Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2012   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Tradition still has its uses

It must have been a slow news day. CTV Toronto ran a short news item on oil changes (http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=786255&binId=1.810401), reminding viewers of how important it is to change motor oil regularly. It ran through the...


It must have been a slow news day. CTV Toronto ran a short news item on oil changes (http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=786255&binId=1.810401), reminding viewers of how important it is to change motor oil regularly. It ran through the obvious: regular oil changes are important, one should know which oil is specified for the vehicle, some newer vehicles need more motor oil than others and others are recommended to use synthetic oils exclusively, and, the most obvious, to read the owner’s manual.

Nothing surprising or controversial in almost any of the information presented. Where I did have one question was with the brief mention of on-board oil monitoring systems. These are becoming more common in vehicles and are designed to give vehicle owners more ‘accurate’ drain-interval times. Instead of relying on the traditional maxim of changing motor oils every three months or 5,000 kilometres, oil monitoring systems use a complex set of algorithms and real-time monitoring of driving habits to calculate the time when an oil change should be done.

The problem, as is often the case, comes from the two contradictory messages that vehicles owners are given and which were not fully addressed in the piece. Oil monitoring systems are sold to the driving public as a way of saving money on oil changes and helpful in protecting the environment. Some car makers claim drivers can have up to three times fewer oil changes per year, which translates into less oil being consumed and less damage to the environment in having to dispose of used motor oil and filters. However, if one reads the owner’s manual on vehicles equipped with these technologies, the manual still recommends changing the motor oil based on driving conditions, often recommending regular changes for ‘normal’ driving conditions. And this, folks, is where the problems begin: what exactly is ‘normal’? What the average person thinks is ‘normal’ driving and what oil blenders and car makers say is ‘normal’ is surprisingly different. For oil blenders, ‘normal’ driving – consisting of stop-and-go traffic, highway driving, cold-weather starts and driving in the summer – is, in reality, ‘severe.’ Under these ‘severe’ conditions, oil blenders will recommend you change the oil regularly, much closer to the traditional intervals recommended over the past decades.

I would recommend it as well. Yes, oil monitoring systems are convenient, but we need to remind vehicle owners that motor oil does a lot more than simply lubricate the engine. Motor oils protect vital engine parts, keep seals intact as they age and suspend harmful particles which can damage an engine and which the filter takes out. What drivers want to avoid is having the oil become so contaminated or broken down that it cannot perform its function, resulting in engine damage and a very expensive repair. Yes, the longer drain intervals with the new technologies are fine. But I would not want to give up on the conventional wisdom of regular oil changes just yet.


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