By on November 11, 2013

Phil writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I have a question related to maintenance on a 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo. It currently has 45k miles, and I have owned it for only 4 months (had 20k when I took ownership of it). As you can see, it is driven a whole lot, almost exclusively on the great interstates of the Southeastern US of A. I average 5-6k per month. I am an outside sales rep. and drive from SC to MS and everywhere in between weekly.

My question is this:

Should I follow standard maintenance routines, such as every 5k oil changes and manufacturer’s recommended filter, plug and fluid changes; or can I extend these intervals. If so, how much can these intervals be safely extended? I plan to keep the car for about 3 years or 200k miles if it continues to run as well as it has. Are there any tips to keep the car in top shape mechanically?

Sajeev answers:

The gray area in these situations might as well be the entire discussion: Black and White analysis goes out the window! Some salient points, no matter the vehicle:

  • You can kinda, sorta judge oil condition yourself because worn out oil has a different look (not golden), feel in your fingertips (sinks into your fingerprints) and smell (like a BBQ gone bad).
  • Turbocharged cars demand more from their motor oil.
  • Turbocharged cars with marginal oiling systems (and cooling?) break oil down faster than similar systems. (see VW/Audi engine sludging)
  • Many wear items are indifferent to the frequency of driving and driving conditions (highway, vs. city) so you cannot significantly deviate from their service intervals.

In the case of a Turbocharged FWD family sedan with limited real estate for intercoolers/oil coolers/etc, I default to the worst case scenario: a sludge magnet like an older Audi.  Stick with 5k oil changes, unless you spend the money for an oil analysis to see exactly how (or at what rate) your driving style breaks down oil. Switching to a full synthetic extends the life of the motor and possibly the service cycle…but I ain’t committin’ to nothin‘ without an oil analysis.

What about other non-engine oil items?  Filters, coolant, spark plugs, should be replaced at the same intervals, unless you switch to a K&N air filter…which actually makes sense in your case! The only wildcard for me is the transmission fluid: one person putting that kinda time on the Interstate drastically alleviates stress on your ATF.  If three years is all you need, you may never need to change the transmission fluid.  BUT…since we aren’t in the business of abusing cars here…assuming there’s no dipstick to check, odds are servicing every 100k-150k is more than adequate.

I hope you enjoy this machine, as the Optima Turbo is on my short list of super cool machines for the average person.  I’d love to own one someday, but perhaps you should visit Steve Lang in ATL when you are ready to sell. He’ll make you the best deal when it’s “Hammer Time.”

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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39 Comments on “Piston Slap: See the USA in your K-I-A?...”


  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    You are the text book example of someone who could invest a few dollars having his oil sent to a place like Blackstone Labs (or any other place that does the analysis).

    Go synthetic, maybe Mobil 1 EP (extended performance) or Amsoil. Have the oil analyzed after 5K miles and go by their recommendations.

    I would be willing to bet that you can go 15 or 20K miles between oil changes at your rate.

    Might want to do the same for the transmission as well.

    I’d also bet that you have issues with carbon buildup on the intake valves from the direct injection system long before you have any oil related issues. No reason why you can’t aim for 300K miles on that Kia.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Do we know what type of motor oil is required by Kiaundai? Reuqired drain interval or if there is an oil life monitor like GM?

    Is Audi sludge problem referenced the same 2000 decade era that effect all manufacturers due to new emissions evap changes?

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC, the VW/Audi problem was partially due to their 10,000+ mile oil change intervals and an oiling system not up to par. And it wasn’t on every turbocharged motor in their portfolio…

      • 0 avatar
        mypoint02

        I wonder how much of the VW/Audi issue was because, once the cars were out of warranty, they were taken to the local Jiffy Lube and filled up with conventional dino oil rather than synthetic and still kept on its specified oil change interval. I had a ’00 A4 with the 1.8T and ended up selling it with 234k on the clock. Never had the sludge problem, but I did use synthetic and it was changed every 7500 miles. For some reason, very few people bother to read the damn owner’s manual and use the correct oil.

  • avatar

    Impossible to answer this question without knowing the type of oil being used, at minimum.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I’d recommend selling it and buy a non-turbo sedan with 10k intervals. It will drop your servicing to 6x/year instead of 12x (assuming you rotate your tires yourself). I know you are putting “easy” miles on the car, but a car with a turbo is probably the last vehicle I’d think about extending intervals. If you want to save money, pushing your intervals out a little bit will only lead to negligible savings and possibly lead to an early death to the turbo. Does the Kia require premium fuel? If so, that is another strike against this car for what you are using it for.

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      What the hell is the problem with you idiots on here and turbos! It’s not 1985 anymore! Every single semi truck on the road is running a giant turbo and they last till the rebuild interval 1 MILLION Miles! Its a kia not a porsche or vw, it will be just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Since we’re being hateful, your reading comprehension sucks. I’m saying that the turbo is likely the driver for the 5k intervals. Depending how sensitive the turbo is to oil degradation, pushing the intervals out might be a bad idea. I’m not against turbos. My GTI had one and my next car will likely be a turbo 2.0. If he is trying to save money, why buy a “performance” version with short change intervals for that usage? Your example of an over the road truck is idiotic. Completely different design criteria.

      • 0 avatar
        Buckshot

        Haha, this seems to be a problem with the majority of writers on this site.
        The 70ies turbomodels could be unreliable, but today turbos are not a bomb waiting to explode at any moment :-)

  • avatar
    Onus

    Run a good quality synthetic. Drop the oil at 5k and get an oil analysis done. Blackstone labs will send you a free container. Follow their recommendations when it comes to extending the interval.

    Your driving style is perfect for extending changes. My guess is you do long long stretches of steady state highway driving with the engine warmed up. Not lots of short trips and cold starts.

    The guy above says a turbo charged car is a risk. The new cars usually have water cooled turbos so the oil isn’t roasted cooling the turbo. But either way you can extend the interval with proper testing.

    Also check out bobistheoilguy the guys on that forum are know a bit and they can advise you better than we can.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I’ve seen several people recommend Blackstone. The last time I read a Blackstone report, it was very vague about the results. “x and y look OK, z looks a little high” Compared to what? Against everyone else that runs the analysis of the same model at similar intervals? Do you do a baseline and extend by 1000 miles until you reach some arbitrary “too high” level? I don’t think 1 analysis is sufficient to say that extending the interval is OK. A Blackstone analysis is $20 per. The maximum potential savings is $140/yr in oil changes (assuming $40/oil change and moving out to 7000 mile intervals from 5000 over 60k miles/yr). It just seems like a pretty big gamble for a relatively small reward.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I feel your pain as I do as much driving for fork as you, #1 what does your owners manual say 5K or more, my vw says 10 K with VW their syn oil, I have had it tested at 8 no issues, I would do what ever the kia book says use what ever oil they recommend, if you want to change to syn than go ahead , your more than likely getting a car allowance and the downtime to get a oil change is a PITA vs the extra $. I see a lot of sales folks jumping on board with the Kia? Sonota bandwagon, let us know how they hold up.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Our 2012 Sonata Limited is holding up quite well in much higher-than-average use, but it’s a non-turbo and uses the standard 2.4-liter engine. Even if some issue manifests itself on these engines, new owners have 10 years or 100,000 miles’ worth of powertrain warranty to find out about it, and second owners get 5 years or 60,000 miles. I must admit that I’m a little worried about the 2.0-liter turbo units and their longevity because they are first-generation engines (as are the GM and Ford 2.0-liter turbos), but the naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter has been in use for quite some time without incident.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        Kyree,

        I would share your trepidation with respect to first-generation new-tech engines, but I believe the current GM 2.0T is in fact the second-generation engine. The LNF 2.0T used in the HHR/Cobalt SS models along with the Sky Reline/Solstice GXP would have been the first-gen engine.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          True, although both are in use. The ATS and Malibu turbo use the new one, and the Verano Turbo uses the old one. The Regal Turbo used the old one up until MY2014, where I believe it got the new one as standard (and the 2.4-liter got dropped). I suppose what I should have said was “first generation of products using these engines”. More worrisome than the GM 2.0-liter is the 1.4-liter, which propels some relatively-heavy cars like the Cruze and Encore.

          • 0 avatar
            PonchoIndian

            Why the fear of the 2.0 and 1.4 turbo engines lasting?

            I’ve got 60K on my 1.4 turbo and change the oil ever 10K miles. So far I average over 40mpg every tank (45 summer 40 winter) and it doesn’t consume any between changes.

      • 0 avatar
        seth1065

        For road warriors like the op that would last less than 2 years , so it is like a 18 month warranty , that is why I want to know hold the hold up

  • avatar
    bikephil

    I am “Phil” in this post. Thanks for using my email! Just to answer a few questions that have come up: I have been using Kia’s synthetic blend since the local KIA dealer is taking care of the oil changes, at least until I hit 60k miles and the factory warranty runs out. At that point I will either let them keep changing the oil (at $17 a pop), or do it myself. My employer is paying for all maintenance and repairs so the dealer will probably be the choice. I am at 56k as of today, and have had no problems in the time I have had the car, other than a couple of minor rattles which I have taken care of on my own. I average 33-34MPG every tankful with 95% interstate driving averaging 70-75 MPH…

    • 0 avatar
      PonchoIndian

      Hi Phil,

      What did this Kia replace and what was your maint. routine on that car? Was it subjected to the same kind of use?

      I’d bet that if you continue what you are doing, and get the $17.00 oil changes as you have been, you’ll see 200K easy with no problems.

      Honestly, when was the last time you’ve heard of anyone having an oil related problem in a modern car (other than the engines that are known to have been poorly designed with regards to sludge issues).

      • 0 avatar
        bikephil

        Previously I drove an Acura MDX, but only for 7 months (I started my job in October 2012). It was a fine vehicle but only averaged 20 MPG with premium fuel, so thus the change to the Kia.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Wait…you are getting EPA fuel economy with a turbo charged engine? That’s impossible on this site… :)

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Unless he’s gunning it coming onto exits how often would he hit the boost in a say 90% highway commute?

        • 0 avatar
          bikephil

          Well said 28-cars-later. I do get into the boost as often as possible on highway onramps, but otherwise am pretty conservative in my day to day driving. I must say that this car is FAST when I push it!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Nice to hear you’re enjoying it. Regarding the turbo is evil or awesome argument I believe like many things if used properly turbo could be useful, but if misused would drive down mileage.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I certainly had no trouble beating epa estimates with any of my Saab turbos, but by a couple mpg, not 10+. Steady state highway driving is their forte.

        I would do whatever KIA says to do to the letter until the warranty is up, then 10k mile changes with Mobil 1.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      If somebody else is paying for maintenance and you can get your oil changed for $17 I think you are smart to keep doing what you are doing. You won’t save any money going to synthetic oil (the change interval may double but so will your cost). Your loss of time spent waiting on an oil change is something only you can value.

      If you were paying with your own money you could probably stretch the oil changes out to 20k using synthetic without any problem. Highway driving does not wear out your oil and the car is not sitting enough to accumulate contaminants in the oil (gas or water).

      For what is it is worth, some commercial trucks now go 75k between synthetic oil changes (and yes, they have turbos that work harder than the one in an Optima). Oil testing shows that the oil is still working just fine.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So this car doesn’t have an oil life monitor? All the reports I’ve seen have said those systems are pretty accurate at judging the condition of the oil.

    • 0 avatar
      bikephil

      it might, but I have learned not to trust them, just as I don’t trust the MPG computer either. They always read 3-4 MPG too high…

      • 0 avatar
        salguod

        My old Saturn Outlook had an OLM that would let it go 10K between changes. Noone online trusted the thing, but I was always a believer in “the manufacturer knows best” so I wanted to follow it. There were some fairly credible reports out there that the GM 3.6 DI V6 was hard on oil, so I had Blackstone check the oil at a couple changes, each at less than 10% on the OLM, or about 9,500 miles.

        Both tests came back that the oil was fine, but likely near the end of its life. One was Pennzoil synthetic, the other dealer dyno oil. That was enough for me to decide to trust the OLM.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I have never been the politically correct police, and I get the pun of the headline, I really do. 364 days out of the year, I wouldn’t say a thing.

    But, alas, on Veterans Day, K-I-A has a slightly different meaning.

    Just sayin’

  • avatar
    readallover

    Intervals can be meaningless if you do not check oil levels regularly.
    I know plenty of people who swear by certain mileage interval for changes. Then they change cars and the newer vehicle eats more oil than the last and they shorten the life of the motor because the oil level gets low.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Most manuals and mechanics are likely biased low. 10 thousand highway miles over relatively short time period, on a synthetic is fine. Do check the level now and then though, if you’re running thin oil such as 0w20 or 5w20 it might go down over 10K.

    I say forget sending it in at 5K. Maybe go 10K and send it in if you want the peace of mind, but I wouldn’t bother because it will pass.

  • avatar
    Matt Betts

    Keep in mind that the dealers and OEMs are already highly interested in stretching out the service intervals, as that means less maintenance costs for them, too. The car culture of Korea also plays a role, as they consider even basic items (oil, tires) to be extremely complicated, dealer-only tasks. They are not allowed, by law, to own a vehicle lift, so the average Korean consumer finds frequent service visits to be very bad.

    Also keep in mind the turbo boost range for that car kicks in as low as 1800 RPM. That means, if you punch it on the highway, you are increasing the wear on the oil via blow-by.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Dealers interested in stretching service intervals? Every dealer I’ve ever been to would like to have you back every 3000 miles for another shot at upselling fluid flushes and 100 dollar cabin filters.

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    My quick and dirty way of estimating maintenance intervals is using fuel use rather than miles driven. Beat on the car, use more fuel reach your fuel change interval sooner.

    For the 2011 Turbo KIA, EPA says 26 combined mpg, Kia says 5000 miles between changes so that’s every 192 gallon of fuel. If you are getting the highway number (34 mpg), you would go around 6500 miles before the oil is changed. If you drove only in the city and only got 22 mpg your 192 gallon change interval would equal 4200 miles.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    5k is a very short interval for mostly highway driving. Most vehicles can easily do 10k on modern conventional oil. I wouldn’t have any worries running a synthetic meeting European extended drain specifications for 15k or more under your operating conditions. Does Kia provide optional intervals for normal and severe service?


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