Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2008   by Allan Janssen

Marketing Oil Changes

There are lots of reasons to change oil within the proper interval . . .  how are you communicating that?

Marketing oil changes

Fuel economy… vehicle longevity… performance… there are plenty of reasons to change oil within the manufacturer’s recommended interval.

By Allan Janssen

Most motorists will tell you they’re pretty good about oil changes… but statistics suggest otherwise.

According to extensive consumer surveys conducted by Shell Lubricants, the average oil-drain interval is significantly higher than the manufacturer’s recommendations.

“What we’re seeing is that the average oil change in Canada is between 8,000 and 9,000 kilometers. That’s where it seems to have fallen,” says Mark Reed, director of marketing for Shell’s Quaker State and Pennzoil brands in Canada. “Most consumers know they should be changing their oil every 5,000 to 6,000 kilometers, but the reality is they’re going past that.”

Speaking to automotive journalists at Shell’s Westhollow research and development facility in Houston, TX, Reed said it’s up to shop owners and service writers to find effective ways to communicate the importance of oil changes within the recommended interval.

“When consumers push it too far, when they go 12,000 or 15,000 kilometers on the same oil, they’re really starting to take real risks with their vehicles,” he said, “especially in stop-and-go traffic, and in our Canadian climate. Driving through hot and cold weather, over time, there’s a lot of extra acid created in the engine because of the temperature fluctuations.”

Communicating the need for preventive maintenance, though, can be tough. Especially when consumers believe new cars are built to last – without extensive work of any kind.

“Good preventive maintenance is no different from going to the dentist,” says Reed. “You should be taking your vehicle in every six or nine months, and having a complete inspection done.”

He believes explaining the critical function of motor oil is a good first step to convincing customers to get on a maintenance program.

“You get better start-up in different climatic conditions, and when the engine is running hot, you get better engine protection, especially in the bearings, and at the high-wear points around the cam lobes,” he explains. “That’s a big issue now, as so many manufacturers have gone to overhead cam engines. In the past, with push-rod engines, trying to get the lube up to the top wasn’t as critical as it is now. You need to get that lubricant up to the top as fast as possible.”

Another consideration is the vehicle warranty, which will undoubtedly be voided by neglect.

“The number one thing to tell consumers is that if their car is still under warranty, they’ll want to make sure they’re abiding by the manufacturer’s recommendations because they don’t want to compromise their warranty,” he says. “And obviously oil changes play very heavily into that.”

Oil choice can also play into fuel economy, which is increasingly important to consumers given the rising price of gasoline. Research shows that a vehicle with the right kind of oil, changed at proper intervals, can save a full tank of gas over the course of a year. That might not sound like much on an individual basis, but given millions of cars on North American roads, that can certainly add up to significant savings.

“There’s such a challenge to get in the consumer’s mind, particular in the U.S. market where everybody wants to drive the big SUVs, the Suburban, and the Tahoes,” says Reed. “In Canada I think our top-selling car for the last 10 years has been the Honda Civic, followed by Corollas and Mazda 3’s, and Sunfires, and Cavaliers. Because of the cost of fuel we’ve had for years, I think Canadians tend to be more sensible about the kind of cars we drive. In the U.S., as they approach $4 a gallon for gas, I think you might see some change in behavior.”

One of those changes could include a move to synthetic motor oils, which many consumers perceive as having a longer oil-change interval. Will this hurt the independent repair shop?

Research by Castrol Consumer North America suggests not. In a study of more than a million transactions by over 400,000 different fast-lube customers, Castrol found that 56% of consumers who purchased synthetic motor oil changes purchased additional products and services, spending nearly twice as much per ticket than conventional motor oil users.

And while many shop owners fear synthetics could actually cost them business because of extended drain intervals, Castrol’s research showed that the average difference between synthetic and conventional drain intervals was less than 1,200 kilometers.


Reaching the consumer with vital information about oil and oil changes is also a priority for Mobil. It recently released a new brochure to help its repair shop and quick-lube customers explain to consumers the differences between synthetic and conventional oils, and persuade their customers of the importance of regular oil changes.

“When customers bring their vehicles in for service, they are looking to you to be the expert on car care and maintenance,” the brochure states. “To be that expert you must be both helpful in listening to their concerns and also be clear in your recommendations about which products will serve their needs best.”

The full-color information piece, designed to help professionals market oil, includes a detailed explanation of the role of synthetics, and a guide to oil options for motorists.

The aim, says Mobil, is to ensure that service advisers, shop owners, and technicians will have confidence when they speak to consumers, and will be “in the ideal position to help your customers make the right choices.”

Attitudes toward preventive maintenance are constantly changing. Reed believes it is the job of the automotive aftermarket to lead consumers into good habits – both through concerted efforts like the Be Car Care Aware campaign, and through one-on-one contact with customers.

“People are not inclined to maintain their cars,” he says. “Cars are built so well, and there’s so much technology that you can just get in, start it up, and away you go. You don’t realize the amount of preventive maintenance that should be being done on these vehicles because they’re just so well made. But the truth of vehicle longevity is maintenance, and the most basic maintenance item is the oil change.”


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