What is an Oil Change?

The oil change – The defacto standard of car maintenance. Have you ever heard someone say, “This has been a great car; all I have to do is put gas in it and change the oil.”? Is that true? Why is changing the oil so important, and what about the other fluids in your car?

What about when you take your car to a shop for an oil change, then they tell you it needs X, Y, and Z while you are there? Are they just trying to take advantage of you? Or, do they have your best interests at heart?

First, let’s talk about the word “need.” We say that our car “needs” an oil change, right? What if I told you that most of the time, the oil in your engine is still doing a good job when we drain it and recycle it. Unless you went WAY past the prescribed interval or drive your car exceptionally hard, your oil is still essentially good. So why replace it?

Well, if you waited until your car really “needed” an oil change, then you’d be causing internal engine wear, which is NOT what you want. Clearly, we want to replace the oil BEFORE it is a problem.

Why is it then that we as a society don’t think about replacing other fluids and parts of our cars before they are “needed”? Have you ever heard of someone looking at a sticker on their windshield and saying, “I need to replace my brake fluid,” or “I am overdue to have my shocks and struts replaced”? Often, we don’t fix these items until they cause a noticeable issue with the car or even put us in danger.

Most car manufacturers give us maintenance recommendations in the owners’ manual…but who reads those these days? And tracking all of this seems like a lot of work given our busy lives and higher priorities. We are now seeing electronic maintenance reminders in our cars, giving us more mileage-based recommendations to keep our cars in top shape.

But what about the items that aren’t on the maintenance schedule or in our electronic reminders?

Ideally, you’d have either an annual or semi-annual car check-up, just like you would with a doctor or dentist. But that practice isn’t prevalent in states that don’t require it. Who really wants to go see a mechanic?

Back to that oil change…See, the best mechanics have recognized that an “oil change” is not just an oil change. Yes, we’ll change the oil (preventatively), but we’ll also leverage our experience and training to check out the rest of the car. Remember, unless your car manufacturer has a recommended inspection interval, this might be the only opportunity to catch a small issue before it becomes more significant.

So why are we changing so much oil? Some speculate that oil companies built this “oil change culture” with their deep marketing pockets and desire to sell more oil. A whole economy is built around “quick lube” places that hire lower-wage workers to literally change your oil. This has created an interesting challenge for professional auto mechanics, as it started a price and time war. It has also caused some damage to professional mechanics and consumer confidence at the same time.

First, our oil change price may not always compare directly with a quick-lube business, but the job is discounted to a point where we make little to no money on it.

Second, if a client has been “just getting oil changes” by someone who doesn’t know how to inspect their car, they are in for a real shock when someone shows them their inspection.

Yes, a good mechanic will try to “upsell” any deferred maintenance or looming repair work when you have your oil changed. We view it as our duty to give you this report so that you know what you are driving. We’re not going to pressure you into spending money, but we want to encourage you to make wise decisions that will keep you and your family in a safe and reliable vehicle. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then what is avoiding a cold night on the side of a road worth?

So keep changing your oil at the recommended mileage, but please consider the value of the entire service, not just the cost of draining and filling a fluid.

Written by Reggie Stewart