Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Learning Corner" - Part One

Vanessa asked me to come up with a blog post idea, so I decided to go with what I know. Basically my intent is for people to know why something needs to be done,  the basic idea of how something works, and ways to do it so they can save money, make informed decisions, and hopefully have less stress about technology and homes. She named this segment The Learning Corner hosted by (me) Stephen Waters. 

The first area that I’m going to concentrate on is your car.  This is one of if not the most expensive things that you own and is most likely to have problems due to its complexity and all the moving parts.  Proper maintenance is key to saving money in the long run and to keep it on the road and out of the shop.  Later I will also cover some normal repairs that you can attempt yourself or you can be familiar with them so you can make educated decisions when your car is in the shop.

One of the most important and the most common maintenance item is engine oil.  Changing your oil regularly is key to keep your engine running properly and reducing wear.  The reason oil needs to be changed primarily is that it gets dirty.  Carbon and water from combustion collect in the oil creating wear particles and acid that wear down and eat away and the surfaced of the engine.  Changing the oil at normal intervals and using the proper oil helps to keep things in your engine clean and protected.  I will discuss two main points when it comes to engine oil, change intervals, and oil types.   Obviously this is a lot of info so take away what you want from it.  I’m not intending everyone to become an expert but this info can be helpful so you know why you are doing this and not just because someone told you to.

Oil Types:

When either buying oil or taking your car in to get changed you will probably see three types of oil: Standard/Regular, Synthetic Blend, and Full Synthetic.   

·       Regular oil is made from refined crude oil and has detergents added to it to reduce dirt and water build up.  This is good oil for shorter change intervals and is usually the cheapest of the three types.

·       Full Synthetic is oil made typically from compounds other than crude oil to form the lubricant.  Sometimes they can be synthesized from components of crude.  This oil is more resistant to higher pressure and temperatures.  Also many manufacturers put in more detergents to extend the time between changes.  If your owner’s manual specifies oil changes longer than 5,000 miles or you have a light that tells you when to change your oil you will need to use synthetic.

·       Synthetic Blend is a combination of regular oil and synthetic oil.  It was intended to give extra protection while saving money.   Honestly there isn’t a whole lot of benefit in using it unless you want a little extra protection in a towing or heavy use vehicle without spending the money on synthetic.

Change Intervals:

By far the most common that people know is every 3 months or 3,000 miles.  This interval became common in the 1960’s and 1970’s when all cars became equipped with oil filters from the factory and more modern and durable engine designs became popular.  For older cars running conventional oil this is still a good idea.  Modern cars have better engine designs and can usually stretch the interval to 5,000 miles on conventional oil unless you are hard on your car or tow. 

If you are running synthetic in a newer car your interval can be anywhere from 7,500 to 15,000 miles.  This is usually specified in your owner’s manual.  When going longer between changes it is never a good idea to use regular oil and you must use synthetic.  This means those $20 oil change specials you may see around town are not for you.  In my opinion 15,000 miles is very long time between changes and suggest going no longer than 10,000.  Frequently these longer intervals are suggested by manufacturers that cover the oil changes for the first few years so they can claim they cover maintenance but save money.

Other Info:

As far as brands go you will hear a lot of opinion and marketing on this.  Really if you are getting your oil changed regularly and consistently it doesn’t matter.

Viscosity or weight (i.e.: 10W30) is how thick the oil is.  Refer to your manual or a sticker under the hood to find out what is suggested for your car and stick to it.  Most older vehicle require 10W30 and most newer vehicles require 5W20 or 5W30.  It is important to use the suggest weight for proper protection.  Too thin for your engine and parts start to rub together and wear out very quickly.

A good tip to prolong the oil life and keep it clean is to avoid short trips, especially in the winter time.  Warming the car up to the normal temperature and driving around boils off any water or condensation in the oil reducing acid buildup.  This does not mean letting your car sit and idle for 15 minutes before leaving because this doesn’t actually help much and can actually lead to more wear and tear on the engine. 

Stephen and Sherry - 1985 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser
(For people who don't speak car and driver:
an awesome station wagon)

See you next time for a "how to" on changing the oil on your car.


(Addendum: James says this segment needs to be "SIY: Stephen It Yourself.")

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