you to come back in 3 months or 3,000 miles. You may be surprised to learn that almost every modern car does not need an oil change that often. Again, look to your manufacturer. It’s not uncommon for modern cars to have recommended changes in 7,500 or more miles. Do make sure you are checking your oil though. Many cars have oil leaks, and a frequent oil change ensures there is enough oil in their car. Suddenly stopping this routine could cause serious engine damage. You should be checking your oil at least once a month if not more often.
While I’m sure some of the quick lube places are honest and have the best intentions, read your manual, and use it as a starting point for your cars care. Most of this work is easy to do on your own (find videos on YouTube), and will save you money in the long run.