Monthly Archives: June 2016

Step to Change Your Oil

download-45If you are one of the many people who let a windshield reminder sticker govern when they get an oil change, here’s our advice to you: Drop that habit. Instead, follow the automaker’s recommended service intervals. In many modern cars, your best bet is to rely on the vehicle’s oil life monitoring system to let you know when it’s time for a change.

Let the Manual Guide You
Oil change information is in the maintenance chapter of your owner’s manual. If for some reason you’ve misplaced your owner’s manual, many automakers have put their manuals online. You can also search ourEdmunds Maintenance Schedules. We have an extensive maintenance database on vehicles dating back to l980.

In many instances, you’ll find that the owner’s manual lists two service schedules. These are based on “normal” and “severe” or “special” driving conditions. Read the descriptions carefully to see which schedule reflects how you drive. In our experience, the vast majority of people fall into the normal schedule.

Trust Your Oil Life Monitor
In recent years, a number of automakers have installed oil life monitors of varying complexity in their vehicles. The more basic versions are more maintenance minders than actual systems. They’re based on mileage, and switch on a maintenance light when the vehicle hits a predetermined mileage range.

The more advanced oil life monitors, on the other hand, constantly take information from numerous sensors throughout the vehicle and then use a complex algorithm to predict the life of your oil. Based on your driving conditions and habits, the frequency of your oil changes can vary.

These systems take the guesswork out of knowing when your next service is due. Just drive as you normally would and wait until the maintenance light comes on. You’ll be surprised to see how far a vehicle can go between oil changes. The hardest part is not letting your preconceived notions of oil change intervals second-guess the monitor.

It’s also important to note that these systems are calibrated to work with the factory-recommended oil. They aren’t sophisticated enough to recognize that you’ve upgraded to another blend, so save your money and stick to the factory fill.

Use the Time Estimate
If you have a weekend car or put very low miles on your vehicle, you’ll have to change your maintenance strategy a bit. Robert Sutherland, principal scientist at Pennzoil Passenger Car Engine Lubricants, says that over time, oil becomes contaminated by gases that blow by the pistons, and the longer the oil sits with that contamination, the more it degrades.

Whether an automaker uses an oil life monitor or set mileage intervals, all of them also prescribe a maximum time frame for an oil change. For example, the 2010 Toyota Prius has a recommended oil interval of one year or 10,000 miles — whichever comes first. Since some oil life monitors are more sophisticated than others, the vehicles that employ them will have different time recommendations. You’ll also find this information in your owner’s manual.

Get an Oil Analysis
The issue of what constitutes “normal” versus “severe” driving has long been a point of contention among vehicle owners, mechanics and dealership service departments. All have their own motivations for their recommendations. But the best way to determine how you drive your vehicle is to get your oil analyzed.

An oil analysis will tell you the condition of your oil, and it also can reveal any problems that your engine may be experiencing. Some sample tests can show traces of fuel and coolant in the engine oil, which are early signs of engine problems. When you get your results back from the lab, you’ll also get a recommendation on how much further you can go between oil changes.

Extended-Life Oils: It’s Safe To Switch
Many oil companies are releasing extended-life oils that are guaranteed for the specific mileage listed on the bottle. Mobil’s most advanced fully synthetic product, Mobil 1 Extended Performance, for instance, is guaranteed for 15,000 miles. The company recommends it for vehicles that are beyond their warranty period. This is an important point because many automakers will void your warranty if you do not follow their recommended service intervals.

Owners who change their oil themselves and are looking to extend the time between oil changes can safely switch to a 15,000-mile oil and make a lot fewer trips to the mechanic. They also should switch to a high-mileage oil filter, since the factory filter wasn’t designed for extended intervals.

Using an Oil Life Monitoring System

Until recently, the question of when to change your oil was usually answered by your local garage, which had a vested interest in servicing your car every 3,000 miles. Your alternative was to crack the owner’s manual to see whether your driving habits fell into the “severe” or “normal” category. And then you’d let the listed interval be your frequency guide.

But increasingly, the change-interval question is being answered by a vehicle’s oil life monitoring system, which signals the driver through the instrument panel. This alert usually arrives anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 miles.

So how does the system know when it’s time for a change? Electronic sensors throughout the drivetrain send information about engine revolutions, temperature and driving time to the car’s computer. The data is run through a mathematical algorithm that predicts when the oil will begin to degrade. The light comes on well in advance, giving the owner time to get the car serviced.

Oil life monitoring systems have been around for several decades. They were introduced in General Motors vehicles in the late 1980s and have been phased in slowly, said Matt Snider, project engineer in GM’s Fuels and Lubricants Group. “We are very confident in the accuracy of the system,” he said. The average recommendation from the system for GM vehicles is 8,500 miles, Snider said. He said that the longest oil change interval he was personally aware of was 17,000 miles in a colleague’s car. For 2010 vehicles, 14 of 35 manufacturers use oil life monitoring systems.

Real-World Evidence
The oil life monitoring system in a 2007 Honda Fit Sport owned by an Edmunds.com editor signaled for an oil change at 5,500 miles, due to a lot of around-town driving. Later, under highway conditions, the system (which Honda calls a “maintenance minder”) came on at 7,600 miles. Clearly, the system had detected different driving conditions and adjusted accordingly.

When we had the oil changed, we captured a sample and sent it to Blackstone Laboratories. Showing the conservative nature of the oil life sensors, the analysis showed the oil had at least 2,000 miles of life left in it.

A long-term 2008 Pontiac G8 GT driven by Edmunds went 13,000 miles before the monitoring system indicated the need for an oil change. We also sent a sample of that oil to a lab for analysis. The result: The oil could actually have safely delivered at least another 2,000 miles of service. “With an oil life system, we can use the software to tailor an oil drain interval to the behavior of a certain customer,” Snider said.

Freed From the Schedules
Perhaps the best thing about oil life monitoring systems is that they free car owners from the confusing exercise of slotting themselves in the normal or severe driving schedules listed in the owner’s manual. Severe conditions are described differently by various carmakers, but some “severe” conditions that they frequently cite are driving in stop-and-go traffic, towing, excessive idling and driving in the mountains.

In many cases, quick-oil-change outlets and dealerships’ service departments encourage frequent oil changes by claiming that every driver falls in the severe category. This begs the question: Why have a normal category at all? Oil life monitoring systems put an end to the debate by reacting to how you actually drive.

Using an Oil Life Monitoring System
If your car has an oil life monitoring system, read your owner’s manual to get a feel for how it’s going to communicate with you. In general, the systems are designed to be easily understood and used. Some systems will display the percentage of oil life left so you can schedule a service visit. The systems factor in plenty of extra time for the driver who procrastinates. For additional motivation, however, some systems will display a negative number to show just how overdue the oil change is.

When a technician changes the oil, he resets the monitoring system. Do-it-yourselfers can easily do the reset, too, just by using a series of commands found in the owner’s manual.

How to Find Tire Buying Online

Some people might assume that buying tires online and having them shipped to you is too expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome. So they continue to schlep down to the corner tire store, or buy from a chain store and wind up paying more than is necessary.

However, thanks to easy-to-navigate Web sites, consumers can provide their car’s year, make and model and quickly be shown a wide selection of tires that fit their vehicle. The choices are easily sorted based on the driving requirements, prices or other factors. The tires are then “drop-shipped” to a local tire store for installation at an additional cost. Consumers we have talked with have been amazed at how smoothly the online tire-buying process works. In fact, one shopper called it, “One of my best online-shopping experiences.”

Advantages of Online Tire-Buying

The Internet route offers the following advantages over the traditional tire-buying experience:

  • Online tire prices are lower, particularly when compared to inflated costs at dealerships.
  • Consumer reviews help buyers make informed decisions.
  • Buyers avoid aggressive “upselling” found in many brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Some online tire-buying Web sites, such as Tirerack.com offer their own independent tire tests.
  • There is no state sales tax on most Internet purchases (depending on the laws in your state).
  • One can find an excellent selection of hard-to-find performance and specialty tires.

Disadvantages of Online Tire-Buying

Purchasing tires over the Internet does have a few drawbacks. Here are a few things to know before proceeding:

  • The purchase requires advance planning and takes days.
  • Buyers can’t inspect the actual tires before purchasing.
  • A trusted local installer still needs to be located.
  • Some buyers prefer the face-to-face interaction with an expert.
  • Shipping costs are high, particularly for overnight delivery.

Navigating Your Way to a Good Deal

The process starts with choosing the right tires for your needs. With some 160 different brands in the marketplace, the choice can be overwhelming. Many people are confused by what has been called sidewall graffiti, the hieroglyphic-like information about size, speed and load rating. In most cases, all you need to know is the year, make and model of your car. If you have put aftermarket wheels on the vehicle, you might need to know your wheel size before proceeding.

Nearly all online tire-buying sites allow you to view the list of tires using different sorting methods. If you have a brand preference, such as Michelin, you can sort the list so you can look at all those tires first. You can also cross-shop other brands by reading reviews from people who have bought these brands. While consumer reviews are important, it’s also a good idea to read the opinions of experts who have a greater depth of comparative knowledge.

If you don’t know a lot about tires, an easy way to make a decision is to look at the provided star ratings and the price range you have in mind to find the best intersection of these two factors. However, while most people like to save money, it’s also important to make tire safety a priority.

Sorting Through Price

In tire stores you are likely to be quoted a per-tire price, so you have to do the math on the fly. On the Internet, the computer totals the cost of the four tires and gives you a better idea of whether this will fit into your budget. Keep in mind that while you are likely to be paying a hefty shipping price, you will probably not be charged sales tax by the company unless they have an office or warehouse in your state.

If you want to do a cost comparison to traditional tire-buying, keep these factors in mind:

  • Cost of the tires
  • Shipping cost
  • Savings from not paying sales tax, depending upon the merchant and where you live
  • Cost of installation
  • Disposal fees and excise taxes

Getting Your Tires Mounted and Balanced

In addition to the tire cost, you will also have to pay to have the tires mounted and balanced. Tirerack.com has a list of local installers arranged by ZIP code, so when you order you can have the tires shipped directly to the store. When the tires arrive, the installer calls you to bring the car down to have the job completed.

It’s a good idea to read reviews of the installer ahead of time, and call and confirm the price for the work you need done. You will have to buy valve stems from the installer, have the tires mounted and balanced and have the old tires disposed of. The cost for all this ranges from $15 to $20 per tire depending on tire size and type.