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Auto Technician of the Year Calls Regular Oil Change Critical Car Maintenance

ATLANTA, May 28, 2003; Despite the sophistication of today's advanced automotive engines, the old-fashioned act of changing the oil is still the most critical piece of routine maintenance a car owner can do, according to a top ASE-certified technician.

"Having your oil changed on a regular basis is the single most important thing you can do to ensure a long life for your car's engine," said 2003 ASE Technician of the Year Stephen Powell. "Clean oil promotes engine health and improves efficiency, fuel economy and dependability. Regular oil changes are the best way to keep your oil clean and fresh and your engine performing at its peak."

Despite meticulous modern engine design, simply starting and operating your car assures that particles and fuel contaminants will find their way into the engine oil. While the oil filter is designed to catch most of the contaminants, they can dilute and pollute the oil before it's processed through the filter.

"When contaminants are present in the oil, it can't offer the same protection to your engine," Powell said. "Only regular oil and filter changes can eliminate the contaminants and limit the effects they can have."

The consequences of poor oil and engine maintenance are considerable, and range from reduced engine power and mileage, to increased oil and fuel usage, to premature engine failure.

The owner of Thoroughbred Transmissions & AutoCare Inc. in Laurel, Md., Powell has seen the consequences up close.

"I've seen fleet vehicles reach more than 300,000 miles with regular oil changes and I've replaced engines in newer cars that were running the same oil they poured in at the factory," Powell said. "The difference is a few dollars every few months versus $4,000 to $7,000 down the line."

Powell recommends that car owners with normal driving patterns change their engine oil every three months or 3,000 miles. Those who do lots of stop-and-go driving, take more short trips, haul heavy loads, or drive in hot and dusty conditions might consider more frequent maintenance.

"I recommend that drivers closely read the manufacturer's recommendation in their car's owner's manual and factor in their own driving habits to determine their ideal oil-change interval," he said, "but three months or 3,000 miles is a good rule of thumb."

With so many brands and types of oil to choose from, it's easy to get confused about which is right for your car. Powell always defers to the vehicle's manufacturer.

"Following the manufacturer's recommendation is the best way to decide the type of oil to put in your engine," he said. "They know the design, use and performance characteristics of the engine better than anyone. You typically can find their recommendation in your owner's manual, and some auto companies have even started putting it under the hood on the oil filler cap on top of the engine.

"Some oils may offer better protection for your engine, but no oil, no matter how expensive or sophisticated, can prevent contaminants," he added. "Only frequent oil changes can ensure contaminants are regularly removed from your engine."

The variety of vehicles on the road today may lead many to believe that engines in one type of vehicle are dramatically different than those in another. This top technician disagrees.

"While there are differences in size, there aren't many differences in engine types among most passenger vehicles," Powell said. "Smaller engines in smaller cars tend to rev higher and work harder, while larger engines like those in trucks and SUVs are typically moving more weight. That may change the manufacturer's recommendation for the type of oil you put in the engine, but the engines themselves aren't too terribly different."

Powell agrees that having your oil and filter changed properly is as important as having it done often. Whether you're taking your car to a professional repair shop, it's important to have an ASE- certified automotive technician perform the service.

"Regular oil changes are critical," he said, "and ASE-certified automotive technicians are the best people for the job."

ASE-certified technicians are tested and certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a not-for-profit organization that works to improve the quality of automotive service by certifying technicians and promoting informed consumer decision-making.