Reader Qs II (August 4, 2017)

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Here’s the latest reader Q – and my reply:

Jessica asks:
I bought a 2013 Corolla and just got an oil change.  When I went, I was confused by the oil change choices because I had only ever gotten standard before.  The guy had recommended I get the $50 change (I think it was a premium choice?).  Anyhow, I ended up getting the next best thing which I guess was kind of a synthetic oil blend.  I kind of wish I would have gotten the best change, but my car seems to be running fine.

What is your opinion on the synthetic oil blend?  The man also told me it should last my car up to 10,000 miles!  That sounded a bit wacky to me, but I suppose it could be true.  (?)  What do you think?

My reply: 

Synthetics have several advantages over conventional oil, including better flow characteristics are very low temperatures (as when the car has been sitting overnight during the winter) and resistance to breakdown at high temperatures (as in summer, or when the engine is run very hard).
You will often notice easier starting in the winter (because the oil flows more readily) and may see a slight uptick in gas mileage due to reduced friction. The superior protection in summer/high heat/stress conditions will express itself in longer engine life.
A synthetic blend just means what it sounds like: It is a blended oil. So it’s a step up over a conventional non-synthetic but not a full synthetic.
The key thing is that whatever oil you use, it meets the minimum standards set forth by Toyota (for warranty reasons as well as long-term reliability reasons) and is the recommended viscosity – for example 5W-30. Don’t use oil that’s thinner or thicker than recommended, as this can cause problems in modern car engines like the one in your Corolla.
Using synthetic – full or blended – is fine. But so is conventional, unless Toyota specified synthetic.
If not, you can use standard oil – which costs less. It is perfectly good oil – and you will not hurt your car’s engine by using it, nor are you depriving it of anything.
But you will probably want to change the oil (and filter) at least as often as Toyota recommends.
If to you decide to go with synthetic – blended or full – you can extend the change intervals to the maximum mileage/time recommended by Toyota. See your owner’s manual for this info (look under “service” or “changing oil”). But do not exceed the recommended maximum mileage/time, no matter what oil you use – and what the guy at the oil change place says. Follow the recommendations made by the engineers who built your car.
PS: Whenever you get your oil changed by someone else – especially a lube shop – be sure to check the oil level on the dipstick before you leave. Sometimes, these places will over or under-fill the engine and neither is good. Also, be sure the oil on the dipstick looks new. It should be honey-colored, not dark brown (or – worse – black).
Also be sure to look under the car for any signs of leaks before you drive off. Sometimes, they forget to tighten the drain plug – or they tighten it too much!
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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

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