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Is that $20 oil change ruining my car?

Is that $20 oil change ruining my car?

Let’s put it this way.

You get what you pay for.

Life is busy and expensive. Saving time and money is something most people welcome and in fact hunt for. Who doesn’t like a bargain? But, is coupon clipping for car maintenance really a deal?

How much would you trust a buy one-get-one laser eye surgery or a $5.99 haircut?

We spend a lot of time in our cars but seldom think about them. So, when we see an advertisement for a $19.99 oil change it reminds us to change our oil and that we don’t want to pay a lot of money. The question is, will my cheapness come back and bite me?

Engine oil falls into one of three categories, 1) petroleum-based mineral oil or conventional 2) synthetic oil and 3) semi-synthetic, which is a mix of the two. Conventional oil, made of long chain molecules, breaks down over time and with exposure to heat, causing it to become thinner and lose its ability to lubricate. The molecules in synthetic oil are engineered to resist breaking down, allowing it to stay stable at higher temperatures compared to conventional oil.


The problem is, most motor oil isn’t designed to last very long.

The fluid breaks down over time and isn’t able to constantly provide the necessary lubrication and protection your engine needs. Depending on the vehicle and oil, the time between oil changes could range from 3,000 to 10,000 miles.


Synthetic oil is not only refined but also distilled, purified and broken down into its basic molecules. This process not only removes more impurities from the crude oil but also enables individual molecules in the oil to be tailored to the demands of modern engines. These customized molecules provide higher levels of protection and performance than conventional oils. But the synthetic base oil is only half the story. The correct blend of additives must go into the mix to create the oil…

After reading that last paragraph you probably thought, conventional oil vs. synthetic, blah blah blah, technical stuff, I’m bored, and who cares. I don’t want to be a certified automotive technician.

I just want to know what my car needs.

The first step is to look it up in your manual. This will tell you what type of oil your car needs and when your oil needs changing. Think of it this way. Regular non-turbo, basic cars, such as grandma’s Sunday cruiser, can use conventional. Super-fast, high power, turbo performance engines need synthetic. The more you want your car to perform, the better the oil you should use.

So, what will happen if I ignore the recommendations in the owner’s manual and go for that $19.99 oil change special? These specials give you conventional oil up to 5 quarts and it’s hit or miss if they change your filter. Getting an occasional conventional oil change won’t instantly blow up your motor, but you will see increased wear and buildup of sludge in your engine causing low performance and knocking sounds under the hood.

If you don’t use the recommended oil for your car it may void your warranty.

Consumer Reports says synthetic oil can mean less frequent oil changes, which can help balance out the extra costs.  This also implies there is more to synthetic oil than just slick marketing. “In the old days”, changing your oil with your dad in the garage was a great money saver and using a high quality conventional oil was good for most everything, except diesels. Modern day engines are built to incredibly tight tolerances – if your engine is designed for synthetic, then synthetic is necessary.

When thinking about your next oil change ask yourself:

Is a $20 oil change worth risking a $5,000 engine replacement?

Brought to you by Experienced Automotive in Kaysville Utah.

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