Things they don’t teach in Driver Ed

By Mir
October 30, 2006

Most of the mundane chores of life are fairly self-perpetuating. If I don’t do laundry, we don’t have clean clothes to wear. If I don’t cook, there’s nothing to eat. If I don’t occasionally throw the kids into the shower, one assumes that CPS would eventually show up on my doorstep. Things like that.

If I don’t change the oil in my car, well, the car continues to run. And perhaps Otto lectures me about how my driving habits mean I really need to be vigilant about changing the oil regularly, and then I change the subject. (Or maybe I say “Well, clearly YOU will be in charge of car maintenance, and I will be in charge of [redacted]! That’ll be fair!” And then Otto will point out that it’s too bad I can’t blog that because it was funny, and I will offer to blog it in a fashion that leaves the readers to imagine something much worse than what I actually said, because that’s always fun.)

Anyway, I’ve been MEANING to get the oil changed in my car. Pinky swear. I just hadn’t gotten around to it, because I have more important things to do, like read every label at the grocery store so that I can accomplish my shopping within a six-hour timeframe.

I had one of those little reminder sticker thingies, too, and when I passed the recommended mileage I took it off the window. Because that… um… made it less true that I was overdue for my oil change. Obviously.

And then a week or two ago I actually got a $10 coupon postcard in the mail from one of those quick-lube places, the final signal that I needed to get it done. I had worked my way onto the “we haven’t seen you in forever so either you’ve found another greasemonkey to love or you’re the sort of idiot who hasn’t had her oil changed in a year” list. Oh, the shame.

So. Today. Today! Today I went to get my oil changed! And I was very pleased with myself. I patted the dashboard and told my car that I was taking good care of her.

Well, I should’ve known I was in trouble right when I pulled into the work bay. The technician who’d guided me in via a series of hand signals now told me to turn off the car and pop the hood. I turned off the car and popped the little door that covers my gas cap.


I found the hood release, finally, and I wanted to get out of the car and close the fuel door, but the OTHER technician (the one who was typing my information into the computer, because I hadn’t been there in so long, the computer had forgotten me) told me it would be a safety hazard for me to get out. I was advised to stay in the car.

So I stayed in the car, and flipped open the book I had with me. I’d be perfectly happy with 10 minutes to read.

Except, I was not allowed to read. Rather, I was allowed to read in 30-second increments. They kept asking me things. And forcing me to make decisions. My favorite was the clipboard with the different oil options. Did I want the sad, basic oil? Oh, mind you, it’s perfectly good oil, yes, but it gets the smallest picture, the smallest amount of copy, and looks altogether uninteresting.

But! Move up just one notch, and you’re at a partial synthetic with a much more jovial picture, and more lines about its oily wonderfulness. Tempting, to be sure.

And then, of course, there’s the Cadillac of oils. Full synthetic! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It practically has a Harry Potter-esque animated picture, complete with an explanation of how this oil will keep your car running even beyond the Apocalypse. This is the oil for people who love truth, justice and the American Way.

I picked the basic oil.

I’d just found my place in my book again when Technician 2 came to talk to me about my coolant.

Oh, did you think the oil change was just about OIL? Neophyte. Once you roll in there for an oil change they’re entitled to mock you about any fluid in your car. If your automobile is in impeccable working order, they’ll probably just insult your choice of gasoline.

My coolant, you see, is too acidic. I know this because of a little test strip he held up against a chart. My test strip was bright orange, meaning either that my car is pregnant or that the coolant is more acidic than it should be. (I think pregnancy is a better option, particularly because it would be awesome if my car just up and spit out a Mini one day.)

Anyway, they wanted to know if I’d had my scheduled coolant flush on the car at 30,000 miles. I didn’t actually OWN this car when it was at 30,000 miles, but I assured him that it had been flushed. Yes sir, I’m sure everything is fine, no need to flush it again. Oh, well then, it’s probably nothing, he said. Even though a minute earlier he was trying to convince me to pay for a coolant flush.

Moral of the oil change story: Just get in, get your basic oil, and get out. If you open your mind to the possibility of more, you’ll be driving out of there with a rebuilt engine. And really, your car is probably fine, even if you did go 6,000 miles since your last oil change.

But don’t go 6,000 between oil changes. That would be bad for your car and wrong, and you’ll find yourself offering [redacted] to someone more car-savvy to keep track of your auto maintenance from now on just so that it doesn’t happen again.


  1. Lisa B

    I just stumbled upon your site (Been meaning to check it out for quite some time). I LOVE it! And now I’m kicking myself — why did I visit you sooner?

    Well, gotta go and read a few more of your entries. And Gawd, I HATE getting my oil changed. So I feel ya there.

  2. Muirnait

    Because I go to the dealership for my oil changes, I get friendly little letters in the mail to remind me. :-)

  3. Sharkey

    The owner’s manual that came with my Subaru says I only have to change it every 7,500 miles. So by changing it at 6,000, you’re actually ahead of the game.

    Do they really trap you in your car and try to sell you things? I drop mine at the dealership and go to work, so only have to deal with the single phone call sales pitch. It’s much more difficult for them to make me feel stupid (and thus sell me stuff I probably don’t need) on the phone.

  4. Valbee

    My mantra at the oil change place is, “Thanks. I’ll speak to my mechanic about that.” Ever since the time when they told them my transmission fluid was black and needed to be flushed. Because when I got home, I went to my neighbor, who really was my mechanic then, and had him look at it. And the transmission fluid was exactly the color it’s supposed to be. Oil change places are evil.

    And seriously, don’t get me started on Midas. :)

  5. Zee

    They wouldn’t let you get out of the car?? How weird is that?! I usually try to go into the little room that smells like oil and carbuerator fluid and play the teeny-tiny MahJonng game on my Blackberry while I wait for them to call my name and tell me how much I owe them…

    Oh, and they like to bring in the air filter to show me just how dirty it is and how I need to pay $19.99 for a super-lovely clean new one that they’ll tell me needs replacing the next time I go in… Man, I love getting my oil changed!

    Still…weird that they advised you to stay in the car… weird. [shakes head]

  6. Fold My Laundry Please

    I actually like getting my oil changed because it makes me feel auto saavy despite the fact that a mechanic once told me my fan shroud was loose and I thought he said fan TROUT. Confusion filled my brain, yet I managed to look thoughtful and ask if we really needed to fix that right then. He must’ve know I had no idea what he was talking about because he pointed it out to me and then told me it would not only get rid of the horrible noise I had brought it in for, but that he could fix it right there with me watching using nothing more complicated than a screwdriver and that he wouldn’t even charge me anything!

    I usually say no to all of their maintenance stuff except the air filter, but that’s only every 4th visit (about once a year). By then the filter really is looking pretty gross.

  7. Kimberly

    I think [redacted] is now going to be my new favourite word :)

  8. el-e-e

    I’m getting mine changed TOday! Usually my dealership tries to convince me there’s a “53,950-mile service.” For $300. I always resist that crap. Joining the Chorus of HAAAAATE of those places. :)

  9. Bob

    actually, with winter almost here, it would be wise to have your coolant checked to make sure that it has the proper coolant/water ratio. the last thing you need is a cracked engine block because your coolant lost its antifreezing capabilities. (unless you know the last time the system was flushed and refilled, then – nevermind!)

  10. Bob

    oh, and I am in charge of car maintenance in our family and I don’t get [redacted] for it anyway.

  11. Avalon

    *slinking away to oil-changer-type-place*

    Thanks for the reminder! Your Blog is better than one of those windshield stickers!

  12. Melanie

    I always go longer than the 3000 between changes. It’s a curse. The worst thing is, my dad is a mechanic and will do it for me on the cheap, and I still keep on truckin’. I’m actually awful about checking it to, but I rationalize that I have a Toyota and don’t they really not need maintenance? Don’t they just pretty much take care of themselves?

  13. Aimee

    I’m in charge of [redacted] at my house, too.

    By the way, I would freaking *love* it if our car would get preggers and give us a bouncing baby mini. They’re so cute!

  14. Kimmie

    Had my oil changed yesterday. 3,628 miles. The car saleslady said I really don’t need it done until the car blinks a light and tells me to have it done. I don’t believe that. It’s a lease and they just want me to kill the car so I have to buy it.

    We live in a “small” town and have a couple of gas/service stations. Our service station guy does the basics…..changes the oil and fills the tires. Woo-hooo!

    I used to take it to Walmart until they didn’t put my car back together right and it leaked oil until I took it back in TWICE to have it fixed. :0P~~~~

  15. Rachael

    Just changed my oil the other day. I was 7,000 miles and 4,000 miles overdue. My poor van was clicking something terribly. And gads…I decided to replace the air filter as well as I hadn’t done it in a year. So now my van is all happy.

    So I’m there with you Mir. Otto can be in charge of my car maintenance too.

  16. Susan

    Otto can be in charge of the car and you can be in charge of the toilet. Oh, wait, that’s not good, is it?

    I had my oil changed this morning. And as I was reading this post, I remembered that I have a coupon! For an oil change! In my bag! That I forgot to give the nice man!


  17. Jessie

    How tempting it is to guess! Unfortunately, [redacted] could mean so many things. I’m going with [redacted]=folding socks. ‘Cause there ain’t nothing sexier than a basket full of folded socks.

    On a different note, how are you feeling about halloween and gluten free Monkey? Would you like a list?

  18. leandra

    When we bought our truck (2004), the guy who sold it to us (a very trust-worthy sort who I’ve known since we were kids) told me that we really only need an oil change when the light comes on or after 5000 miles. I imagine this is true for many newer cars. It probably wouldn’t hurt to check the oil every so often though… I’ll get right on that. Heh.

  19. Amanda

    I have an Acura with the blinky maintenance light, and it goes so far as to tell you EXACTLY what mainentance is needed based on the wear you’ve put on your car since the last time. I actually called Acura to make sure I didn’t need the $500 20K maintenance, the $500 30K maintenance, the $500 35K maintenance, the $500 40K maintenance, etc. that the stealership was trying to guilt me into… and nope, those aren’t necessary at all. I think I’ve saved nearly five grand just by avoiding what the stealership recommends.

    If the stealership was a restaurant they would have *so* spit in my sammich by now…

    And for the record, I totally recommend Acuras. I’ve got 55K on my 2004, and I haven’t done anything to it besides change the oil four-five times (according to the maintenance light) and buy a new set of tires. Now ask me about my shitty Volkswagen…:(

  20. Cele

    Married to a mechanic, who does oil changes on a regular basis I know that 3000 is the industry norm. He is usually in charge of the vehicles and the lawn, I get all the other chores. For the most part it seems a fair trade.

    Before we went on vacation in August I actually took it to a lube joint because Ducky was up to his ears in semis and couldn’t fit my truck in. The guy literally scolded me for my truck being to hot when I brought it in for it’s oil change. He told me not to drive it so far when I’m going for my oil change. WTF I live less than three miles from the place – what am I suppose to do, push it to the lube joint?

    I think Ducky wanted to make him a new air filter hat.

    Happy Halloween

  21. ishouldbeworking

    After a year of not having a male to oversee those pesky auto maintenance tasks, it’s nice that I have NewGuy to take care of things my car needs…oil changes, battery, tires, replacing a mirror I knocked off….(we won’t worry about HOW that happened). It also helps that he is the manager of a place where I can get all that done for little if any cost. Usually all it takes is a little [redacted] ;)

  22. Otto

    7,000 miles? GAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Okay, here’s a few tips … oil doesn’t break down in a linear fashion. The way you drive greatly affects how often you need to change it. If you start the car, cruise on the highway for 60 miles, stop the car, repeat, that’s a LOT less wear on the car and oil than start the car, cruise a mile, stop the car, start the car, drive half a mile, stop the car, repeat.

    The former heats the motor up and helps cook out any moisture that may be in the oil. The latter lets it accumulate. Stop and go, start and stop is WAY harder on a car.

    So … just, well … 7000 miles!!!!

    Some newer cars can do that if you’re running synthetic oils. Maybe. If your car monitors oil wear, then go by that. If not, make sure you’re reading the manual and noting the difference between normal and severe usage – you’d be surprised what “severe” usage entails.

    As for dealership visits … read the owners manual before going in. If the manufacturer – who has all the durability engineers – says do something, it’s a good idea to do it. If the dealership has an alternate schedule, ask to talk with their durability engineer. Ask to see the results of stress and wear tests. They’ll get confused, then go sit in a corner and cry. Hopefully.

    Oh, and if Mir’s car spit out a Mini, I’d be happy, too.

    Happy motoring!!

  23. foodmomiac

    6,000 is awesome Mir. I’ve been known to hit 8 or 9.
    (running and hiding from Otto)

  24. Sheila

    Some kind of wierd performance anxiety comes over me whenever I am asked to find the right buttons and levers in my car. There I sit, and the guy who’s only trying to check things off his list before actually beginning any real maintenance tells me to switch on my lights, which I do. Next, he asks for a little high beam action… and I promptly shoot wiper fluid out at him. Usually I manage the left and right blinkers OK, but the command to turn on the hazards trips me up every time. By then I’m so flustered that I, too, will open up then gas tank instead of the hood latch 4 out of 5 times. I feel like Lucille Ball every time I get my oil changed. As a result, I usually visit a different quick lube each time. I’ve got about four locations to rotate around in the hopes that they don’t actually remember the dorky lady who quite possibly shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle without an instructor. I’d redact all day and night if it got me out of visiting those places!

  25. kris

    I need to pay closer attention. When you mentioned CPS I thought it was a disease.

    More Diet Coke please . . .

  26. InterstellarLass

    I keep hearing about these really expensive kind of cars, something called a Saab, and maybe something that has the intials BMW, or something like that. Anyway, these cars don’t have to have regular oil changes. They’re super space age. And when they do have to have oil changes, it’s free! Included in the price of the car. How strange! Wealthy people live differently I guess…

  27. Mom101

    Oof, you are speaking man-language to me. Which is a language I used to speak well when I was single, but have lost the tongue a bit in recent years. From what I can tell though, there was something wrong with your car’s oil? It sucked? But got fixed?

  28. Jabberwocky

    I think maybe Mir has something to tell us about shiny jewelry?

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