As a 25-year vehicle maintenance technician veteran, I would argue that when it comes to taking care of your vehicle, the single most important thing you can do is the oil change.

In my previous life working at a repair facility, I came across a case that re-affirmed my belief in that statement. A woman brought in her car and said she was hearing knocking noises coming from the engine. The car had 29,000 miles on it. I looked it over and found that the oil in the engine was sludge. I asked her when the last time was that she changed the oil. She said to me, never. The person that sold her the car didn’t tell her she needed to do that. What?!

Needless to say, I had to educate her on making sure she got her car’s oil changed every 3,000 miles. But that was back in the day.

3,000-mile myth

The days of changing your oil every 3,000 miles is a thing of the past due to technological advancements in vehicle and oil quality. Some oil types today can allow for 7,500 miles and even 10,000 miles between them.

Here’s my caveat, though: you should always follow your vehicle manufacturer’s minimum requirements when selecting any oil to use in your vehicle and how often to change it. And most manufacturers have an oil life monitoring system on their vehicles now. The “change oil light” will illuminate when it’s time to change the oil and this should be adhered to regardless of the oil type used.

Current statistics have the average driver logging 13,476 miles each year. This equates to approximately two oil changes a year today versus four on the old 3,000-mile schedule.

3 main motor oil types

For arguments sake, there are three main types of oils: conventional, synthetic blend and fully synthetic. Some would argue there’s a fourth – “high mileage” – but that’s just a marketing ploy to disguise fully synthetic for unsuspecting consumers.

Conventional is the bare bones of oils. It has been around since the dawn of cars and provides only basic protection for your engine. Synthetic blend oil offers three time as much protection for your engine than conventional oil, but is a bit more expensive. The fully-synthetic oil is the most expensive, but offers your engine the best defense against wear and deposit build-up.

Is synthetic worth it?

The average cost for a conventional oil change is $46 ($25 being the cheapest and $50 being the most expensive), using synthetic blend bumps the price to $45-70 on average and to $60 to $100 for fully synthetic. In fact, conventional oils are not even offered at many repair facilities anymore.

So, if your synthetic blend oil change costs $50 and you only have to do it twice a year, compared to four conventional oil changes at $25 each, you’re pretty much breaking even from a cost perspective. But what about the performance gap?

AAA recently performed a study that showed synthetic oil outperformed conventional oil by an average of nearly 50 percent in its independent evaluation. Synthetic oil can offer vehicles significantly better engine protection for only $5 more per month when following a factory-recommended oil change schedule.

Bottom line is, you aren’t going to hurt your engine if you skip the Mobil 1, one of the best-known synthetics. But you aren’t going to put yourself in the poorhouse if you flip for the synthetic, either. According to a Business Insider article, these oils add only $64 a year, on average, to vehicle-operation costs.

Synthetic can be a must

Typically, high-performance vehicles will be more likely to require synthetic oil, as will vehicles that have a turbocharged or supercharged engine. But that is quickly changing.

More than 65 percent of new cars today use synthetic motor oil to help maintain performance and better protect engines and internal components. Because fleets tend to run newer vehicles, chances are, you will be springing for synthetic motor oil on your fleet vehicles (or already are).

If your vehicle doesn’t require synthetic, then it is just a matter of preference. And it’s not going to hurt to use it.

One myth you will hear is that once you switch to synthetic oil, you can never switch back. This is false. You can go from one to another at any time. A synthetic blend oil itself is a mixture of synthetic and conventional oils. However, using the same oil for top-offs is recommended.

How to ensure drivers get it done

You definitely don’t want your drivers to end up like the woman in my story above. As the single most important piece of preventive maintenance, you want to make sure you’re protecting your company’s asset. So, what can you do to make sure they get their oil changed?

While your fleet management company probably has some type of email reminder, the driver may ignore it. And then what is there to hold them accountable? If you have access to an app like MyLeasePlan, you can use a driver scorecard that dings their score if they don’t adhere to preventive maintenance requirements, like oil changes. Engine diagnostics can even be automatically tracked when the vehicle has telematics capabilities.

And if you need a way to check up on your drivers, there is a fleet report in ePlan that can help. The Current Oil Change Status report can identify vehicles that are due or past due for an oil change. That way, you can follow-up with those drivers specifically.

Need help with your preventive maintenance schedules, or keeping your fleet drivers compliant? Reach out to one of our maintenance experts for assistance or check out our tip sheet to determine what oil type is best for your fleet.

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