“BibleMoneyMatters” recently ran a patronizing post called “Packing for a Blog Conference“. I wouldn’t bother reading it, or you’ll probably have the same reaction as me:
The article in question has already been more effectively lampooned elsewhere, but it seemed like a funny introduction to my own tip on preparing for travel.
Some of the more ridiculous ‘conference essentials’ listed in BMM’s post include:
- “Cash and credit/debit cards” – who leaves their house without a wallet or purse?
- “Photo ID” – same as above.
- “Mobile phone” – I’m seriously starting to think that the author in question leaves his house without pants.
- “Headphones: Nice to have if you want to wind down between sessions without being interrupted…” – you paid for a conference to avoid human contact? Shouldn’t you be at the social anxiety conference next door?
I, too, am attending a blog conference this weekend. I’m headed to CPFC12 (Canadian Personal Finance Conference 2012). Here’s the entirety of my extensive preparations:
OK, so I prepared a bit more than that. The only, perhaps, non-obvious preparations were as follows:
- I had my partner give me a hair cut a week ago so I’ll look like less of a fat slob.
- I topped off my car’s engine oil.
Most of TF’s readers (1) aren’t stupid and (2) aren’t bloggers, so telling you what to pack for a personal finance conference would be both insulting and useless. Today I’ll give you a tip that you can/should actually use before you go on any extended trip: take ten minutes and top off your oil.
Motor oil lubricates and protects your engine. With the proper viscosity, it improves your engine’s fuel efficiency. If your oil gets too dirty, it’ll form mechanically-toxic gunk. If the oil level gets too low, your engine can literally seize up.
Taking time to top off your oil is thus an important part of preventive car maintenance. It’s not as important as getting the oil changed at appropriate intervals (the interval length is based on your mileage and driving conditions). I last changed my car’s oil in May. If I followed the recommendation of a Quickster Lube-Job place, I’d probably need to change the oil every two or three months, which is ridiculous. I’ve only put a few thousand kilometers on the odometer since the last change. By topping up the oil, I’m making sure my engine has a healthy amount of lubrication in between oil changes, I’m delaying the need for an oil change, and I’m not wasting money by completely draining all the oil or replacing the oil filter too early.
I’m sorry if you find this post as obvious and innocuous as How to Roll Coins (yup, it’s officially on the first page of Google results for “How to Roll Coins”). I don’t provide today’s tip in the same bitter, sardonic tone. Every competent person should know how to roll coins, because you can literally ascertain the mechanics of rolling coins simply by observing a roll of coins. The same thing is true for filling out a cheque: read the cheque and fill out each item. Knowing how to top off your oil is just as easy, but it’s not as obvious. Cars don’t come with an Owner’s Manual. Oh, wait, they do. But still, most people don’t read them. Also, my 03 Malibu manual tells me to check my oil but, if it’s low, it tells me to get an oil change. That advice protects GM from lawsuits, but it’s not necessarily true. Learning how to top off your oil is a very small task that produces a disproportionately large amount of value, because it will help you get a lot more value and life out of your car.
(Side note: Trent Hamm of The Simpleton Dollar claims to be frugal. For example, he competes with his son to use less toilet paper and spends hours making weird concoctions of broth and soap. Yet he pays other people to change his oil. He tells people to delay their oil changes, but says nothing about topping up on oil. Clearly he doesn’t understand that this advice could ruin an engine. Sometimes a car does need more oil. Even more embarrassing is he gets the cheapest oil change with a coupon — so he’s likely getting non-synthetic oil at a sub-optimal viscosity).
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OK, so you’re sold on why you should top off your oil. Here’s how I went about it last weekend.
The only stuff I needed was the engine oil (I used Castrol Syntec with a viscosity of 5W30 as recommended for the 2003 Malibu), a $1 funnel (which I keep in my trunk; you should, too. You could top up without a funnel but it’s just safer/easier), and paper towel to check the oil and to clean up.
The oil that you use is important. Your car manual will tell you what the recommended viscosity of oil is (e.g. 5W30, 10W40). Use the proper viscosity of oil.
Can you get away with a different viscosity? I’m not an engineer. Probably, but it’s a dumb idea.
I don’t know if it’s OK to mix synthetic and non-synthetic. I will say, however, that I’d be perfectly comfortable doing it, so long as the viscosity was the same. The ‘Bu only gets synthetic because I like to imagine I take good care of it.
When it comes to purchasing oil, I have two tips: (1) buy oil in a big bottle, don’t buy the quart-size. And (2) buy it on sale. This seems obvious but the price differential bears repeating. I got my 4.4 litres of Syntec (enough for a full oil change and a top-up) for $25, taxes in, at a Wal-Mart Boxing Day sale. As of Saturday, the same container of oil was $46.97 plus tax. It’d probably be $60 if I bought quarts of oil.
Important: never top up the oil in an engine that was recently running or that is running.
First I popped the hood and located the dipstick (the yellow handle on the engine):
I pulled the dipstick out, cleaning it with paper towel as I pulled it out. Then I re-inserted the dipstick, pulled it out, and laid it on the clean part of the paper towel. You could just look at the dipstick indicator. I lay it on the paper towel because the 2003 Malibu’s hatched dipstick indicator is awful to read. Because of my lack of a third hand, I didn’t get a good picture of this step. The oil was below the maximum, but not egregiously low.
Next I unscrewed the oil cap from the engine.
I poured in a bit of oil, because it’s important to not overfill the manifold.
I checked the oil level with the dipstick, then poured in a bit more oil. I checked again and it was getting close to the full line.
I screwed on the engine cap, cleaned the funnel and bottle, closed the hood, and that was that.
Maybe this article was too simple to be worthwhile. Then again, I proved that I treat my car better than Trent Hamm, despite the fact that he spends more money on his. So long, Big Oil!