Consumers today are faced with tough decisions: Fork over more money than planned for a new vehicle, wait until who-knows-when for the new vehicle they want to be delivered, buy a used one or hang on to their current vehicle.
The first two options are seemingly less and less enticing. New vehicle sales in Canada have been at concerningly low levels for much of the year.
In September, estimates from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants showed sales of just 136,584 units, down 19.6 per cent from September 2020. When comparing numbers to August 2019, sales are down 21.5 per cent. No doubt, these numbers are concerning. Supply shortages play a primary role in these weak numbers.
U.S.-based Kelley Blue Book issued a report that found almost half of car shoppers are leaving the market, at least temporarily. They’re delaying their purchase for the next several months.
This is all thanks to semi-conductor-related shortages. And with no relief in sight, solutions are few and far between for potential purchasers.
So that leaves the remaining two options for consumers: Buy used or hang on to what they have.
Whatever way they go, it generally means the same thing for automotive repair and service shops — get ready to see a larger share of older vehicles coming in for service.
The change in vehicle demographics has been noticeable, according to Sean Nguyen, Houston-based scientist and technology specialist for Pennzoil.
“The age of vehicles that are above eight years old has grown significantly within the last couple of years,” he told CARS. “People have to keep their cars longer now. New vehicles aren’t available. So people are conserving and keeping their vehicles longer.”
But having more older vehicles means technicians need to pay greater attention to oil requirements.
“These high-mileage vehicles — vehicles more than eight years old and above 120,000 kilometres — they’re saturating the market,” Nguyen observed. “They’re almost 50 per cent [of all vehicles], while only about 20 per cent of those vehicles are using high-mileage oils to protect those seals and older engines. So those are opportunities where technicians can offer a high-mileage product.”
Such products offer better protection in cold and hot weather and have unique formulas to better protect those older engines, he explained in an interview.
“So the trend going forward, I think, for a shop or a technician is that zero weight synthetics are the new future where they should focus on to help the consumer,” Nguyen said.
Especially as we head into cold-weather months, special attention should be given to ensuring the right oil is being used by technicians.
“In cold climate, shops tend to use lower viscosity oil to ensure a quick lubrication once the engine is started up,” said Sebastian Zelger, director at Liqui Moly USA. “Technically, this is perfectly OK, as long as that lower viscosity is covered by the oil specification for this specific vehicle.
“At every oil change you should change the oil filter, too, regardless of the time of year,” he added.
Older vehicles, naturally, have their own sets of challenges. So ensuring customers are getting high-mileage oils is a must, in Nguyen’s view.
“They want something where they can extend the life of that engine and having a synthetic oil will help to do that,” he said.
“These high-mileage vehicles — vehicles more than eight years old and above 120,000 kilometres — they’re saturating the market. They’re almost 50 per cent [of all vehicles], while only about 20 per cent of those vehicles are using high-mileage oils …”
After fits and spurts, people are moving again. As vaccination rates increase and re-openings take place across parts of the country, people are hopping back in their cars and travelling again. Granted, kilometres on the odometer may not move as quickly as they used to as, for example, corporate work-from-home policies come into effect.
Taking all that into consideration, people may not be thinking about getting their vehicles serviced before heading back on the road again. That would be a mistake, experts warn.
Even if drivers aren’t hitting their mileage intervals, there are time intervals that call for an oil change.
“The general rule says: Always follow the oil change instructions issued by the car manufacturer. The oil change intervals are usually defined both by mileage and by time, whichever comes first,” Zelger explained.
Nguyen echoed those comments. As people start driving again as they emerge from pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, they need to be made aware of certain things. One, the way they drove affected their oil.
“Those irregular uses or the once-a-week drive to the grocery store may lead to higher fuel and water dilution within the motor oil. And that dilution, and other contaminants, builds up because irregular driving can degrade the protective additives within the oil,” Nguyen explained. “That leads to sludge formation, corrosion and increase wear.”
The oil oxidizes and ages in the engine even if the car is not moved, Zelger noted.
That’s another reason why paying attention to time intervals for oil changes is critical, Nguyen added.
Analyzing oil requires some specialization. “When looking at the oil, there is little more to do than to check the oil level and if the oil change is due,” Zelger said. “In order to analyze the current status of the oil, you need a lab. You cannot evaluate the status of the oil by looking at it or by touching it.”
Indeed, you can’t just look at the dipstick, Nguyen agreed.
“Look at the milkiness of the oil, look for water contamination, smell the oil to see if there’s the smell of fuel in it. Those are the things that are dead giveaways,” he said.
Even if the oil appears lumpy or dark, that should be a red flag for signs of degradation of the oil, Nguyen added.
So as drivers get behind the wheel on a regular basis again, shops need to be pro-active in getting customers to see them first.
“We recommend that people have their oil serviced before they put their vehicle back in to use, especially with the fall coming around and winter around the bend,” Nguyen said. “Because of winter approaching, we recommend that they service [the vehicle] with a full-synthetic motor oil.”
Don’t save a buck
Both Nguyen and Zelger stressed the importance of ensuring customers think properly with their wallets. On one hand, they may think they’re saving a buck by delaying their oil change past both intervals. However, they’ll pay more down the road.
“Exceeding oil change intervals or using a wrong low-quality oil saves just a few dollars in the short run but costs a lot of money in the long run,” Zelger said. “Exceeding the oil change interval means that the additives included in the motor are used up. But it is mostly these additives which deliver the performance of the oil. Without them, wear and tear greatly increases, contaminants quickly agglomerate in the oil circuit [and] engine power and its lifetime are reduced.
“Using a wrong or cheap oil has a similar effect and may damage the exhaust gas treatment, too. Trying to save some money for the oil change may turn out to be a very bad deal.”
Bring these issues right up to the front of the discussion with your customer if they seem to be hesitating, Nguyen said.
“We want the customer to realize that they want to get in the car and know that it will start,” he said. “And they want to trust that their motor oil will perform and protect [their] vehicles in severe operations as they are getting back to normal again.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of CARS magazine.