Extended oil drains may decrease costs

Back in the 1970s when most motors took 10W40, oil changes were required every 3,000 miles. A lot has changed in 40 years.Engine designs and advances in lubricant technology have made extended intervals mainstream on many light duty vehicles, with OEM-recommended intervals of as high as 15,000 miles between oil changes or, in rare cases, even higher. Fleets that run automotive hybrids, such as a Chevrolet Volt, might not change the oil for more than 20,000 miles.

SYNTHETIC LUBRICANTS OPEN THE DOOR FOR LONGER OIL LIFE

On many light duty passenger vehicles and trucks, oil changes are typically done when the oil life percentage becomes zero. GM, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota and many more OEM vehicles employ this technology. Oftentimes, most driving conditions will require an oil change about every 7,500 miles by this method.

Not surprisingly, all of these vehicles have recently switched over to full synthetic motor oils (dexos for GM and MS-6395 for Chrysler) and lightweight motor oils (0W20 for many Hondas and Toyotas.)

“Synthetics make up approximately 13 percent of the North American passenger car motor oil market and [it] is growing,” says Brian Galloway, product line manager at Citgo Petroleum (www.citgo.com). “New OEM specifications like 0W-20, 0W-16 and GM dexos, specifications that inherently call for a full synthetic, are a major factor in the growth.”

The reason why OEMs are switching over to synthetics is because they offer advantages over conventional lubricants, such as better viscosity performance at temperature extremes, improved shear stability and resistance to oxidation and thermal breakdown, he says.

However, there are companies that boast technology that allows even longer intervals and other benefits.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR EXTENDED OIL DRAINS

Are there good reasons to go beyond the OEM-recommended service intervals?

When considering whether to switch over to extended oil drains, it’s important to be cautious with any considerations. “Regardless of the goals for extending oil change intervals, it must be said, to borrow from a football coach’s line: ‘Three things can happen and two can be bad,’ meaning bad things can happen unless the equipment owner considers all factors,” says Mark Betner, heavy duty lubricant manager at Citgo Petroleum.

Betner gives the following advice on how to properly extend the service interval without doing any motor damage or voiding warranties:

Take into consideration the nature of the driving (city versus highway driving).

Contact the specific engine manufacturer with this information and inform it of your goals and accept whatever recommendations they give.

Contact your engine oil and filter suppliers and get their input in order to see that the will stand by their product being used in the manner you are considering.

Look into the costs of the motor oil and try to figure out if the switchover has a good ROI.

“The key to fleets who have successfully achieved safe and sustainable optimized oil change intervals have one thing in common,” says Betner. “They have fully educated themselves to what is required to achieve safe oil changes and have partnered with an oil provider that understands all of these factors and makes engine oil recommendations that are customized for their fleet and vehicles.”

EVIDENCE OF EXTENDED OIL DRAINS THAT WORK

Some companies assert that their motor oil has what it takes to stand up to service intervals several times beyond what is recommended by the OEM.

Many light duty vehicles are diesels that require 15W40 motor oil. Safety-Kleen (www.safety-kleen.com) sells a recycled motor oil that has been refined for extended use and it has been battle tested. Its EcoPower motor oil can be used on any light duty diesel engine that uses 15W40.

EcoPower 15W40 was independently tested on two different heavy duty vehicles with an interval of 40,000 miles between oil changes for 1 million miles. Infineum International LTD, the company that did the testing, found that even with such an extreme interval that the amount of engine wear was just as good as standard oils derived from crude used for regular drains.

No signs of distress where found anywhere on the engines, commented Pat Fetterman, industrial liaison for Infineum. “In fact, these [original] cams meet the visual guidelines for reusability. And when we rebuild these engines…the cams are going right back in the engines, and they’ll be going back into service with these cams, even after a million miles.”

The motor oil company Amsoil (www.amsoil.com) advertises the ability to provide lubricants that outlast the standard service interval. One case study of its motor oil’s use involved Guardian Pest Control, which has a fleet of 60 vehicles, most of which are Ford F-150s. The company totally switched over to synthetic lubricants and extended oil drains.

Before converting every truck in the fleet to Amsoil motor oil, Guardian was running conventional oil, with oil changes performed at 3,000 to 5,000 mile intervals. This resulted in a lot of downtime, as the trucks usually needed service every month, company officials said. They found that the switchover to synthetics led to significant cost savings in the long-term.

SOME WORDS OF CAUTION

It is very important that when making a decision concerning what lubrication methods a fleet should employ, that they follow OEM specifications for motor oil weight. Some motor oil manufacturers might recommend switching to a lighter-weight oil in order to save fuel over the long run, but this might put the light duty vehicle’s warranty into question, according to Pierre Respaut, vice president of Technicians Service Training, an automotive training not-for-profit organization (www.tstseminars.org).

Respaut has taught on the topic of vehicle lubrication and has observed that many passenger vehicles and light duty trucks call for specific weights of oil, regardless of temperature.

For the same reason, exceeding service intervals, even when the oil and filter can stand up to the test, opens up the fleet owner to liability when a vehicle is under warranty, he says. Many OEMs require service records in order to perform warranty work and a “missing” oil change can be used as evidence for denying coverage.

So, with improving motor oil technology, service intervals will continue to far surpass the old 3,000-mile standard. It is essential that fleet managers balance pros and cons as it pertains to cost considerations and liability when deciding upon what approach to take with vehicle lubrication.

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