Changing the oil in a vehicle can extend the life of its engine and potentially delay costly repairs -- especially with today's high performance automotive technology, which typically requires the services of highly trained automotive technicians.
However, routine oil changes are but one part of a comprehensive maintenance strategy that can help drivers keep their cars on the road well past 200,000 miles before they need to schedule a major overhaul at a service shop. Following these ten steps may increase the service life of an engine and possibly defray other routine service expenses.
10 steps to keeping your car on the road
Mike Robbins, shop foreman at Dynamic Diesel in Sparks, Nev., is an ASE certified mechanic and a General Motors Master Certified Technician. Robbins gives these five important tips for increased engine life.
- Maintenance. Don't ever delay on regularly scheduled service. "People who maintain their vehicles and follow proper maintenance intervals get the most out of their vehicles," Robbins says. "Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance -- I can't stress it enough."
- Ignore dealer recommendations for longer service intervals. Vehicles with high performance automotive technology standards can operate for 5,000 miles or more before a recommended oil change, but that's under "normal" operating conditions. The vast majority of vehicles operate in "extreme" operating conditions, such as very cold or hot climates or in mountainous areas. He recommends changing the oil every 3,000 miles. "Oil keeps that engine alive," Robbins says. "If it starts to get weak it takes its toll."
- Back off the gas. A heavy foot is one of the quickest ways to shave life off a motor. Robbins likens "normal driving conditions" to an elderly person who drives slowly to the grocery store and to church. Drivers may love the zippy performance of their vehicles, but fast miles often are the hardest miles on an engine.
- Put some miles on it. Cars need to be driven to keep them running at optimal performance. "Vehicles that never get driven don't warm up to proper operating temperature and blow out the exhaust," Robbins says. "They need some freeway miles -- it helps keep things clean."
- Change the coolant. Oil and transmission fluid aren't the only vital fluids running through an automobile. Changing the coolant can help keep the engine cooler, and fresh fluid has important additives that keeps seals soft and pliable. "When coolant is old it can't protect those seals," Robbins says. "Have it checked once a year or have a drain and fill."
- Use recommended fluids. SAE 30 oil may be fine in older vehicles, but today's engines require oil with a lower viscosity rating, such as a 5 or 10. The "W" following the oil's viscosity rating means it is intended for cold-weather starting conditions.
- Find a reliable mechanic. Good mechanics know the small but vital details important to keeping any given type of vehicle running at optimal performance. There's no substitute for quality maintenance and repair work from a reliable shop.
- Keep tires inflated and rotated. Properly inflated tires increase gas mileage, reduce the risk of a flat and generally cut down on unnecessary wear and tear.
- Pay attention to gauges and warning lights. Engine temperature, oil pressure and other gauges on a car help drivers sense if something is amiss. Promptly address any fluctuations with gauge readings, especially the "check engine" light.
- Lighten up. Don't haul more weight than is necessary. Hauling a heavy trailer uphill is taxing on a motor and can cause premature wear on the engine and transmission. Although many American-made half-ton trucks are rated to haul around 12,000 pounds, that doesn't mean up a twisting, 7-percent grade on the way to the local lake. There is no guarantee any motor can last 200,000 miles or more, but keeping these rules in mind can help drivers extend the service life of their vehicles.