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Oil Change 101 – What Every Driver Needs to Know


The oil change. It’s one of the most essential, cost-effective ways to keep your vehicle in good shape. And with an oil light on your dashboard, it should be easy to take care of your oil changes regularly, right? Yet auto maintenance shops like ours come across many vehicles with damaged or dirty engines because their owners didn’t know what oil to use or waited too long between oil changes. Engine damage caused by dirty or low oil can be costly, far more costly than regular car maintenance.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what type of oil is best for your vehicle, how often you need to change your oil, or whether it matters if you use 5W-20 or 10W-30, we have answers for you. Here are some basic oil care rules that will keep your engine purring.

What does oil do for your car, and why change it?

Oil takes care of your engine in three ways. One, it lubricates the engine so that its parts don’t grind against each other. Without oil, your engine stops working. Two, oil helps keep your engine from overheating. Three, it carries away dirt, dust, and other contaminants that would otherwise clog engine parts. Oil eventually gets too dirty to do what it’s supposed to do, which is why we change it.

How often do I need to get my oil changed?

In general, you should change your oil every 3 months or every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. But it’s important to consider the conditions in which you drive and whether they are extra tough on your car’s engine. If you frequently find yourself in stop-and-go city traffic, drive mostly short distances, idle the car a lot (as at traffic lights) or live in an area prone to dust storms or extreme heat or cold – like Oklahoma – you fit into a category known as “severe driving.” That means your car will need more frequent oil changes to stay in tip-top shape.

What about that dashboard light? Does it really tell me when to change my oil?

Depending on your particular car, that’s a qualified yes. Some vehicles have the dashboard light programmed to come on automatically when you hit 3,000-5,000 miles after your last oil change. But in other cars, particularly older cars, that light might not come on until your engine is already too low on oil. And it doesn’t take into consideration the conditions you drive in. So, it’s best to stick to a regular schedule rather than relying on the dashboard light to clue you in that you need to go to the mechanic.

What do codes like 5W-20 mean? How do I know what to use?

The codes tell you how viscous (thick or thin) the oil is in hot and cold weather. For most cars, you can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations in the owner’s manual to find what viscosity is preferred for your car in which particular conditions you’re driving in. Your mechanic can help answer this question for you in more detail.

What is the difference between conventional, premium, and synthetic oils? And which is right for my car?

The answer lies in what type of car you have. Certain high-tech engines demand synthetic oils, while more mainstream engines can usually handle conventional oils. Premium oils offer extra additives that may be useful for special driving needs. And there are blends that combine synthetic and premium conventional oils, often used for trucks and SUVs. Ask your mechanic for recommendations on what is best for your vehicle.

If you have other questions about how to keep your car happily oiled and in good shape, or if your car is in need of an oil change right now – or any other type of maintenance – The Garage Auto Repair in Broken Arrow is here to help. Call us anytime at (918) 806-2709 or visit our Schedule an Appointment page to fill out an online form to set up your appointment. We look forward to servicing your car with excellence, attention to detail, and a smile.