Have you ever brought your car to your mechanic and felt like he or she was speaking in tongues? Every profession has its own language — a loan officer’s “APR” might be just as unfamiliar to your mechanic as your mechanic’s “synthetic blend 5W-20” might be to you. Learning how to talk to your mechanic about oil can help you make informed decisions about oil changes without referring to an engineer’s handbook.
Terms to Know
“LOF” means “lube, oil and filter” service. If your mechanic suggests an LOF, he’s probably noted the oil change interval has passed or the oil is past its prime. Oil keeps your engine lubricated, clean and cool, and helps it last longer. Some engines last upwards of 200,000 miles with regular maintenance. Old oil will be drained and recycled, the filter will be replaced and your engine will be refilled with new oil. This service may include other lubrication points, such as door hinges, the hood latch or old-style tie-rod ends and ball joints.
Oil type recommendations vary depending on vehicle, mileage and driver’s habit. Usually, when a mechanic mentions “oil,” they are referring to conventional oil, the same petroleum-derivative we’ve known for centuries. Synthetic oil is manufactured in chemical plants and may be recommended for high-end or high-mileage vehicles, or high-stress driving. Synthetic “blends” are some combination of conventional and synthetic oils, offering some of the benefits of full-synthetic oil, but at a slightly lower cost.
Oil weight refers to its viscosity, or how quickly it flows. For example, 5W-20 is thinner than 10W-30, thinner still than 20W-50. If you’re driving a high-mileage vehicle that smokes while running 5W-20, your mechanic may suggest a thicker oil to prevent it, such as 10W-30. If your mechanic notes slight engine sludge, he may suggest a synthetic or blend to help clean it out. In the fall, a mechanic may suggest a thinner winter oil, perhaps 5W-30 instead of 10W-30, which flows better in the cold, but has the same lubricant qualities.
Oil change interval refers to mileage between oil changes. Some of today’s vehicles have a suggested oil change interval of 5,000 miles, but this is really only a guideline. If most of your driving is on the highway, you might be able to extend that to 7,500 miles without a problem. On the other hand, if you do mostly city driving and short trips, your mechanic may suggest a shorter oil change interval, perhaps 3,000 miles, to prevent abnormal engine wear and oil sludge. High-mileage and older vehicles may also benefit from shorter oil change intervals.
How to Talk to Your Mechanic About Your Car
Just as it’s good to know the terms your mechanic uses when talking about oil, the same is true for every other part of your car, a lot of which can be complicated. Fortunately, there’s plenty of information at your disposal, and you can learn the difference between a brake rotor and a BEAN. A BEAN being the communication network used to control and monitor everything in the cabin and body. Then, when you talk to your mechanic, you’ll be able to understand what is being explained.
Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to talk to your mechanic about oil, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.