By Douglas Flint
TIN MAN (in a squeaky, raspy voice): Oil can, oil can…
DOROTHY: Did you say something?
TIN MAN: Oil can…
DOROTHY: He said oil can!
SCARECROW: Oil can what?
And in that great tradition of vaudeville humor, the Scarecrow managed to ask the question of the ages, “Oil can what?”
I hate to see things go backwards. After 25 years of industry work to get and keep Northern Virginia car owners on regular oil change schedules, I open my internet homepage and see, “Consumers waste hundreds of dollars every year on unnecessary oil changes.” Think about that for a minute. Suppose the headline said, “Airlines waste tens of millions of dollars each year on unnecessary inspections of hydraulic systems.” After all, they hardly ever find anything wrong, and even if there was a small leak, the plane would probably keep flying, right?
So I guess if you manage to figure out the very last possible moment to bring your car in for auto service at Burke and get an oil change before engine wear or damage occurs, you could cut maybe two oil changes a year and save $70 to $100 dollars – against the potential damage or destruction of the second largest investment in most people’s lives, their car. Come to think of it, the way the housing market has gone, the car may be number one in many parts of the country.
So what is driving this great reversal of common sense?
Nothing lasts forever.
The car manufacturers have, to their credit, made great strides in the quality and longevity of their product. Where in my day, when a car reached 80 to 100,000 miles you either unloaded the car or got ready for a major repair, a modern car has a 200,000 mile lifecycle, and many go much farther.
But the manufacturers want to project a very low cost of maintenance, and really don’t much care about the second hundred thousand miles. So drivers in Burke VA, Clifton VA and Fairfax Station VA stretch oil change and maintenance intervals to the breaking point.
And it’s not just oil. Some manufacturers now claim their transmission fluid lasts forever, with no need to ever change or even check it. Many have thrown away the dipstick lest you get any ideas about looking at this magic fluid. But the truth is, even though things are better and may last a little longer, the risk of damage invites my favorite question from a movie — “Do you feel lucky?”
Based on a True Story.
(My car tells me when it needs an oil change.)
An owner of a late-model Honda came in our auto service shop in Burke VA complaining of a rattling noise. There were no warning lights on, but a pretty obnoxious rattle that came and went. I tried to get him to leave it to have it checked but he really couldn’t, and promised to come in the next week. He was back three days later. The noise had grown more persistent with a flickering red oil warning light.
The technician checking it called me out and showed me a bone-dry dipstick. It took 3 quarts to get it to register on the stick, but it still was low. The customer was aghast. His Oil Life Index that was supposed to tell him when he needed an oil change still showed 25% oil life remaining. What oil? What life? We cleaned out the remaining sludge and changed the oil with full synthetic and it seemed okay, but we don’t know.
So please understand that those indicators that are supposed to tell you your oil’s condition and when you need an oil change do not check oil pressure, oil level, and they do not have oil condition sensors. They just work on mathematical calculation based on miles driven, hours of operation, and approximate engine load. So please do not count on them.
Let’s be real.
Very few people even bother to check their oil level once a month anymore. I understand. I hate doing it on my own car. So isn’t it worth it to – every 3 months or so – have a competent auto service mechanic at not only change the oil and filter, but seriously look the car over to make sure nothing is out of sorts? If that’s too much, go full synthetic and extend your interval to 5,000 miles, but not a yard more.
You’re busy, you’ve got a life to live, a job to get to, and a family to take care of. Our life is taking care of your car.