Reader Question: Topping Off Only?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Corey asks: This will probably sound dumb and maybe it is but I never change the oil in my car.I check it regularly and top it off. I usually sell/trade-in my cars around 90,000 miles and do far haven’t head any issues and feel I have saved a good bit of money. Thoughts?

My reply: I think the people who ended up with your ex-cars are going to regret it!

It is true that oil doesn’t wear out – that’s why it can be reused after recycling. But the additives do wear out – or rather, they degrade. And contaminants – including small abrasive particles as from carbon/varnish – accrue. These create friction, which enhances and accelerates wear, which will cause the poor engine to wear out  much sooner than it otherwise would have.

It is testimony to the engineering of modern vehicles that you’ve been able to get away with putting 90,000 miles on the same oil without something very expensive happening.

But, I’ll admit, you have saved some money.

I just – cuing Mr. T – pity the fools who inherited your vehicles!

. . . .

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  1. Oh, no.

    I thought it was going to be a question about vapor canisters and topping off *gas* pass the automatic shutoff at the pump.

    Pinching pennies to spend dollars- many, many dollars.

      • Years ago a shady amsoil salesman convinced my boss that there was no need to change the oil on his F450 (460 c.i. gas motor) tow vehicle. Just change the filter and top it off he said.
        I had to use it on a job after it had north of 20k hard miles on the same oil and when checking the dipstick the oil had the viscosity of thick syrup. Truck also felt a bit sluggish to me so I immediately gave it an oil change even though I got my ass chewed for it.
        We would haul heavy enough that you needed a class A cdl to be legal with a flipping tonner. Those old gas motors were lucky to make it to 175k miles with that kind of use, probably a lot less if you never changed the oil…

      • Eric, scary thing is, after having converswed with some Europeans in the recent past, it seems that the Euro car manufacturers are pushing very long oil-change intervals- I mean like 20K km.s!
        I remember getting into a discussion with a guy from Belgium on a forum a few years ago, in which he chided ‘stupid Americans for wasting money changing oil needlessly so often’- and he insisted that his 20K oil changes for just fine, and that his Benzes would manifest no problems ‘over their useful lifetime’- But of course, that ‘useful lifetime’ was about 60K km.s- the point at which he’d trade them in……

        I guess thge lesson is: If yer rich and buy a new Benz every 2 or 3 years, no need to “waste” a few extra $20’s on ‘unnecessary’ erl changes- and who cares what happens to the car after you get rid of it, ’cause they’re still making new’uns….. and by buying the new one that get.s 0.10 more MPG than the old one, you’re “saving the planet”… being wasteful is the new responsible… 😀 (As long as the virtue-signaling MPG numbers look good)

  2. A co-worker long ago knew I was a car guy, and said, my engines not running right, can you take a look?
    Was missing on one cylinder out of 6 in a 1995’ish Chevy V6. Did a compression check, gonner.
    Check the oil, black and gritty.
    “When’s the last time you changed the oil?”
    “what? how many miles on her”
    “and you never changed the oil”
    No, didn’t know I had too, I just add a quart when the oil light comes one……

    I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it for myself. Needless to say, it cost him about $5-6K in trade-in value. So that’s worth paying to change the oil.

  3. Now THATS a way to poke the hornets nest. I hope you wiped down the bodywork with wd-40 and rattlecanned over any rust underneath to complete the illusion.
    Remember to shine a light into the valve cover when buying used fellas cause that poor things all boogered up.

  4. That is criminal! Your engine is full of sludge! That engine is basically ruined- it’s life is cut drastically short- and for what? To have saved a few hundred bucks over the course of that 90K miles? This will soon come back to bite you, as the new cars become increasingly more complex and delicate, with much tighter tolerances, and reliance on oil pressure for many functions, your newer cars are going to fail long before 90K.

    Oil becomes DIRTY (which results in sludge- and sludge will kill an engine), and becomes contaminated by the byproducts of combustion, and it’s viscosity breaks down from repeated exposure to heat. Frequent oil and filter changes are CHEAP insurance which prevent MAJOR problems, and extends the vehicle’s life greatly.

    Not changing oil is probably the most blatant example of being penny-wise and pound foolish. As someone who has always bought high-mileage used vehicles, and then proceeds to double that mileage (They’re just broken-in at 300K!)….thinking of that sludged-up 90K no-oil change car out there makes me shudder. Then again, this is why I warn people AGAINST paying top dollar for low-mileage cars…..’cause the one with 180K on it that is still running fine was taken care of, and if it made it to 180 and is still going strong, it’ll keep going. Someone’s gonna buy that 90K car, and it likely won’t make it to 100K.

  5. Uh, how DIFFICULT OR EXPENSIVE is it to have the oil changed reguarly?! FFS!

    I can see topping off the oil between changes; it happens, particularly with older, well used cars. If one is putting in so much oil that it’s all new after a short interval, then there are serious issues with that car’s engine!

    • Hi Mark,

      Yup; this one is one for the record books. I actually used to know a guy – a friend’s father – who was like this; never changed the oil. One weekend, this friend and I – we were in high school – decided to change the oil (Buick Skylark) out of mercy. We removed the oil drain plug and nothing came out. Until we poked the hole with a screwdriver. Then some lumpy black goo drooled out… true story.

      • I don’t want to know what might be at the bottom of the pan of my lawn mower. As far as I know it’s only had the oil topped off for it’s 25+ year life thus far.

        • Heh….sometimes there’s an upside to splash lubrication instead of pressurized lube! (Unless of course, you’re going sideways across a steep slope).

        • The manual for my new Craftsman lawnmower (circa 2019) literally says do not change the oil, only add if it becomes low. I never changed the oil in the old one (10+ years) and when it died, it was due mainly to rust and cracked fuel lines. The oil was fine.

    • Major problem? Could be a stupid $2 seal that’s more work than the car is worth to get to. Guess it depends how you define a short interval. It wasn’t too annoying on the car I had like that. I did eventually start cutting back on the new oil top offs and started using drained synthetic from another car for some of it. Car wasn’t worth much and I wasn’t going to do the work to replace the seal. Plus it rust proofed the bottom of the car all the way back 🙂

  6. To sell/trade a vehicle with 90,000.00 miles on it where the oil has never been changed without disclosing that fact to the dealer/purchaser is fraud in my book. Failure to disclose a material fact.


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