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Oil change provides opportunity for more

Routine inspections can head off big problems

Oil changes are probably the most common of automotive services - performed so frequently that consumers may often pass up the opportunity to get more for their service dollar.

With automakers trying to gain increased efficiency, the "ordinary" oil change is becoming more comprehensive. Not only are companies recommending synthetic motor oil, but many automakers are developing their own oil specifications.

"The best way for consumers to ensure that they're getting optimal protection and using a product that meets factory specs is to ask a few questions to their service provider," says Jay Buckley, an ASE-certified master mechanic and technical training manager at Fram Group.

Doing your homework by reading the owner's manual is always a plus, he notes, but simply knowing what to ask will go a long way.

Here are Buckley's recommendations:

. Ask what's included in the service.

Many dealers and service stations bundle several different inspections in with the oil change. It's a great time for a mechanic to inspect brakes, hoses and undercar components to help stop a small problem from becoming a big and expensive one. In most cases, these additional inspections are a bargain.

. Ask if the right specification of motor oil is being used.

Oil-change facilities like to use "bulk oil," which as the name implies, is a single viscosity grade and specification of oil bought in bulk from a supplier. It will often suffice for many motor vehicles, but certainly not all.

If your car or SUV requires a specialized formula of motor oil, such as high-efficiency 0W-20 synthetic, or a manufacturer's specification, such as GM dexos, this "standard" oil may cause problems and potentially invalidate the new-car warranty.

. Ask if a premium oil filter will be installed.

Often overlooked during an oil change is the quality of the oil filter. A premium filter, such as Fram Ultra, can trap more damaging dirt from circulating through your engine. In standardized tests, this filter had double the dirt-holding capacity of the leading economy filter brands' average.

The ability to trap and hold harmful particles for as much as 24,000 kilometres becomes much more important as automakers extend service intervals, often to just once a year.

How your mechanic handles these questions can help you determine if you trust his or her work. Not only that, but you'll become an informed consumer, more knowledgeable about protecting your automotive investment.

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