Do you know when was the last time you changed your car’s oil? Oil is the lifeblood of your engine, but it doesn’t last forever. Old oil stops protecting your engine, causing wear and tear quicker than most think.
Don’t let your engine suffer – learn to spot the telltale signs that you’re overdo for an oil change or tune up even if you have no idea how long it’s been since your last service appointment.
Importance of Oil Changes
Let’s chat about why oil changes are so important. Your car’s engine has a huge number of moving parts, and those parts need to be well-lubricated to keep the whole thing running smoothly. That’s where oil comes in, as it helps to reduce friction, wear and tear, and even helps in cleaning and protecting your engine from all sorts of gunk buildup.
Over time, that oil starts to break down and becomes less effective at doing its job. Fresh oil keeps your engine properly lubricated and helps improve performance, while also extending the life of your engine and aiding in achieving peak gas mileage.
Symptoms of a Car That’s Overdue for an Oil Change
There are many signs and symptoms that indicate your car needs an oil change and possibly a tune-up (see below for the definition of a tune-up).
When you take your vehicle in for an oil change, the service person will perform an oil and oil filter change, inspect your vehicle for leaks and other noticeable issues, and provide additional recommendations based on their assessment.
However, you should not solely rely on them to accurately identify every issue. This is why it is important to pay attention to the signs that also suggest the need for a tune-up or service of some sorts.
Below are the top 10 signs that indicate your car needs an oil change and/or a tune-up.
See Also: How Long Does an Oil Change Take?
#1 – Dark or Dirty Oil
If you’ve never seen clean, new motor oil before, it kind of has a bright amber color to it. But when oil becomes old and dirty from the build-up of residue particles in the engine, then it turns into a much darker, almost black color.
You should make it a habit checking the condition of your oil on a regular basis. Simply remove your oil dipstick and look at the color of the oil on it. Or wipe the end of the dipstick on a paper towel to get a more accurate result. If the oil is dark brown or black, then you need to change your oil.
#2 – Ticking or Tapping Noises
Engine oil gets old and worn after a while. That is why car manufacturers recommend you change your oil every 5,000 miles or so. If you have old oil in your vehicle, then it is likely getting dirtier and thicker.
This will make it harder for the oil to lubricate your engine’s components effectively. As a result, your engine will begin making various metal on metal noises because they are not getting lubricated properly. Get an oil change right away as serious engine damage can result if you ignore the issue.
#3 – Burnt Oil Smell
If the interior cabin of your vehicle is starting to smell like burnt oil, then you know you have some problem with your oil. It usually means there is an oil leak somewhere and causing the oil to drip on hot engine parts.
It also means your engine is likely low on oil and causing your engine to overheat. Take care of the oil leak right away and put in fresh oil.
#4 – Exhaust Smoke
If you live in a cold environment then you are used to seeing vapor emitting from the tailpipe of your vehicle. However, if you actually start seeing blue or gray smoke come out of your exhaust, then you probably have an oil leak.
This goes along with a burnt oil smell and the smoke is the result of not enough oil being in your engine to lubricate its parts, due to the leak. So, get that oil leak fixed and the oil replaced.
#5 – Car Stalling
If you’re driving and your vehicle begins to stall, then you could have a small problem or a bigger issue. A small problem would be if you have a clogged fuel filter or bad spark plugs. Something like this can be replaced with a simple tune-up.
A larger problem would be something like a bad fuel pump or clogged catalytic converter which need replacing.
#6 – Poor Fuel Economy
If you notice your gas mileage is not what it used to be, it can mean you’re overdue for an oil change. As engine oil gets old, it gradually thickens and will eventually turn into an almost sludge-like substance if it’s not changed. Thick oil offers more resistance to the moving parts in your engine which causes it to work harder and use more fuel.
Poor gas mileage can also be due to other reasons but if your oil is dark and much thicker than new oil, a simple oil change will help.
#7 – Overheating
Normally you wouldn’t associate a car overheating with it being overdue for an oil change but it sure can! If you don’t have enough oil in your engine or if the oil hasn’t been changed in a while, then it won’t do as good a job of lubricating the engine’s components.
This will cause the engine to heat up more and eventually overheat. Getting your oil changed with fresh oil will often take care of this specific problem.
#8 – Difficulty Starting Engine
If you notice that you’re consistently having problems starting your engine, then you might need to check the connections on top of your battery for corrosion and clean them with a wire brush. If your battery is at least a few years old, it may be time to replace your battery.
You may notice the engine hesitating before it starts up while the lights on the dashboard dim a bit. Clearly, you need a tune-up that involves cleaning the battery posts and terminals or even replacing the battery with a new one.
#9 – Warning Lights
The computers and sensors in vehicles today make it easier for them to detect a problem early on before it gets worse. If you notice an indicator light illuminating on your dashboard, use your owner’s manual to see what that light means.
A “Service Engine Soon” light often means you are due for an oil change based on miles driven since the last oil change. Other warning lights will warn you about all kinds of problems such as low battery, a burnt out tail light, transmission malfunction, and so on.
Some newer vehicles even keep track of your oil condition (via sensors or set interval) and will tell you when it’s time to change it. In some instances, the check engine light will come on so you will need to use an OBD2 scanner to check for the specific issue or have a mechanic scan it.
#10 – Shifting Hesitation
If you are driving an automatic vehicle, then you should have no problems when your car shifts gears. But if there is hesitation or lag when you shift gears, it could mean that you need new transmission fluid or filters.
Of course, it could mean a worse problem as well. That is why taking your car in for a tune-up will at least detect what the problem is.
What is a Tune-Up?
We’ve all heard the term “tune-up” as it relates to vehicles. You might think a tune-up means getting an oil change and having your windshield washed. But in actuality, there is a lot more to a tune-up than that.
A tune-up means a general maintenance where various components and parts of your vehicle are inspected and replaced if they are worn out. Some of these areas include your fuel filter, PCV valve, air filter, cabin filter, spark plugs, brakes, hoses, belts, and wires.
See Also: Why is There Oil on Your Spark Plugs?
The service person will also check your idle speed, idle mixture, sensors, and ignition timing. If any of these areas are not normal, they will be adjusted appropriately.
When you take a newer car to the dealership to have a 30k, 50k, 75k, 100k, etc. mile service performed, many of these are essentially tune-ups where various maintenance is done according to a set schedule by the car manufacturer.
Many professional mechanics laugh at the term “tune-up”. It’s comparable to how some professionals in the fitness industry laugh at the term “tone up”. The term “tune-up” in a way was created for marketing purposes but it does the intended job of making sure your vehicle in good working condition and any maintenance necessary is performed.
Manufacturers’ Recommendations for Oil Changes
When it comes to oil changes, it’s important to follow your car manufacturer’s recommendations. Typically, they’ll suggest an oil change interval in miles or months, with modern vehicles being between 5,000 and 10,000 miles, or every 6-12 months.
Factors like driving conditions and the type of engine in your car can affect these recommendations.
To find your vehicle’s specific guidelines, check out the owner’s manual which is probably in your glove box right now. If you don’t a manual, a simple internet search will usually get you that info quickly.
Will My Car Tell Me When It Needs an Oil Change?
Yes, most modern cars have an engine oil life indicator on the dashboard. This feature helps you monitor the remaining life of your oil.
Some vehicles simply use a running clock or the odometer to monitor the oil change interval but these aren’t exactly accurate. The better vehicles will actually have a sophisticated oil life monitor that actually detects changes in the condition of the oil.
When the time for an oil change is approaching, you’ll usually see a notification or warning light on your dashboard. However, it’s good practice to also manually check your oil levels and color every once in a while, as oil can degrade due to heat, pressure, and other factors.
How Do I Find a Good Oil Change Service Nearby?
To find a reliable oil change service nearby, you can start by asking for recommendations from friends, family, or coworkers who have experience with local auto service centers. You can also search online for reviews and ratings from previous customers.
Your dealership will always offer oil changes but unless covered by a maintenance warranty, expect to pay a premium here.
Can Synthetic Oil Last Longer Than Regular Oil?
Yes, synthetic oil generally lasts longer than conventional oil because it’s a more refined and higher-quality product. Synthetic oils are designed to resist breakdown and keep your engine clean and running smoothly for a longer period. This means that using synthetic oil can potentially extend the oil change interval, compared to using regular oil.
However, synthetic oils are not always better (they are more likely to leak in older cars that have worn seals and gaskets) and you’ll definitely pay extra for the convenience of a longer oil change interval.
- Drive-by-Wire vs Drive-by-Cable (Differences and Pros/Cons) - Feb 22, 2024
- Why Does Costco Use Nitrogen to Fill Tires? - Feb 3, 2024
- Hear a Whooshing Sound When Stepping On the Brake Pedal? (What It Means) - Jan 24, 2024