The world of oil changes: severe driving, oil analysis, and stickers

I’ve read many times that newer cars don’t need oil changes every 3,000 miles. But in an article from the New York Times regarding oil changes and the optimal miles between changes, I learned some additional oil change information including what might be considered severe usage, companies that analyze oil, and how oil change businesses might change their stickers.

-Drivers with severe usage need to change their oil more frequently, roughly around 5,000 miles. And what is considered severe? The kind of driving that many people do: short trips under 10 miles.

The different types of driving are usually known as severe and mild (which is also sometimes called normal), Mr. Sutherland said, which seems counter-intuitive since most of us probably don’t think we drive in severe conditions. But we do.

The reason, he said, is that if you take a trip of less than 10 miles or so, the engine and the oil are not completely warmed up. And if the oil is still cool, he said, it cannot absorb the contaminants that come from internal combustion as efficiently.

-There are companies that analyze car oil for consumers and tell them what is in the oil and then what might be wrong with their car:

[Y]ou can send your engine oil out to be analyzed. Blackstone Laboratories in Fort Wayne, Ind., one of the best-known places for engine oil analysis, will send you a free kit.

You send back an oil sample and for $25, they’ll tell you all sorts of things about your car.

“We would compare what your oil looks like compared to the average Mazda5 of that year,” said Kristen Huff, a vice president at Blackstone. If there is a lot more lead in my oil than in a typical Mazda5, for example, it means I have a bearing problem, she said.

Her lab runs about 150 samples a day and a fair percentage of those are consumers looking to find out how often they need to change their oil, Ms. Huff said.

-Based on these changes in cars, companies like JiffyLube will soon begin using new stickers that leave the mileage between oil change decisions to consumers:

But Jiffy Lube, the largest quick oil change company in North America, is now under pressure to change its automatic 3,000-mile recommendation.

For about a year, the company has run a pilot program with some franchises across the country suggesting that instead of a blanket recommendation, mechanics tell customers what the manufacturer recommends under mild or severe driving conditions.

“By this time next year, every Jiffy Lube will do it,” said Rick Altizer, president of Jiffy Lube International. And the little sticker on your windshield will no longer simply state when the next oil change should occur, but, “I choose to change my oil” at a specific mileage.

“It’s so it’s not some arbitrary technician saying this,” Mr. Altizer said, but the consumer’s decision.

I wonder how many consumers would feel better/more secure if the sticker did say when they should get an oil change. That way, they wouldn’t have to make a decision about a machine they may not feel comfortable around.

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