A Guide to Using Oil Correctly for Your Vehicle

Whether you’re driving a new car, an old truck, or a middle-aged motorcycle, if your engine uses gasoline or diesel, oil is essential to keep moving parts running smoothly. A lot of advice is out there on how often you should check your oil get it changed, but there isn’t a lot of information about how to use it correctly. That might sound silly, but hear us out — experts talk about what you should do to keep your car running, but not what happens when something goes wrong.

Let’s take a look at how to use oil for your vehicle correctly, and answer a few of the most commonly asked questions.

Checking Your Owner’s Manual
When you’re looking for information about what type of oil to use, how much will fit in your engine and how often you should change it, you’re in luck — you can find everything in one place. Open your glove compartment and pull out your owner’s manual.

This spot is also where you’re able to debunk the three months, 3,000-mile myth that was standard for oil changes for decades. Modern engines and oil can last much longer between changes. Depending on the make and model of your car, and the oil your manufacturer recommends, you may be able to drive up to 15,000 miles between changes.

Using oil, in general, is relatively simple, but there are a few things that you might overlook. Do you know when you should check it? Here’s a hint — it’s not after you’ve driven it for a while. The best time to get an accurate idea of your vehicle’s oil level is to look when your engine is cold, and you park it on a level surface.

Of course, make sure you reference your owner’s manual for this because some manufacturers recommend you warm the engine up before you check the oil, but that is on a case-by-case basis.

Can You Change Your Oil Too Often?
No, you can’t change your oil too often. It won’t ever hurt your engine to change the oil and filter more than recommended. It doesn’t have any benefits, but it won’t damage anything, either.

What it will hurt is your wallet and the planet’s ever-dwindling supply of oil. The United States uses more than 19 billion barrels of oil every single day, and the absolute newest batch formed during the Cenozoic age, which happened nearly 65 million years ago. That’s right — the oil in your car formed millions of years ago, which means it’s a finite resource and will eventually run out.

If you’re putting fresh oil in your car every month or couple of weeks, you’re wasting money and hurting the planet.

How Many Miles Can an Oil Filter Last?
The number of miles an oil filter lasts will depend on two things — your car and how long it’s been between changes. When you refresh your oil, you should also take the time to replace the filter. These little cylinders trap any dirt, sludge, or other contaminants that might make their way into your fluid. You don’t want these things to travel to your engine, because over time, they can cause damage.

Manufacturers recommend you replace the filter anywhere from every 3,000 to 15,000 miles — it depends entirely on your vehicle. However, none can go 50,000 miles without a replacement. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an expensive hunk of unmoving metal.

What Should You Do If Your Dipstick Gets Stuck?
What should you do if you check your oil in the morning, only to find that your dipstick seized in place and no amount of pulling, twisting, cajoling, or cursing will coax it free? It’s more common than you might think. Usually, it happens when the heat of the engine causes the plastic of the handle to warp or melt to the tube. It can even cause the tube to deform, making it impossible to remove the stick.

If this becomes a problem, do not try to brute-force it out. If you do, you run a very high risk of breaking the dipstick tube off at the block and causing a nasty oil leak. If it’s stuck, try to coax the stick loose gently. If that isn’t possible, follow the tube down and see how it’s attached to the block.

Your best course of action might be to remove the tube entirely and try to separate the two pieces. If you can get them apart without breaking them, you can reinstall them. If they break once you’ve removed them, you can replace one or both pieces. If you’re not confident in your ability to work on your engine, this is a job better left for a professional.

How to Use Oil in Your Vehicle Correctly
Changing your oil is part of maintaining an engine, but it’s essential to make sure you’re doing things correctly. That includes oil and filter change frequencies, among other steps. Don’t let this process scare you away from working on your car. You might be surprised how much money you can save by getting under the hood and getting your hands dirty.

Scott Huntington is an automotive writer from central Pennsylvania. Check out his work at Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Photo attribution: Frettie, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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