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5 Motor Oil Sins You May Be Committing and How to Fix Them

Proper oil maintenance can be a bit like the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Some motor oils are too thick, some too thin, and some just right. And sometimes oil changes are too frequent or too sparse before that perfect balance is finally achieved. Often times it is a series of bad habits keeping your wallet and engine from their happily ever after. The following are common habits and missteps you can avoid with your engine oil:

1. You ignore the vehicle’s user manual when choosing the correct oil weight.

The motor oil recommendation in your vehicle’s user manual has been tested thoroughly with proven results to make your life easier, so don’t forget to use it. Choosing the incorrect oil weight (viscosity grade) can cause costly damage to your engine, especially as the weather changes and newer engine models enter the market. Luckily, most motor oils are now made in multi-grade formulas to ensure that a single oil can protect internal surfaces in cold weather and maintain its thickness in hot operating temperatures. This eliminates the need to use different oils during different seasons. However, our instincts still tempt us to experiment and often overcorrect for external conditions.
Some consumers ditch the user manual to try an oil weight, for example, that is much higher than recommended in hopes of getting extra protection in hot temperatures, leading to increased friction and wasted energy consumption. While this correction may be okay for Texas or Arizona, it is best to start with the manufacturer’s recommendations and tweak within reasonable bounds. This also applies to the addition of additives. If an auto shop asks if you would like additional additives with your oil change, it’s best to say no to avoid dilution and hurting the oil’s existing balance.

2. You’re using synthetic oil when you can use conventional and ignoring synthetic blend altogether.

Synthetic oils are often praised for their superior wear protection due especially to their purified formulas and higher viscosity index. More engines now require synthetic oils than before, but synthetic is the more expensive option. If you are using conventional oil as a long distance driver, it is definitely time to switch to synthetic. However, if you’re a casual driver in a temperate climate with an older engine model or just a short, daily commute to work and the grocery store, that full synthetic formula is emptying your pockets with very little to show in return. Switch back to a conventional oil if possible, or try a synthetic blend formula. This mix of conventional and synthetic oils is cheaper than full synthetic, and it increases wear protection.

3. You think you don’t need an oil change, because you drive fewer miles—Or, you change the oil too often, because you drive more miles.

If your engine is not hard at work, why get an oil change? It may seem frivolous, but oil that sits in a cold engine can become too thick or break down over time and leave deposits. An idle car actually requires more oil changes than you expect. On the other hand, it seems like common sense to get an oil change when your engine is more active, but in reality, many experts say you can hold off a little longer. Rather than changing your oil every 4,000 miles, push that number to somewhere near 7,500 miles or even more. Advancements in technology allow for this, and while more oil changes won’t do any damage to your engine, it may damage your wallet.

4. You’re too focused on the oil and not the other players.

The right oil and sufficient oil changes are great, but it doesn’t mean much if your vehicle has a faulty drain plug gasket or a plugged oil filter. Oil filters should be changed along with your oil to keep oil as clean and efficient as possible. The wrong filter can lead to oil leaks, and a cheap filter could shed material into your motor oil. If you want your engine oil to work well, don’t forget to support it with the more pricey, quality filters that are well worth the investment.

5. You refill oil when levels are low without draining the old oil.

If the “low oil pressure” light starts to flash, it’s easy to refill those levels by adding new oil to the existing oil before you run out on the side of the road. While this is okay in an emergency, you should find the time to do a full oil change afterwards. Unfortunately, mixing the new oil with the old oil only contaminates the new oil with deposits and dirt that is harmful to the engine. Changing the oil filter is also recommended.
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