"We'll ask for a sampling from the fleet to verify the quality of the oil after 30 days or 3,000 miles," explains Hammons. "We want to make sure the oil isn't too thick or contains too much moisture."
Independent companies across the country exist to take these samples as well. "A sampling program is a good way to tell your engines are operating where they should and that the oil you're using is the proper type for the engine," Hammons says.
According to Shell Lubricants' Granger, however, oil analysis for light-duty fleets may not be the answer. Because the amount of oil in the engine is so small, compared to a heavy-duty truck, he fears the cost of the analysis may outweigh the benefits.
"I think what I would rather do is maximize your oil by following the OEM's recommendation," Granger says. "Quite often, people will tell me they change their oil before the OEM recommends it. The typical thing you hear is 3,000 miles, even though the OEM, under typical conditions, call for oil drains at 7,500 miles. If I was a fleet maintenance manager, I'd make sure I work with my OEM supplier, and make sure that I maximize the oil drains for that particular vehicle."
In the end, good maintenance records and a solid process in place to service the engines are key components to ensure they operate at peak performance for as long as possible.
"I highly recommend bringing together your suppliers; the oil, filter, and engine manufacturers," says Betner. "Together, this team can analyze your goals and operating conditions to determine the most appropriate drain interval."
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Citgo's Betner predicts that the fleet industry will, in time, see amplified use of synthetic and high-performance lubricants. Much of this, he says, may be due to light-duty diesel engine manufacturers changing their oil recommendations to such products.
"There are significant advantages to using synthetic and high-performance products," Betner says. "However, production of these engine oils is limited as there is a deficiency of the chemicals needed to produce them.
"Another challenge is that of public perception," he goes on. "Single grade lubricants used to be the norm and when the industry shifted to multi-grade there was pushback. Simply put, many believed the oil wouldn't be as good or beneficial. It took awhile for the multi-grades to be generally accepted. The same thing will happen if manufacturers of light-duty diesel engines begin recommending synthetic oils.
"This challenge requires fleet managers to take a holistic approach to their selection of engine oil," Betner says. "Rather than balking at the idea of alternating viscosities or changing to synthetic altogether because of the initial 'sticker shock,' it is necessary to carefully analyze the cost savings that will be realized throughout the year. However, such programs are not right for everyone and therefore, I again recommend working with your manufacturers/suppliers to determine the best course of action."