Oil Changes: The Basics

This week I went to a garage in order to have an oil change performed on my Ford Escape. The Escape is equipped with what Ford calls an ”Intelligent Oil-Life Monitor,” basically an engine oil monitoring system that lets you know when you need to perform an oil change. It’s there to help you save money, time, and the environment. According to the owner’s manual, the oil will need to be changed anywhere between 4,800 and 16,000 kilometers, based on different driving characteristics including highway vs. city driving, load towing, idling time, extreme weather operation, and road conditions. These systems are becoming more and more common on new cars. Make sure to check your owner’s manual to see if your car is equipped with one.

After approximately 12,000 kilometers since my previous oil change, the system had not yet indicated that an oil change was needed. However, I had some free time in my day and I had surpassed the suggested oil change distance by around 7,000 kilometers so I figured why not.

Suggested Oil Change

I want to talk a little about the suggested oil change interval that is given to you in the form of a small sticker in the top left of your windshield. Most places will write down that you need to come back in 5,000 kilometers or 3 months, whichever comes first. That number is complete garbage and is designed solely to help their business make more money. Unless you are going to the race track with your car every weekend or constantly towing heavy loads, you can probably double that amount without any problems. If you’re worried, the best thing to do is check your owner’s manual for what your manufacturer recommends. Most will suggest to change the oil at 8,000 kilometers. Going any sooner is bad for your wallet and bad for the environment.

Conventional Oil vs Synthetic Oil

Now on to the main topic of discussion. I have always used conventional oil in my cars, mostly based on two factors. First, my father had always used conventional oil in all his cars and he’s always done hundreds of thousands of kilometers without any engine issues. Second, an experienced mechanic that used to do work on our cars had told me that, in the majority of cases, conventional oil was just fine and paying nearly double the price for synthetic wasn’t worth it.

So I decided to do a little bit of research on the subject and here is what I found on a variety of websites and after speaking to a few mechanics. With synthetic oil you apparently get better engine protection, better fuel economy, better performance in extreme temperatures, and it should allow for longer intervals between oil changes. It’s probably all true, but is it worth it?

For most people, I’m guessing, the two important aspects are better fuel economy in order to save money and longer intervals between oil changes in order to save money.

Back to the question at hand. Is it worth it? I unfortunately don’t have an answer. Everyone has an opinion on the subject and I am no mechanic so I can’t tell you with any certainty what you should be using in your car. However, I’ve decided to do a test and put the fuel economy and change intervals on the hot seat. I am going to drive with the current conventional oil until the system tells me I need to change the oil. At that point, I will have an oil change performed but use synthetic oil and repeat.

I realize that this test is far from scientific. The sample size is too small and there are plenty of variables that could affect the results but I’ll have fun doing it and I can’t wait to report on the results.

Until then, if you have any questions on the subject, let me know. If I don’t have an answer I’ll be sure to try to find one for you.






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