Thurston Car Talk: Oil Life Monitors


Submitted by Bron at Bron’s Automotive

This week’s article will be a short one but is more important than you can imagine.  Engine damage can result from not reading and understanding what I am about to say!  The typical interval between services for your engine, (also referred to as an oil and filter change), is 3 months or 3,000 miles.  If you get on the freeway for at least 20 minutes every day, it’s fine to wait 5,000 miles between services, as the extended time running at full temperature helps keep the oil pure.

In recent years carmakers have started to use the cars on-board computer to monitor driving habits and times and provide an oil life indicator.  The theory is that you just wait until the oil life monitor tells you to change oil.  I have read articles by “experts” saying consumers should follow these monitors, and save money by not following the tried and true 3 months or 3,000 miles.  While I do agree that modern oils are much improved and will last longer, we have noticed a disturbing trend.

While the oil life monitors will let you drive up to 10,000 miles before telling you to change oil, they forgot to take into consideration that all engines use oil at a certain rate.  My wife’s car for instance, has had the oil changed religiously every 3,000 miles and at 175,000 miles on it, uses only a half quart of oil in 3,000 miles.  (I don’t even check oil level in between services because I know this.)

This is not true of all engines.  Let’s say that your car consumes a quart every 2,000 miles. This means that if you adhere to the old 3,000 mile rule you will be about a quart and a half low when you come in to service your vehicle.  (Most carmakers will tell you that oil consumption of one quart in 1,000 miles is acceptable.) Most modern engines hold 5 to 6 quarts of oil total.  What we are seeing happen with increased frequency, is that while customers have been educated to wait until the oil life monitor says to service the vehicle, they have not been taught how important it now is to learn to check their oil level regularly!

Imagine an engine that has a capacity of 6 quarts, that uses a quart in 2,000 miles.  If you follow the oil life monitor, (but neglect to check your oil level), you will only have one quart left in it after 10,000 miles. One quart out of 6 = expensive engine damage.  Unfortunately we are seeing this occur more often.

At Bron’s Automotive, we are believers at looking at your vehicle more frequently.  We perform a quick courtesy inspection every time your car is in and it is not uncommon to find things like a nail in a tire resulting in low pressure, a burned out bulb, a battery on it’s last legs, low windshield washer fluid, or something else that would cost less to attend to sooner rather than later.

If you do choose to follow the oil life indicator, please start checking your oil level regularly!  If you need to know how, feel free to stop by and we will be happy to teach you real quick.  Thanks, Bron

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