- Make sure that the car is parked on level ground and the engine is shut
- Pop open the hood, you will see the metal loop
sticking out of the engine block. This dipstick is usually in red for easy recognition.
a thick paper towel in your hand and pull out the dipstick with the other,
wipe the end of the dipstick until there is no oil left on the dipstick
the dipstick back in and wait for a few seconds. Remove the dipstick once
again and look at the end of the dipstick. CHECK and MAKE SURE that the oil
level is between the "Low" and the "High" mark. If the
oil is at the low mark, it generally take 1 quart of oil to get it up to
check the quality of the engine oil. If it is grainy or has little nuggets or looks
dirty, it's time to change your oil.
the drain plug that is located beneath the engine and make sure your pan is
big enough to collect all the oil that drains out.
draining the oil, tighten the drain plug in securely.
IMPORTANT! Do not over tighten the drain plug as it will strip the oil
pan and this could cost about $500-$800 in repair at the BMW dealership. Be Careful!
- Fill up with the recommended quarts of oil.
- Check the dipstick and make sure that the oil level is between the low and
- Check you oil level and quality of the oil every week, or bi-weekly when
in low usage. Also do not forget to check for oil leaks, a simple glance on
the garage floor will do the trick.
- For conservatives, remember to change your oil every 3000 miles or 6000
miles if you use synthetic oil. It is a cheap but good prevention against engine damage.
Remember the mileage between oil change also depends on your driving condition.
Sense of Synthetic Lubricants Special thanks to Don Stevens
All of us have seen countless ads telling us to change our engine oil every 3000
miles. Some of us have watched the infomercials showing cars driving on the
racetrack with allegedly no oil or engines running on a stand while the host
pours sand and gravel over an exposed valve train. Virtually all of the lube
shops have some kind of magic additive that they will say you need.
What are we to believe? Or more relevant, what is right for you? In becoming an
Amsoil Synthetic Lubricants dealer in 1998 I have done a great deal of research
on all kinds of lubricants and additives and in this article I will share the
facts about synthetic oils, petroleum based oils, and additives so that you can
make an informed decision about what is right for your cars.
1. Oil Classifications
There are two systems for oil classification. The SAE (Society of Automotive
Engineers) viscosity grade and the API (American Petroleum Institute)
classification that designates the type of engines for which the oil was
designed. The SAE viscosity grade is known as the "W" number when
classifying oils. Most oils on the shelf today are multi-viscosity such as 10W30
or 20W50. In general, the lower the first number, the better the oil will
perform in extremely cold conditions. Conversely, the higher the second number
the better the oil will protect at higher temperatures. If you were driving to
Minnesota in the winter you would want the lowest number you could find like a
0W30. In our Florida climate however, a 10W40 or a 20W50 would be a better
choice. The API designation is typically an "S" designation for
gasoline engines and a "C" designation for diesel engines. Most of
today's oils carry an SH,CF or SJ,CF designation signifying that they are
suitable for use in all gasoline or diesel automotive applications. Those of you
with diesel trucks or motor homes should look for an API CG-4 rated oil. Which
brand you buy is largely a matter of preference. Consumer Reports (6/97) found
very few differences between major brands of oil and all with the above SAE and
API designations performed fine in normal applications.
2. Synthetic vs. Petroleum based
Synthetic oils were originally developed more than 50 years ago and became
widely used in jet engines. Less than -120ºF ambient temperatures, 60000 shaft
rpm, and 500º+F exhaust temperatures proved too much for conventional oils.
Synthetics were created specifically to withstand these harsh conditions and to
date every jet engine in the world uses synthetic lubricants. Amsoil introduced
the first synthetic oil for automotive use in 1972 and have continued to be at
the leading edge of development ever since. Mobil 1, undoubtedly the most
recognized name in synthetics, was introduced in 1976. Many companies have
jumped on the bandwagon and have since released synthetic lubricants for
automotive use and all are becoming increasingly popular for their superior
lubricating properties, superior ability to flow at cold temperatures, and their
ability to withstand high temperatures for extended periods of time. Several new
cars including the Porsche 996 and the Chevrolet Corvette LT-1 are delivered
with synthetic oil in the crankcase and require synthetic oil use throughout the
life of the car.
There are two primary differences between synthetic oils and conventional
petroleum oils. These are the base stock or liquid that makes up the volume of
the oil, and the additive package. There are additives (not to be confused with
over the counter additives which will be discussed later) in all oils that
enhance the wear resistance properties of the oil, enhance the ability of the
oil to neutralize acids and combustion by products, and provide corrosion
protection for the engine's internal surfaces. The amount and quality of these
additives vary from one oil brand to another and this is a very significant
factor in the ability of an oil to adequately protect your engine in all driving
conditions. As a general rule of thumb, the cheaper the oil, the fewer additives
it has and therefore, the less able it is to protect your engine.
There is one school of thought that suggests that the only difference in
synthetic oils vs. petroleum oils is that the synthetics typically have a better
additive package. This statement is only partially true. Synthetics almost
always do have superior additives than petroleum oils. While this does add to
the cost of the oil, it also enables the oil to last 3-5 times longer than
conventional oil. The synthetic base stock however, is of paramount importance
in the ability of a synthetic oil to flow at cold temperatures and withstand
greater amounts of heat over significantly longer periods of time. Petroleum
base stock molecules are long carbon chains that are sensitive to stress and
heat. Additionally, various paraffins that are contained in all petroleum
products regardless of how well refined they are, cause oil to jell like a syrup
at extremely cold temperatures. At the other end of the temperature spectrum,
high engine temperatures and heavy loads (as typically found in towing or
racetrack applications) cause these chains to break down and the base stock
actually boils off causing a change of viscosity and the formulation of sludge.
This can happen at temperatures as low as 230º F and by 250º F many petroleum
oils are suffering significant breakdown. Synthetic oils on the other hand are
engineered specifically to provide all the lubricating properties that natural
oil possesses, but none of the cold thickening or hot thinning properties of
petroleum oil. Synthetics are made up of uniformly shaped molecules with shorter
carbon chains which are much more resistant to heat and stress. Synthetics can
withstand temperatures of 300ºF all day long and still protect your engine. In
fact the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) standard wear resistance
tests are conducted at 302º F. In this test synthetic lubricants far out
perform petroleum lubricants by factor of four to one and greater.
Oil temperatures of 230ºF to 250ºF are not at all uncommon in driver's
education track conditions, particularly in early 911s with no front coolers or
the marginally effective "trombone" oil coolers. These temperatures
are also fairly common in air-cooled engines in summer time stop and go traffic
with the A/C on. Further, temperatures on the cylinder walls and in turbos are
often over 450°F for short periods of time. Liquid cooled cars can also have
extremely high oil temperatures even though the water temperature may be normal.
I observed this first hand several years ago in a race car where the water
temperature stayed right on 210ºF while the oil temperature fluctuated between
240º F and as high as 280º F depending on how hard the car was driven.
Needless to say, this particular car was running synthetic oil and remarkably
ran about 50 hrs. between rebuilds with no significant wear.
The point of the above paragraphs is quite simply that synthetic oils have a
much wider operating temperature range, by design, than petroleum oils.
3. Off The Shelf Additives
There are countless over the counter oil additives on the market, as there have
been for a number of years. In recent years a number of companies have appeared
on the scene with huge national television advertising campaigns, racecar
sponsorship, and more, all designed to make the consumer believe that the
products really work and you are doing yourself a favor by adding these to your
car. The fact is that these products are not necessary, do very little to help
your engine, and in many cases may actually do more harm than good. The major
car companies do not endorse any of these products and in fact your owner's
manual will undoubtedly advise you to avoid them.
Consumers Reports did a test (10/98) in an attempt to verify, or rebuke, one
company's ad which claimed that their product "bonded" to the engines
moving parts forming a protective barrier against wear. The ad claimed that
their test car ran all over Southern California, in stop and go traffic, with
the air on, for 4 hours and 40 minutes. The ad also claimed that the only reason
the driver stopped was to get something to eat. Pretty unbelievable. In an
attempt to prove or disprove the viability of the ad, Consumer Reports tested
two Chevrolet Caprices, both with identical zero time rebuilt V6 engines. Both
cars were broken in with normal petroleum oil per the manufacturer's
recommendations. The oil and filter were then changed with one of the cars
receiving the prescribed dose of this magic additive. Both cars were then driven
for about 100 miles, allegedly long enough for this magical bonding to occur,
and the oil subsequently drained. Both were then driven again, now with empty
crankcases, in normal traffic to see how long they would last. Interestingly
both engines failed, almost simultaneously, after about 14 minutes of driving
thus proving the claims of the additive manufacturer to be nonsense. Consumer
Reports notified the FTC of the test and their results and the manufacturer was
subsequently forced to stop running the ad.
There are some over the counter additives that contain Teflon or PTFE. Once
again the ads claim that the Teflon bonds to the internal working parts of the
engine forming a slippery surface (like your Teflon frying pan) and therefore
reducing wear. Fundamental laws of Physics prove that such claims are
impossible, as the temperatures in internal combustion engines (200º-250ºF)
are insufficient for any bonding to occur. Further, independent oil analysis
labs have observed that the suspended Teflon particles actually tend to
accumulate the microscopic metals that are normal in engine oil formulating much
larger, and potentially much more harmful, deposits in engines than would
normally occur if straight motor oil had been used. In some cases, the oil
filters became clogged, oil pressures dropped across the filter and oil analysis
showed significantly more wear than oil alone. Similar to the previous
situation, the FTC challenged the makers of products with PTFE on their claims
of "coating of PTFE" and "reduced engine wear" based again
on Consumer Reports findings of "no discernible benefits" from use of
the product. The makers of these products agreed with the FTC in a settlement to
stop using the above phrases in their ads.
4. Economics of Synthetics vs.
All of the manufacturers of synthetic oil tout the benefits of reduced wear,
more horsepower, lower operating temperatures, and improved fuel mileage. All of
these benefits are derivatives of better cold flow characteristics and higher
levels of friction reducing additives that are found in synthetic oils. I can
confirm better cold driving characteristics, increased fuel mileage of nearly
10%, noticeably lower operating temperatures, better heat dissipation
capability, and long term high temperature stability based on my own experience
with synthetic lubricants. Are these benefits enough, however, to persuade
average drivers to give up their trusted petroleum oils and pay the extra price
for synthetics? Enthusiasts, yes. Average drivers, perhaps not. However,
synthetic lubricants can endure extended drain intervals, which is a major
consideration toward justification of the higher costs. This benefit is not
widely promoted by the major oil producers most likely because they want you to
pay a premium for their synthetic oils every 3000 miles just like their regular
oils. Most companies don't bother to tell you that synthetic oils are capable of
going 25,000 miles or more without significant breakdown. One customer told me
he drove his Toyota more than 50000 miles (with filter changes every 10000
miles) before oil analysis results told him it was time for a change. It is not
uncommon for over the road truckers to go several hundred thousand miles between
synthetic oil changes. The short trips and stop and go city driving that most of
do is much tougher on motor oil than over the road highway driving. In fact,
frequent short trips (2 miles or less) and stop and go city driving is
considered by some raters as extreme and our cars need increased protection.
Fortunately, we can achieve the superior protection and the economic benefits of
synthetic oils while staying within the recommendations of our car
Consider the following economic argument. If you change your oil every 3000
miles at a quick lube center at an average price of $23.00 per change, you spend
$115.00 over 15000 miles. Most synthetic oil changes cost about $50.00 (much
less if you do it yourself) on which you can drive 7500 miles very safely (a
7500 mile interval is within virtually all manufacturers recommendations). Over
the same 15000 miles, only two oil changes are required for an investment of
$100.00. A shop could charge up to $57.50 and it is still a break-even
proposition, plus you put a superior product in your car and are receiving the
additional benefits that synthetic lubricants can provide. I typically drive
about 12000 miles between changes with a filter change and oil analysis at 6000.
Even after 12000 miles oil analysis advises that the oil is "suitable for
continued use" and typically the wear metals are less than conventional oil
after 3000 miles. In fact in a test performed by Popular Mechanics some years
ago, oil analysis showed in New York City taxicabs that there is typically less
oil breakdown and less wear metals in Amsoil 10W40 synthetic oil after 60000
miles (albeit with filter changes every 6000 miles) vs. conventional 10W40 oil
after 3000 miles. As an added benefit, less waste oil is being put back into the
environment. A true win-win proposition.
Most major brand name petroleum oils perform adequately provided your driving
conditions are normal and provided you change the oil regularly (remember, short
city trips, driver's ed track events, dusty conditions, and towing are
Over the counter additives have been proven to be of little to no benefit, often
do more harm than good, and are a waste of money regardless of what you drive
and how you drive it.
Finally, for those of you who drive your vehicle hard, tow a trailer, drive very
short distances, sit idling and in stop & go traffic for long periods, live
in a cold climate and/or if your car runs hot, quality synthetic motor oil,
synthetic gear lube, and synthetic automatic transmission fluid is a wise
investment that will provide the additional protection you require as well as
last thousands of miles longer than conventional lubricants.