Curbside Living: Oil and Filter Anyone?

Nose of a Suburban in the garage door, up on ramps

She’s a big girl….. we’ve taken to calling her “Tiny”. The wash towel on the hood is to cushion it against the garage door.

So I mentioned I might change the Suburban oil and filter myself. Out of boredom, really. I go back and forth on oil and filter changes. I don’t mind to do them, but if the weather is poor or I’m really busy at work, and the change comes due, I’ll roll through somewhere.

I’m always hesitant to do so, though, out of fear something will go wrong. My parents had an oil drain plug get stripped at a local garage they used for years, and the offender caulked it back in to keep it from leaking. The next time they went in for a change, the owner came out to tell them what he found……and they produced the receipt for the prior change! Whoops.

The owner took responsibility and it was a $1,000.00 repair. It was an old Passat (I don’t recall the year), and the engine had to come out to replace the pan, or some such nonsense. 

I have a friend who left a large chain oil and tire place, and they apparently didn’t fill the oil at all! Newish Audi engine, ruined. Of course, he kept driving it with the red oil light on until he got home, so immediately pulling over might have been a better course of action.

Underside of GM 5.3 liter V8

Easy access to the filter and drain plug. Drain plug is at the back of the pan, so it will drain fully when up on ramps.


So with that background, I like doing it myself when I can. It’s a good time to glance over everything underneath for obvious leaks or damage, too.

A 2019 Suburban oil life monitor

After 5,150 miles since the last change


As far as how often to do it? With the BMW, it has a variable formula that calculates number of starts, trip length, etc. When you reset it, it appears to start with a baseline of 7,000 miles and indicates that remains to the next change. Driven almost exclusively around town under the right foot of a 17 year old male, it rapidly counts down and at about every 4,500 miles, says the change is due.

Chevrolet has used a number of different schedules and readouts over the years. My 2019 Suburban requires a change every 7,500 miles, and that is not variable. The dash readout just counts down 1% for every 75 miles, period, there is no calculation of any other parameter. The manual says you should not exceed 12 months either. So that makes sense, if you don’t cover 7,500 miles in 12 months, you’re probably putting around town and that’s worse for the oil.

Recent model years with a prior generation of the same 5.3 liter engine (a 2008 Suburban, for example) called for 10,000 mile oil and filter changes, and had a smaller capacity, 6 quarts versus 8.4 quarts for the 2019.

I rolled through the Valvoline near my office at 5,000 miles, 10,000 miles, and then 17,500 miles. No particular reason for the intervals, that’s just how it went. And now at 22,513 miles, it’s a sunny day and I need something to do on lockdown, so I’ll change it.

I like Valvoline, because you sit in the car and see everything they do. You can see them fill the engine, if that’s something you care about making sure happens. You can see which weight oil gun they are using to fill it. They also rotate tires, which not all the quick change places do, so that’s an added convenience. 

Jugs of Mobil 1 oil and a Wix filter

I received a coupon via email from one of the big parts chains for Buy One, Get One on 5 quart jugs of oil, and a free “premium” filter too. Not a bad deal; their everyday price is higher than WalMart, but then BOGO makes them much cheaper, not to mention the filter. Since the BMW and Suburban take more than 5 quarts per change, you need at least two anyway unless you have enough “leftovers” lying around. I bought two jugs of 0w20 Mobil 1 for the Suburban, and 0w40 Mobil 1 for the BMW.

“Premium” filter is a very subjective term. Without turning this into a rant about oil or filters, I like Mobil 1, so I picked it. It’s the factory fill for Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Corvette. I chose a Mann filter for the BMW, and a Wix for the Suburban. In choosing the Chevy filter, I noted that the Wix was larger than all the other options in stock for the Chevrolet 5.3 liter, including the OEM Delco filter.

I made some measurements while the old filter from Valvoline was on the car, before it got covered in old oil in the removal process. 

A Wix filter measuring 5 inches tall

You can see the Wix is 5 inches tall, and

Measuring a Valvoline oil filter

the Valvoline about 3 inches tall. My visual estimation is that the Valvoline and OEM Delco filters are the same size.

Does that make a Wix a better filter? I don’t know for sure. I would assume it at least has more filter surface area, since the canister is 66% larger, but that’s not guaranteed either. 

In any event, I made the choices I made, and the first time under the Suburban went fine. Up on the ramps, there was plenty of room to slide under on the cheap creeper I have. Not claustrophobic at all, with plenty of elbow room. The exhaust was in the way of the filter wrench, and it was hot from a grocery store run. But I made do and the Valvoline filter didn’t give much of a fight. It probably wasn’t as tight as it should have been.

A container of dirty motor oil

Those are random leaves in the bottom corner of the bucket.


I was surprised at how black the oil was, with one-third of the interval left to go. I know it’s supposed to get dark as it does its job, but it was still darker than I expected it to be. This had been a pretty easy 5,000 miles too, covered in about six weeks since the last change. It did pull the boat to the lake twice, but it also had been on a 2,000 mile interstate trip to New England and back on this sump.

Is this engine hard on oil? It does use the motor oil to operate the variable valve timing and the displacement on demand. For these reasons, strict adherence to the 7,500 mile limit and the use of only full synthetic 0w20 is clearly stated in the owner’s manual. Why did Chevy reduce the interval from 10,000 to 7,500 miles? And increase the sump capacity by 35%?

Inquiring minds want to know. Maybe it’s simply because GM assumes everyone ignores intervals, and never checks their oil level either. If you want it to always have 6 quarts in it, it better have an 8.4 quart capacity because no one will ever check it between changes, that type of thing. If you’re GM and you want it absolutely changed at 10,000 miles, you better tell everyone 7,500 because they’ll put it off for a couple thousand past that.

This was a pretty easy job and cheap with the oil deal….about $38 for the two jugs and filter, and I have 1.5 quarts left over. Two jugs of Mobil 1 and a filter at WalMart would be about $60. The Valvoline facility has run about $120 a pop for full synthetic. Unless it’s winter, I’ll probably keep doing these myself and know it’s at least full when I’m done! And if I strip the plug, I won’t caulk it in place.