By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
What if you don’t do your own oil and filter changes? Is there anything you ought to know about beyond how much will it cost — and how soon can they get it done? In a word, yes.
You’re shopping a service, just like any other — and being informed can help you make the best decision for your bottom line and for your car.
Here are some things worth looking into:
What type of oil/filter does your vehicle need?
Even if someone else is going to be doing the work, it’s a good idea to know what type of oil — specifically, its weight (example, 5W-15) and the minimum-acceptable American Petroleum Institute (API) rating for the oil — will be used. Make sure it’s the right oil. And the right filter.
Reason? All oils are not created equal and use of the wrong type, or a type not recommended by the manufacturer, could lead to engine trouble and will most definitely lead to warranty trouble. Most if not all new car warranties are very clear and specific about using only oil (and filters) that meets the manufacturer’s standards. The information will be covered in your owner’s manual, too.
Also: It is just as important to follow the owner’s manual recommendations (and warranty requirements) when it comes to having the automatic transmission fluid/filter changed. Some manufacturers (for example, Honda) are extremely persnickety about this. It’s not worth risking a major failure — one that may not be covered by the warranty — over a $40 lube and filter job.
Who will be doing the work?
The fact is that some — many — quick-lube shops (and some dealerships, too) don’t use trained mechanics to perform what are considered basic procedures, such as oil and filter changes. This is why some of these places can offer such (apparently) great deals on those oil and filter changes. But even though an oil/filter change is a pretty basic job, it’s still an important job — and if it’s not done right, the results can be catastrophic.
Trained mechanics aren’t infallible, of course. But the chances of a trained mechanic making a beginner’s mistake such as stripping the threads of the oil pan drain plug or forgetting to remove the old oil filter’s gasket are less than with a kid who’s “learning as he goes”… very possibly on your car.
So, ask: Are the guys doing the oil/filter changes mechanics? (Have they got ASE certifications?) If not, you might want to take your car elsewhere, even if it ends up costing you a little more.
Make sure you check the work.
Never assume it was done right. Make sure it was done right. Before you leave the place where the work was done, pop the hood and check the dipstick. The oil should be translucent and clean-looking. If it’s black, it wasn’t changed. That’s not likely, but it does happen.
Another thing that does happen is that they added too much — or too little — oil. Reason? Unlike a home DIY job, where you’d pour the oil in one quart at a time, many quick-lube places (and dealers) use a pressure-fill system that pumps the oil into the car. There’s nothing wrong with this; but it is easier to make a mistake.
Too much oil can be just as bad as too little. Make sure the oil level on the dipstick is at the proper fill mark. Check your owner’s manual if it’s not obvious by looking at the dipstick.
Also check for leaks. Look underneath the car — with the engine running — for any signs of drips. If you’re not flexible enough to get down on your hands and knees to do this, just idle the car for a minute, then pull it back a few feet so you can see the pavement underneath where it was just parked.
If you see drips — or worse, a puddle — show the shop manager and request that the car be put back on the lift to find out why there’s a drip. The oil filter may have been overtightened or — much worse — the oil pan drain plug’s threads may have been stripped by an air-gun-wielding grease monkey .