In the end, decision on when to change oil is up to you

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: September 23, 2011 - 3:43 PM

The dealer advises oil changes when we reach 20 percent of oil life remaining, but waiting 11,250 to 14,100 miles between oil changes raises some worries.

Q We bought a new Chevy Equinox that now has 5,768 miles on it. The vehicle computer indicates we still have 59 percent of oil life remaining. In the past I have always changed oil between 3,000 and 4,000 miles. The dealer advises oil changes when we reach 20 percent of oil life remaining. We really like this vehicle, but I'm a little nervous about 11,250 to 14,100 miles between oil changes.

A After nearly 30 years of doing this column, I've learned that there are two basic categories of car owners: those who take care of their vehicles, and those who aren't interested or don't really care. The fact that automakers now install "oil life monitoring" systems, sealed transmissions with no dipstick, and long-life coolants is confirmation that most owners fall into that second category.

For all of us who do care, the oil monitoring systems present a conundrum: Do I change oil when I want to, or when the car tells me to? There's no question that today's engine designs, manufacturing techniques, materials and computer controls operate far more efficiently, generate far less debris and contamination and thus allow longer oil and filter change intervals.

But the one question to which there is an absolute answer is this: Who owns and is responsible for the vehicle? You are, so you make the decision on when to service your vehicle, whether it be an oil change, tire rotation or new wiper blades.

I vote with my wrench and wallet -- I change oil and filter at 4,000-mile intervals on my newer vehicles, a bit more frequently on the older ones. What's your vote?

QI have a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT V6 with 110,000 miles on it. It hesitates when I shift from park to drive or reverse to drive when car is warm. When cold, the car shifts fine, but when it's warm I can sit for several minutes, then have to rev up the engine a little before the car starts to move. Any ideas would help.

AHas the transmission fluid and filter ever been serviced? Although Pontiac doesn't call for routine transmission service under "normal" driving conditions, their service recommendation calls for fluid and filter changes at 50,000 miles under "severe" service conditions.

I suspect the transmission is suffering from low hydraulic pressure when the unit is fully warmed up. This could be because of high operating temperatures, worn seals and components in the valve body or cumulative wear and tear. The problem is what to do about it. Ideally, you'd have the transmission scanned for fault codes that might identify specific problems, have the unit's hydraulic pressure tested and drain, flush and replace the fluid and filter -- and that's just to identify the problem. Then, it may well be time for an overhaul or replacement transmission -- a questionable investment in a 12-year-old vehicle.

So, try this. Add half a can (8 ounces) of SeaFoam Trans-Tune to the transmission fluid through the vent/fill cap. The solvent action and high-quality lubricant may improve transmission performance measurably.

QMy wife ran over a skunk with her 2003 Acura MDX, and now there's a nasty skunk odor permeating the whole vehicle. I've washed the car multiple times and have flushed the undercarriage. I've placed dryer sheets and baking soda in the interior and have wiped down the interior with automotive cleaner. The smell has slightly diminished but is still there. Are there any other solutions to removing skunk odor? Should I replace the cabin air filter?

AYou've given it your best, but now it's time for the pros. Find a detail shop that will disassemble and clean the air vents, use an ozone machine in the cabin, replace the cabin filter and do their magic to rid the vehicle of the skunk smell.

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