Why do people think cars don't use oil?

I’ve been a mechanic all my life. I’ve had probably 40 cars in my life, and I work on and around them all day long. And all my life it’s been clear that cars use engine oil and you regularly need to check the oil and add as needed.

As a young boy I remember the family pulling into the Exxon station at the end of the street and George filling the tank and opening the hood to check the oil. If it was low and I was with Mom she would say add some. If it was low and I was with Dad he would say he has some at home. The reason they checked the oil is because it was normal to have to add some from time to time. Some cars used a quart between oil changes, some cars a quart every 3 fill ups. It’s all normal.

As full service went away, it then became normal for people to open the hood themselves and check the dipstick while they were filling up. There’s a reason that every gas station has quarts of motor oil for sale, cars need it. You can buy motor oil at the grocery store, hardware store, 7-11, anywhere, and it’s cheap. But somewhere along the line people stopped checking their oil.

What brings on this rant? Today we had a first-time customer, the father of one of our regulars. He has a 2012 Subaru and he’s had it at 2 other shops, and neither one could find the oil leak he’s complaining about. I calculated he’s added 2 qts of oil over the last 3400 miles. We inspected the car and found some seepage from the timing chain cover, but nothing that requires attention. I explained to him that the engine is not leaking anything, but normal oil consumption is to be expected at 140,000 miles.

“So you’re telling me it’s burning oil and I should get rid if it.”

“No, I’m telling you the car still has several years of service left as long as you check and add oil once in a while.”

“I don’t like driving cars that I can’t trust and engines shouldn’t burn oil. I guess I should trade it in.”

“Well a quart every 1700 miles is perfectly normal, and your car even has a light that comes on when the engine is 1 qt low, but if you’re in the mood for a new car…”

I just don’t get people like that. It takes longer to clean your toilet than it does to check your oil, and people clean the bathroom once a week but can’t be bothered to add oil once in a while.


It’s pure ignorance.

Some cars use more oil than others, I would say the majority of my cars did not have a significant oil usage. Both our cars now no discernible loss of oil at 5k mile change intervals. Both under 30k miles at this point. Trailblazer at 180k mile used 1/2 quart per 3k miles at the end if I recall correctly. People are used to drive it and forget it, and it does work well for a majority of drivers I think.

I am like you and don’t understand why people don’t do one of the easyst and cheapest things to maintain a car.

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Agree for the most part or maybe just lazy. :roll_eyes:

Well…maybe the guy had a few cars that use very little oil, no need to add between changes (like mine), and got used to that. Not that he’s right, but his experience may color his judgement.


Electronics have evolved enormously in the last 50 years.
Size, weight, efficiency etc. have improved by many orders of magnitude.
Machinery has improved too, but not by so much.
The average consumer expects their car to be as free of physical upkeep as their smart phone.
But machinery is about where electronics was when the “compactron” tube came out.

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I too get frustrated when I hear people who do not check their oil, either due to lack of knowledge or laziness. Keeping the oil up is the simplest easiest thing to keep a car on the road.


I agree that cars do use oil, but over the past 50+ years of driving the only vehicle I ever owned that used more then a pint a oil between oil changes was my Chevy Vega (which had known engine design problems)


I think with older drivers, they still have it in the back of their heads when they use to change the oil around 4k miles. the oil was a little thicker too. 10-40 vs 0-20 now with some newer vehicles. the manufactures now recommend oil changes somewhere from 7500- 10k miles. so it may seem like they are adding a lot more oil between changes.

I have a neighbor that simply will not check under the hood or even check tire pressure. She isn’t stupid. These are things that she simply won’t do, or even let her son do. I offered to check for her and teach her son how to do it, but she said she would pay someone to to it. This means that it waits for several months, she won’t go every other week somewhere to check fluids and tires. Fortunately it hasn’t hurt her yet.

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Lucky you, but that’s certainly not the norm.

Also today in the shop we had a 2014 Silverado. Last summer we did $4400 worth of work. New water pump, radiator, all hoses. New brakes front and rear, shocks and struts, tune up, and A/C repair. Unfortunately that was also the last time the oil was changed, or checked. Now the truck has gone 9800 miles since the last service, was 3 qts low, makes a clattering noise, has a check engine light with a misfire caused by a failed AFM valve lifter. The customer approved an engine replacement on the first phone call without much thought.


I remember in the 1950s where oil changes were at 2000 miles and some owners changed oil every 1000 miles.
My first car, a 1947 Pontiac, used a quart of oil every 300 miles. Some years later, I bought a 1972 Maverick that was two years old and it used a quart every 300 miles. I was elated when new valve stem seals reduced the consumption to a quart every 1250 miles.
In the 1960s, Consumer Reports reported the oil consumption of the card they tested. I remember the Dodge slant 6 engine needed a quart of oil every 450 miles.

We had a car that didn’t use oil more than a qt between oil changes (every 6,000mi) but noticed that there were drips on the pan uinder the car in the garage. Went into the shop the next day and the leak was fixed with a new cam seal. Car was going in when we returned from a trip anyways, Nothing you wouldn’t expect on a car with over 160,000 miles.

After I bought a new Toyota Pickup in 1993 I changed oil every 2000 miles just like I did with my previous 1962 Falcon. The Falcon used no oil between changes and neither did the Toyota. Now with 311,000 miles and synthetic oil I’ve extended the oil change interval to 5000 miles on the Toyota and the oil level is still on the full mark. If it uses any oil in 5000 miles it must be a teaspoon or two. My 2018 Versa also stays on the full mark between 5000 mile oil changes. I think the low tension piston rings on some newer cars will turn out to be a mistake.

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Fifty years ago all cars used oil BUT there was no self service so the “gas jockeys” would “clean the windshield, check the tires and check under the hood (oil, transmission fluid, etc.)” for all fillups while the customer sat warm and cozy.

Over time the engines got a lot better and the supply of kids willing to freeze their butts off for a buck something an hour declined so the gas jockeys disappeared but most customers still preferred to sit warm and cozy vs. getting their hands dirty and cold. Back when most men wore nice suits for work and most women wore dresses, can’t say I blame them.

Today, engines are a miracle of efficiency and durability, most requiring almost no regular maintenance and today’s vehicles monitor practically everything, creating the expectation of no maintenance, so most people don’t see the need and have simply gotten out of the habit of regularly checking anything. In some ways we’re the victim of our own success.

Personally, I disagree because I’m an old fart who knows that everything wears out or get’s used up and see the value of maintaining a machine at optimal levels instead of only when the car tells me it exceeds minimums but I can understand why most people don’t.


Bingo! Many people rely on OTHERS to do even the simplest stuff…

Engines got better, self serve gas happened and the norm was a 3000 mile oil change… So one quart low when the car rolled in for an oil change. The oil change place added 1/2 quart extra just to be safe and NO one ever checked the oil between changes.

Move forward to the 5000 mile change… Engines are a little better still, the car shows up at Jiffy Boob 1 1/2 quarts low and the JB “tech” adds 1/2 to 1 extra quart (if he adds any at ALL :roll_eyes:) and NO one ever checks the oil between changes.

Now we have 7500 mile oil changes and the car rolls in 2 quarts low (from a 5 quart pan) and maybe it’s 9800 miles and 18 months, or maybe 24 months, the driver forgets, the “low oil” light is flashing when they corner or brake hard. The oil is changed, an extra quart is added but the tech knows this engine is gonna blow sometime in the near future from lack of oil because NO ONE EVER checks the oil between changes!!

And the owner is shocked the car didn’t TELL them the oil was low despite all the RED lights flashing on the dash that they don’t understand anyway because they NEVER read the owners manual…

The modern car owner treats the car like a refrigerator. If the food isn’t cold, or it doesn’t make ice, the service tech gets a call. Otherwise, it is completely ignored.


Maybe according to you. But I know many mechanics…including automotive engineers and they see the same as I do on a properly maintained vehicle. Only vehicles they see oil consumption of 1qrt every 3k miles is on a poorly designed or poorly maintained vehicle.

I check my oil about every two weeks or the morning after every fill up. But I will say that most of the vehicles I’ve owned rarely burned a noticeable about of oil ( I could go 5k between oil changes and not have to add any). So I can see where a person who has had vehicles that never burned or leaked oil for the past 20 years or whatever would get the idea that most cars don’t use oil. My first vehicle, a 74 F-100 never burned much oil, likely because we did an engine swap and rebuilt the engine that went in before I ever started driving it regularly. My T-Bird SC in high school never burned/leaked oil. The Bronco that followed it never burned oil, and only developed a very slow leak (rear main seal) at around the 180k mark, but never leaked enough to cause me to have to add more than 1/3 quart between oil changes, The 2003 Mustang never leaked/burned oil, the 1997 F-150 never did either, the 2014 F-150 didn’t, the 2016 Mustang used about 1/2 quart during the first 5k miles, but uses less than 1/3 quart between oil changes these days. The 2019 F-150 doesn’t use any, but I only put about 3k miles a year on it. Now the TR6; that leaks so much oil that I’m worried that Dick Cheney is going to try to invade my garage and/or the EPA will designate it a superfund site before too long.

I think some of today’s vehicles do burn more oil than vehicles of the recent past (90’s and early 2000’s). Not sure whether that’s due to lighter oil being used or engine design to improve fuel efficiency further. A 99 Camry 4 cylinder was not known to burn oil. Later models were known to. Same can be said for a Silverado. Couple that with oil changes being recommended at 2 or 3 times the interval that used to be the norm and thinner oils and you get the complaints. None of my current vehicles burn enough oil that you’d even have to check it if you changed it every 3k miles. 2005 Silverado with 180k burns about 1/2 quart in 5k miles. 2005 Lesabre, about the same. 2013 Highlander with 150k miles doesn’t burn enough oil in 5k miles that it’s readily discernible on the dipstick. So, I’d be a little annoyed if my new vehicle burned a quart in 3k.