By on January 13, 2007

dsc_0024s2222.jpgIt’s easier to convince an Evangelical that Christ was a grifter than to persuade pistonheads to give up their regular oil change. Yea, verily, the maniacal motorists believe in the healing power of regular visits to the Church of St. Pennzoil. And they certainly have the Gospel of Jiffy Lube on their sides: Thou shalt change thy oil every 3k miles or your engine will blow up in an explosion of fire and brimstone. Well I hereby give pistonheads permission to skip their next regularly scheduled motor oil change. And the one after that one. In fact, if you’re not planning to keep your car for all eternity, consider forgetting oil changes altogether.

Many decades ago, when metallurgy, tolerances, manufacturing precision and various aspects of engine controls (as well as the oil itself) were profoundly more primitive, the 3k mile oil change interval had a logical basis. Crude carburetor chokes caused overly rich mixtures, dumping raw gas onto cylinder walls that worked its way down into the crankcase. Poorly fitted rings caused blow-by, which had the same effect with nasty combustion byproducts. And poor tolerances created rapid wear, which released and circulated metal particles throughout the engine. People drove shorter distances, and cars often didn’t warm up enough to burn off contaminants. To travel 100k miles without an engine rebuild was a genuine accomplishment. 

By the sixties, improvements in all of these mission critical areas led manufacturers to adopt an industry standard 6k mile oil change interval. Since then, recommended oil change intervals have risen as high as 10k miles. At the same time, many high end cars ECU’s (e.g. BMW, Porsche) now monitor engine and environmental operating conditions and calculate the ideal interval for an oil change– sometimes well into the teens. 

When is the last time you heard of someone experiencing an engine failure (in normal use) that could be verifiably traced to damage from insufficient lubrication due to infrequent oil changes? Oil never wears out. It can become contaminated and certain additive characteristics can change. But in normal operational use in modern engines, this usually happens quite slowly.

And yet the 3k mile mantra can be heard everywhere: newspaper and magazine articles, on-line forums, radio talk shows and, of course, all the obvious and more subtle forms of advertising by the oil manufacturers and the oil change industry. When Jiffy Lube puts a sticker on my windshield warning me that my next oil change is due in 3k miles, it’s clear who benefits most from these regular visits, and it ain’t me or my car.

These days, it’s common to hear of documented engine life of 500k miles and more. A fleet of Chevy gasoline V8 pickups pulling trailers delivering car parts overnight all over the Midwest has run a number of bow tie bombers to over 600K without failure. A 1987 Saab 900 just hit the million mile mark without an engine rebuild. Yes, the Saab owner used expensive synthetic oil and changed it regularly in his million mile quest. But how long are you planning to keep your car?

Still not convinced? Da Vinci Code time. In the mid-80’s, Germany’s leading car magazine Auto, Motor und Sport ran a VW Golf with a 1.6 liter gasoline engine for 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles) without changing the motor oil or filter. They then tore down the engine completely and examined every single moving part [microscopically] for signs of wear and tear. What little wear they could find was not engine life threatening and fit within normal operating parameters for the given mileage.

Obviously, I don’t expect pistonheads to forgo engine oil changes completely– if only because following manufacturer’s recommendations safeguards your potential warranty claims. Still, if warranty isn’t an issue and you’re not planning on keeping your car past 150k or so, and you run it under favorable conditions– a long commute, lots of highway miles, milder climate, etc. — consider extended intervals. If you have a three year lease, well, that’s between you and your conscience.

Meanwhile, the situation with gasoline and octane levels is roughly analogous. A couple of years ago, AM&S did another extensive test, running cars whose manufacturers called for premium fuel on regular gas. The result: performance and fuel economy losses ranged from zero to mid-single digit percentages. I don’t need to tell you that it can be a LOT cheaper to fill your car’s tank with a lower grade of fuel. And don’t worry about damaging your engine; modern detonation sensors constantly adjust ignition timing to be optimal for the fuel being burned and prevent pre-ignition. 

Pistonheads who lavish low interval oil changes and high octane go-juice on the cherishd machines do so more for their own peace of mind than their car’s mechanical needs. It’s sweet, but unnecessary.

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176 Comments on “Peek Oil?...”


  • avatar
    Gottleib

    Thank you, its about time that this was publicized. Years ago I was told by a friend that had a fleet of rental vehicles that 7500 was the new 3000 interval for oil changes for the same reasons mentioned in this article. I have followed that advice and have had no mechanical or lubrication problems with the 6 odd cars I have owned since, a few with over 100,000. In fact most manufacturers now specify 7500 miles oil change intervals, but also hedge their bets for “Heavy Use.” How many of us drive taxis or drive on dirt roads pulling a trailer?

  • avatar
    phil

    well halleluja! at last some common sense and reason in a sea of hype. excellent piece, thank you.

    you didn’t mention the environmental pollution caused by the dumping of who knows how many tons of used oil into the environment (yes some is recylced but far from all).

    i always supected this issue had become a scam for the oil and oil changing folks. quite a few years ago Consumer Reports did a test of oil change intervals in New York city cabs, surely one of the most stringent environments. they found no difference in 3, 5, and 6.5 thousand intervals (i may be off a little off on the mileage, it was years ago) but the point was that they could determine no wear on the engines (they tore them apart and measured tolerances) at these longer intervals (for the time).

    the octane ratings is a little more hazy, and my M3 always gets premium (i paid for 333 horses and i want them all) but thank you for shedding some objective light on this important subject.

  • avatar

    Even the best engine will release some particulates into the oil, and as the oil gets contaminated fuel economy will begin to suffer. Like Mr Niedermeyer says though, the oil itself deteriorates very slowly, if at all, especially in a car that’s driven every day. The primary cause of oil deterioration is actually moisture which accumulates in the oil when the engine is not running. The water forms oxides in the oil which reduce its lubricating abilities. Fortunately, for regular drivers, when the engine reaches operating temperature, the moisture is burned off.

    For those looking to save some green I’d go with the Amsoil philosophy: change your oil filter every 6k miles or so, to keep the particulates out, but keep the oil for 12k, 24k or more miles. This doesn’t mean use Amsoil products, although they are high quality, it simply means that I think their recommendations are good.

  • avatar

    I agree with Phil that the octane issue is a bit hazier. Mr. Niedermeyer is correct that modern ECUs will immediately adjust ignition timings when running crappier fuel, but in my RSX (11:1 compression ratio) the timing adjustment would lead to unburned fuel reaching the exhaust system and sometimes even triggering a dummy light about the catalytic converter. Point being that you may not damage the engine by causing knock or full-on detonation when you run lower octane fuel, but something is going to suffer, especially in high performance, high compression engines.

  • avatar
    Rday

    I recall the CR test on oil from years ago. As I recall CR found that all oils are pretty much the same if they meet SAE, which they all seem to. Also they found that oil change intervals could be extended. Since then I have changed oil on 5K or 6 month intervals, which ever comes first. To me the condensation in the engines cause sulphuric acid to form. This is the only reason IMO that oil needs to be changed on a regular basis. The acid will react with internal engine surfaces and cause long term damage.

    I too had a high performance car that required premium fuel. I used standard 87 octane for 42K miles and never noticed a problem. The ECU adjusted for the lower octane and it still got very good mileage. I didn’t notice any performance drop but there may have been a slight one. Personally I think 87 octane fuel can be used in any car, unless you drive in a professional automobile race.

  • avatar
    SaturnV

    On the oil, you have some good points – 3k miles may indeed be too short an interval for modern formulations. I stick with ~5k on my car (less on motorcycles), although I don’t freak out if it happens to go a little while longer.

    I’m afraid I disagree with you on the octane thing, though. As folks have already pointed out, the ECU on most cars will adjust for lower octane, so there’s no risk of damage, but for vehicles designed to actually use it (typically higher compression engines, I think), my experience is that there’s definitely a benefit – small, but noticeable (at this point, I should insert the obligatory note that using an octane higher than your car recommends gains you nothing).
    On a side note: for motorcycles, the effect of using less than recommended octane has, in my experience, been more pronounced. They don’t have fully closed-loop systems, generally speaking, and have less sophisticated sensors and ECUs than cars. They therefore really do actually need the octane that the manual asks for (again, see note above about running higher than recommended octane)…

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    I agree about the wear not being a big issue. However, sludge problems can be nasty. Certain poorly designed engines are susceptible – including some later Saab models and Toyota.

  • avatar

    You hear more and more about sludge these days. Can’t say I’ve looked into it enough to know what causes it, but common sense says changing the oil should help. Maybe not?

    The next likely myth to go after is the “break-in period.” With the much tighter tolerances of today’s engines, I’ve heard some powertrain engineers say no break-in is necessary. But people continue to swear by the “go easy on it for the first 1,000 miles,” etc. This is endlessly debated on forums.

    But is there any recent research on the issue?

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    How about on turbocharged engines? Are the temperatures higher and more destructive to oil? Is the biggest problem with turbos when people forget to cool them down before shutting down–baking the oil inside the turbo?

    As for sludge, turbosaab, don’t forget the 1.8T in the Passat and A4 (but strangely not in the golf or jetta)

    As for oils being the same if they meet SAE, does that mean that there’s no real benefit to synthetic?

    I do 10K changes with Mobil 1 in my turbo four. I just did a change and took an oil sample to send to Blackstone Labs for analysis to see what’s what. If it’s OK, I’m going to go to 15K and maybe up to 20K from there. Beyond that, the cost savings aren’t worth the peace of mind to me.

  • avatar

    phil: i always supected this issue had become a scam for the oil and oil changing folks. quite a few years ago Consumer Reports did a test of oil change intervals in New York city cabs, surely one of the most stringent environments. they found no difference in 3, 5, and 6.5 thousand intervals (i may be off a little off on the mileage, it was years ago) but the point was that they could determine no wear on the engines (they tore them apart and measured tolerances) at these longer intervals (for the time).

    I suspect NYC cabs don’t have one of the most stringent environments, for the simple reason that they’re on all day. Hard use is associated with short trips.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    I believe in mostly following what the MANUFACTURER says.

    On my Saturn its 3K or 6K, depending on how much city driving. It gets 3K and the hamster engine has been happy.

    The Mazda manual says 7K or 10K, so it gets 7K.

    I do worry about sludging, I think its heat-transforming the oil to sludge, and it really depends on the engine in detail.

    Also, I know the saturn burns about a quart every 1.5K miles now, used to be every 3K miles. As such, SOME junk from the oil is getting concentrated in there.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Overly simplistic and flat wrong. Not only the Saab and Toyota engines have sludge problems, but also the 1.8/2.0 WV/Audi four, which is famous, because of the configuration of its internal vents, for forming sludge that then drops into the crankcase and clogs the oil pickup. There are numerous well-documented cases of VW/Audi engines failing due to totally clogged oil pickups.

    This sort of situation is increasingly seen due to leased vehicles and owners who do exactly what Neidermayer recommends: “Hey, it’s not my car, goes back in 36,000 miles, I’ll save a few bucks and send it back with the same oil in it that I got when I leased it…” Smart owners of these cars change their oil every 5,000 miles and use Mobil 1, which admittedly may be overkill.

    Oil is also time-limited. If you run the same oil for about a year, it begins to break down from contamination by combustion byproducts, and acids form that do very bad things to the metals inside an engine. This has nothing to do with particulates or to long-molecule shearing (which also inevitably happens) but is solely chronological, assuming that the engine is run a normal amount. (Actually, oil will deteriorate with time if it’s simply left open to the air and not even used in an engine.

    This is a dangerous piece because some simpletons could actually believe it and never change their oil. Certainly 3,000 miles is ridiculous, 5,000 miles is compulsively excessive perhaps except in the case of engines proven to be configured to create sludge, and 15,000 miles is certainly fine, assuming you don’t use oil that’s more than a year old.

    But to say that engines will run forever with the same oil is a bit like those tests we’ve all seen on infomercials where they put some mouse milk into the oil of a brightly painted “new” V8, run it awhile, then drain the oil and restart the engine. Miraculously, it runs “with no oil in it,” just the remains of the mouse milk that has “coated the moving surfaces with Kryptonite.”

    What you’re actually seeing is a repainted 300,000-mile-old engine with clearances you could stick a pencil through, and immediately after being run, the drain plug is pulled until “all the oil” has run out, then the plug is torqued back into place, leaving a couple of quarts still up in the valve covers, etc., which is plenty to lube the engine for five minutes under no load.

  • avatar

    I agree with the principal of extended oil change intervals. BobIsTheOilGuy is a pretty good resource for those interested in this topic as they perform engine analysis on a wide variety of cars and report the results. I suggest reading the standard info as well as the forums on that site.
    http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/

    For our 2001 Mazda once the warranty was up, I switched to twice yearly oil changes done at the same time as the tire switchover. No noticeable difference after 3 years so far.
    A good quality filter and decent “real” synthetic oil (read any automotive forum for endeless debates on this issue) will last a long time.

    Sludge is a real concern in some engines as others have notes including the 1.8t “sludge-o-matic” from VW, the 2.7 “100k suicide” from DCX and even (dare I mention it) the Toyota 3L 1MZ V6.
    All of the above-mentioned manufacturers blamed insufficient oil-changes.

  • avatar
    geeber

    I’m sticking to our current oil change schedule, because the way things look now, we WILL be keeping our cars for “all eternity.”

  • avatar
    miked

    PN: Thanks for the article, I’ve been trying to tell people this for years. I’m a chemist and have friends who work with hydrocarbon lubricants and all of their research shows that oils can go for a very long time. And from what I’ve seen, I do think that synthetic is significantly better oil. Is it worth the cost difference? I don’t know (but I use it).

    As long as you’re not baking the oil in a hot turbo, or using the oil to actuate the injectors (as in old diesels), probably once a year is fine to change the oil. As mentioned earlier, sludge happens in localized areas (like SW said about the bad configuration of the internal vents), so new oil has the same opportunity to sludge up as old oil. You don’t really win with more frequent changes.

    Just so that I don’t have to keep track of mileage or dates, my oil change schedule is to put a light weight synthetic in my cars just before the snow starts flying (usually 0W-30 in the truck which sits out at night, and 5W-30 for the cars in the garage). And then In the early spring after all the hard cold starts are done, I put in a normal 10W-30 synthetic for the summer.

    My feeling is that in the winter you have tons of cold starts, the engine may not get fully warmed up, it spends lots of time idling at low oil pressure, more condensation gets formed in the crankcase, all kinds of bad things. So I get that oil out in early spring just so that things like the organic acids and extra water don’t hang around not because the oil is bad. Then in the summer, you have all of your long road trips, and the engine is always warm, so you can run that oil all the way until next winter.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    I tend to change the oil every 3k-4k (depending on when I get to it). Maybe I’m wasting money but I have a Ford with 210K miles on it that still runs great.

    I’ve never done the research on the octane ratings. My only experiance was a high performance car that required premium fuel. Once or twice I tried regular (87) octane in it. Lord did that car whine and complain about it. Too much hesitation and just did not run smoothly.

  • avatar

    so if the car is using any oil, does that mean one should change the oil more often? And should determine the frequency of oil changes by the opacity? That is, if the oil is pretty black, should one change it regardless of how long it’s been in there?

  • avatar
    miked

    DH: If the cars is using oil, then I’d just add oil. It’s doing the work of changing it for you :)

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    Just my two cents…

    I like 5k mile oil change intervals because that makes the math easy. 5, 10, 15, 20, etc. instead of 7.5, 15, 22.5, 30, 37.5, etc.

    It’s also about the time that tires should be rotated, if possible.

    I use synthetic oil because A) it makes me feel warm and fuzzy (like I’m doing something special for my ride) and B) If there’s a catastrophic loss of oil or oil pressure, synthetic oil may protect the engine slightly longer than dino-juice,
    giving me a better chance to shut down before lasting harm is done.

    Also, when I turned wrenches on BMWs at a dealership, one of the factory reps said that big part of BMW paying for maintenance (oil changes about every 15k miles or 1 year) is that many BMW lessees adopted the “It’ll last 2 years, after that who cares?” attitude. That caused a lot of Certified Pre-Owned cars to develop problems after 40-50k miles.

    By making BMW owers pay for their maintenance up front (I’m sure it’s folded into the purchase price….:-D..), they get customers to take car of the cars and avoid problems down the road.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    The new generation of BMW engines don’t even have a dip stick for the owner to examine the condition (color) of the oil. Sensors only identify the level in the sump.

    Also, BMW now has extremely high oil change service intervals for these engines. Something like 15000 miles. So, superior oil filter technology now becomes critical.

    I believe that this policy has more to do with the cost savings of BMW’s so called “free maintenance”, then actually protecting your long term investment.

  • avatar
    New2LA

    The next likely myth to go after is the “break-in period.” With the much tighter tolerances of today’s engines, I’ve heard some powertrain engineers say no break-in is necessary. But people continue to swear by the “go easy on it for the first 1,000 miles,” etc. This is endlessly debated on forums.

    But is there any recent research on the issue?

    Michael, I don’t know. There’s been a ton of debate about this in the BMW forums. BMW suggests a 1200 mile break-in for all of its engines. I’d say it’s to allow the valves to properly seat, but, oops, modern BMW engines don’t have mechanical valves.

    BUT – BMW must have a reason for asking its buyers to do this. If it wasn’t needed, they wouldn’t, no?

    Oil: I changed my oil after I clocked the first 1000 mi on the odo, based on the old idea that a new engine – any new engine – is bound to have metal shavings floating around; and flushing them out with an oil change is a good idea. (The service advisor looked at me like I was crazy.)

    The oil life indicator goes approximately 16,000 between changes in most BMW’s. BMW recommends synthetic oil only. However, since oil changes are part of the car’s purchase price for the first 4 year, and since the car bugs the hell out of you if you don’t do it, everybody gets them done.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Stephan Wilkinson: “smart owners of these cars (leased) will change oil every 5,000 miles and use Mobil 1″

    I disagree with that advice as much as you disagree with my article. Mobil 1 (full synthetic) is what, $5 a quart, and I cannot find any convincing evidence that synthetic oil is better than dino oil, especially with a 5,000 mile change. I spent some time at the bobistheoilguy.com site, and most would agree with me. Want to run it in your gold plated Porsche, fine; but “smart owners” are wasting money to change the oil more frequently than manufacturers recommendations with overpriced oil on a leased car.

    Why is BMW letting their engines go 10-15K between oil changes, when they have warranty costs and their almighty reputation at stake?

    I’ve never seen the infomercials you talked about (I avoid commercial tv), but the 100km no-oilchange test was conducted by a very reputable outfit, that had nothing to sell or prove. I posed the 100km no-oil change issue on bobistheoilguy.com forum, and got huge response. Given the conditions (oil topped up, lots of highway miles) the overwhelming majority had no problem believing it. They had seen cars self destruct from no oil changes, but in each case, the oil had not been replenished, and there was about a quart of sludge at the bottom of the crankcase.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Regarding high octane gas: Yes, if I had an NSX, or some other exotic, I would run premium too (and probably change the oil more frequently). I’m referring to more everyday vehicles, that have been set up to give optimum power and economy on premium, as part of the horsepower war and to help with manufacturer’s EPA numbers for CAFE. And yes, if your particular car doesn’t like regular, by all means, go back to premium. My main point about both issues (gas and oil) is to use your common sense and don’t let someone put a guilt trip on you.

  • avatar
    JJ

    In Europe you don’t loose warranty if you don’t change oil every 3k miles, only if you don’t bring your car to the dealership every 10k miles or every year (whichever comes first) you might loose warranty.

    About the octane levels; here in the Netherlands the lowest level is “Euro 95″, followed by “Super 98″. Cool names…

    Apart from that you can get special fuels for environmentalists like for instance Shell Pura (97 in the Netherlands, 100 in Germany) or petrolheads, like Shell V-power (also diesel). Anyway, on average octane levels are higher, and so is the HP output for some manufacturers, like BMW (often around 10HP more out of the same engine).

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I just listen to my car for the oil change. My engine starts to feel a little sluggish and has a small, but noticable vibration when the oil is dirty. That’s when I get it changed. It usually happens to be about every 3k miles, but I drive it every day in nyc, pretty much all stop and go and a lot of dirt/dust in the air, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t need it as often out in the burbs. Still I think if you’ve driven your car for a bit you can tell when the engine needs fresh oil. Also, I can feel the difference between 89 and 93 octane. But not so much 91 and 93.

  • avatar
    miked

    JJ: The reason that the octane values are higher in Europe is because they report the “Research Octane Number”. In the US they report the average of the RON and the “Motor Octane Number”. It’s the same gas in both places. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octane_rating

  • avatar
    ash78

    Three words: Group IV synthetics! While the marketing just says “synthetic,” neither Castrol Syntec nor Valvoline Synpower are the top-tier Group IV classification (Mobil 1 and most of the more esoteric ones are)

    Beyond all the marketing hype and hearsay, this is an actual grading system that doesn’t get much attention in the US. You just need to look at oil marketing over the past few years to see how confusing it’s gotten.

    I’ll echo the VW 1.8t issues…whether you believe the source of the problems or not, the fact is that if you don’t use a Group IV 0w-40, you can forget about the powertrain warranty if you get sludge.

    FWIW, I have a naturally aspirated VW 2.8 V6 and use Mobil1 5w-40 (or 0w40), 6k miles between changes. For me, that’s about once a year.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    “Overpriced oil” (Mobil 1, according to Niedermayer) is like “overpriced film.” back when cameras still used celluloid: pro photographers knew that the cheapest part of photography was the film, and the cheapest protection you can give an engine is oil.

    Yeah, the gold-plated Porsche is indeed well-fed: $110 worth of Red Line synthetic once a year, which is about every 2,500 miles.

    As for that AM&S test, I’ve got a new drug that I thoroughly tested on one patient, and she got better. Funny, though, the Food & Drug Administration won’t approve it…

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Great article. Interesting points, Paul.

    But if I was in the market for a used BMW or Porsche, I would definitely be more interested a vehicle who’s owner disregarded the manufactures 15000 mile recommendations, and changed it every 7000 miles. I’d also be inclined to pay extra for that car.

    You mention that ECUs on expensive cars monitor engine operation, to calculate ideal oil change frequency. Would you please elaborate on this. I didn’t know that a ECU could identify Steve McQueen style driving habits, then alter the factory pre-set oil change schedule.

    Most neglected fluid in an automobile ? Brake fluid.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Let me reiterate a key line in my article, and pose it as a challenge to you all: “When was the last time you heard of someone experiencing an engine failure (in normal use) that could be verifiably traced to damage from insufficient lubrication due (directly) to infrequent oil changes?”

    I got over a thousand hits to this question at the oil change forum (lots of mechanics, manufacturers reps and motor oil professionals) and not one could come up with an incident. Numerous fried engines from drivers who never changed and topped up their oil (engines ran dry), but not one verifiable incident of engine damage from infrequent oil changes.

    Come on, we’re spendind how many millions a year on frequent oil changes, and no one can come up with one incident? That’s like spending hundreds of billions protecting us from WMD in Iraq.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Johnny Canada
    I know BMW (and Mini) and some M-B cars have true “oil quality monitors.” Even my wife’s Saturn has a rev monitor that bases intervals on that (I disregard it and use miles instead).

    Brake fluid, absolutely. I shudder to think how many people out there in 5-6 year old cars have never had it changed. It’s hygroscopic and slowly sucks up all the moisture from the surrounding air, some of which seeps into the system over time. Then the boiling point goes down, along with effectiveness. Every 2 years, regardless of mileage!

  • avatar
    miked

    Johnny Canada: Actually the ECU knows everything in a modern car, with all this drive by wire nonsense and such. If a manufacturer really wanted to, it would be an easy addition to have the ECU collect info such as the RPM, Speed, Engine load, Throttle Position, Acceleration, Power Output, Temperature (Water and Oil), just about anything. With memory as cheap as it is, I be you could store this information every couple of seconds for about 10-20,000 miles. Then you can do some data mining on that and see when the oil should be changed, Steve McQueen driving would look totally different than Little Old Lady driving. I can see exactly how this would be done, and if I were a chemist for an auto company, I’d start writing my proposal to start R&D on this.

    Of course, the simple solution would be to have a small particulate sensor that just sees how dirty the oil is, and maybe one other sensor that can detect if the oil is broken down, and I’m sure that’s what the manufacturers actually do.

  • avatar

    Admittedly, it’s from the motorcycle side, but during my times working in the bike shops, I was told by both the Ducati and Triumph tech support guys that if you change fully synthetic oil any sooner than 6000 miles, you are flat out wasting your money.

    Now, we’re talking sportbike engines, which are usually run a lot more stressfully than your run-of-the-mill Impala or Camry. Makes you wonder how long they can go?

  • avatar
    ash78

    Anectdotally, I know a lady I used to work with who had a first-year Lexus ES250 (1989 or 90?).

    She had driven it since nearly new and claimed she had never changed the oil, not once–just topped it off when needed. No smoke, and it was still a daily driver. Hard to believe, but mile-for-mile, I’ll still pay for the Mobil1…I have never used my auto insurance before, but I’m not cancelling just because I’m a safe driver. Just like many things, the peace of mind even from the placebo effect is immeasurable.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    Nicknick,

    Yes, the turbos do subject the oil to very high temperatures. I believe most modern turbos are water cooled (Saab turbos have been since ’87) which does help and basically eliminates the need for cooldown.

    I’ve had several high-mileage turbo Saabs, driven them hard, and never had a turbo related problem. I shoot for 5000 mile intervals with conventional and 10,000 mile intervals with synthetic, but don’t lose any sleep if I go over.

    On a side note, I find it interesting that the manual transmissions in my car are lubricated with 10-30W motor oil with no specified change interval, in fact no drain plug even. If what has been said about oil going bad over time is true, I wonder how mine is doing after 15 years and 150,000 miles…

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Paul,

    forget about “engine failure”, what about engine wear ?

    I think everyone at TTAC knows what it’s like to drive an engine that has lost some compression, valve lash, and timing accuracy.

    That loss of factory freshness, is caused by engine wear. And black, carbon contaminated oil causes wear.

    Personally, I like to maintain that fresh feeling for me, and my car.

  • avatar
    Aardappel

    I guess there could be a whole list of “Things that have changed in the last 50 years of car evolution”: besides oil changes and octane, and like someone mentioned, engine break-in, I would like to add the 55 mph (and other) speed limits, the don’t buy RWD in wet/snowy climates and probably for europe mostly: driving automatic is for old people… I am sure we can find lots more.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    I change the oil and filter on my vehicles at 3500 mile intervals. The used oil is very dark when it drains out, so I think I am doing the motor some good by putting in fresh oil. I have a 13 year old Pontiac 350 V8 with 130k and a 11 year old Chevy 262 V6 with 160k. I use oil filters (Fram) that have an anti-draindown gasket, to keep the oil up in the block at start-up. The Chevy motor tends to have a slight rod knock at start-up, and the special filter eliminates this noise.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    It’s pretty generally agreed among people who know oil filters that Fram makes the worst ones in the business.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Johnny Canada: By “engine failure” I also mean any unusual sign of wear on engine components. The AMS 100,000km test didn’t find any. My own fleet includes a ’66 Ford F100 with well over 200k, a ’92 Caravan with 180k, and a ’00 Forester with 100k, and none show any noticable loss of compression, wear, etc. Just checked the ’66 Ford; 155lbs, no more than 10lbs variation among all cylinders. It feels “fresh” despite its age.

    Your statement “black, carbon contaminated oil causes wear” is not really verifiable, but I fully respect your wanting to “maintaining that fresh feeling”.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Stephan Wilkinson: “Fram makes the worst ones (oil filters) in the business”

    Well, we agree on something.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Niedermayer asks when was the last time an engine failed because the oil wasn’t changed. Thousands of Audis and Toyotas have failed due to sludge. You won’t have a sludge problem if you change your oil, particularly if it’s a good synthetic. “Verifiable”? Well, there are still people who say it hasn’t been _proven_ that smoking causes lung cancer…so this is one I won’t get into a micturating match over.

  • avatar
    GlennS

    Paul:
    Not only high-end cars like BMW & Porsche monitor oil life: My ’06 Civic coupe also uses the ECU to monitor conditions and there’s a digital “oil life” display (which you can call up) that shows the (1.8 liter) engine oil life.

    According to the Owners Manual, the ECU bases this on “the engine operating conditions and accumulated engine revolutions.” The oil life display starts at 100%, and counts down to zero. After 0%, the display shows a negative number, but now in miles: -25 (miles from zero percent oil life); etc.

    In my car, the ECU first indicated an oil change was due after its first 6,000 miles. (Changed to Mobil 1 then, and will stick with synthetic oil.) For future oil changes, I intend to follow the ECU-suggested oil-change intervals; and why not? If Honda says it’s okay to go 6,000-ish miles between oil changes, I’m good with that.

    One annoyance: After 15% oil life, the usual trip odometer (or outside temp) display automatically changes to the oil life indicator. (And a graphic of a wrench shows up too.) The oil life readout shows up each and every time you start the car, to remind you—and does it with a blinking negative mileage number (start the car: -54 *blink, blink, blink*; next startup: -82 *blinking*; and the next: -91 *blink, blink*). Grrrrr.

    Perhaps such light shows are for those who don’t pay much attention to things like recommended oil changes, but a blinking reminder at each ignition start–until you press a button to restore the trip odometer, is annoying.

    Good article, Paul!

    The next likely myth to go after is the “break-in period.” This is endlessly debated on forums.
    But is there any recent research on the issue?

    Doubtful, Michael.
    However, if Honda, for example, says to ‘take it easy’ for the first 600 miles, then why not?

    From my Civic Owners Manual under Break-in Period:
    “Help assure your vehicles future reliability and performance by paying extra attention to how you drive for the first 600 miles (1,000 km). During this period:
    - Avoid full-throttle starts and rapid acceleration.
    - Do not change the oil until the scheduled maintenance time.
    - Avoid hard braking for the first 200 miles (300 km).”

    Where’s the room for debate here? The people that engineered and built the car, and warrenty it, say ‘go easy’ at first. That’s the end of the story in my book.

    As for” …I cannot find any convincing evidence that synthetic oil is better than dino oil, especially with a 5,000 mile change.

    Agreed, but I feel better using synthetic oil for two different reasons: Synthetic may be benificial when starting the car on, say, a 5-degree morning. Brrrr.

    And, over the lifetime of my car, I’ll use that much less foreign-sourced oil. Even if it’s a trivial amount in the grand scheme of things, I just feel better–patriotic, even . ;-)

    Here’s another olde time myth I’d like to see research on:
    Should you allow your (non-diesel) engine to warm up on a cold morning before driving away? Aside from getting the heater ready for you, does it help, or hurt, the car?

    Regards,
    Glenn in CT

  • avatar
    CliffG

    In no particular order:
    BMW: Yeah they are just trying to cheat the buyers with those long service intervals, that’s why there are no high mileage 3 series out there because they have all blown up. Oh, wait. Try to find a 3 series over 5 years old with less than 100k on the odo…

    3,000 mile oil change: Wadda waste. After a few months with my latest bike and 3,000 miles I decided since I bought it used I should change my oil, being a little uncertain about its’ last change. Should have just poured it right back in. 7500 miles from now on (the same as on all my cars, and I haven’t done any engine work on a car (other that routine) in 30 years – not counting older Fiats but they are exempt. The 3,000 mile interval is being sold primarily to old folk who remember when 75,000 miles on a car meant get rid of the damn thing right now before the engine needed serious rebuilding.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Oooh ….. I’m with Stephan and Ash78 on this — I don’t drive for reliability, I drive for performance.

    Full-synthetic, and a K&N filter every 5,000 miles, whether the WRX needs it or not.

    Why? The last WRX went 105,000 miles (before being destroyed by a drunk, uninsured 19-year-old) and I had to change the battery.

    My regiment costs me $70-80 every five-thousand miles. Big whoop.

    Also — Paul, you’re way off target on the Premium fuel thing.

  • avatar
    tech98

    Stephan Wilkinson: “Fram makes the worst ones (oil filters) in the business”

    Who makes better oil filters?

    Slightly OT, during my last struggle to pass smog check the mechanic poured some additive into the engine that was supposed to burn off oil that had accumulated in the catalytic converter. Anyone know what this product is?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Stephan Wilkinson: regarding sludge, how come all the problems are in just four engine families, and just certain years: Toyota 2.2 and 3.0, VW/Audi 1.8, and Chrysler 2.7? It’s obvious that there are issues with slow oil circulation, etc. Since redesigns on these engine, the problems seem to have gone away. Of course the manufacturers said it was the drivers fault, even if many kept to the recomended intervals, but they ended up extending warranties and making design changes.

    According to Bob Orlee, GM’s engine engineer specializing in oil issues: “Synthetic (oil) likely won’t prevent sludge buildup”.

  • avatar
    JJ

    JJ: The reason that the octane values are higher in Europe is because they report the “Research Octane Number”. In the US they report the average of the RON and the “Motor Octane Number”. It’s the same gas in both places.

    Ah…didn’t know that. Kind of figures though, thinking about it, but you never know till you know. Thanks for the info.

    So I guess the higher HP output of some engines here in Europe is simply because of emission regulations…

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Jonny: You just proved my point: most driver don’t keep their cars that long, even if it may be because of unintended circumstances, like yours. But help yourself. Some of us drink $300 wine, others $2 Chuck (with what I save on not doing 3k oil changes/synthetic, I spend on good wine).

    Would you like to define how I am “way off on target on the Premium fuel thing?” If you regularly use the last 3-5% of your engine’s maximum horsepower (and you probably do), help yourself. Did I say you shoudn’t?

  • avatar
    carguy

    I agree with the sentiment of the article but there are some exceptions

    1. Oil does wear out. The long carbon chains eventually break down into shorter chains which inhibits the oils physical qualities.

    2. Some engines, such as the VW 1.8 20V, have sludge problems and need regular oil changes.

    But for most car owners who change every 3000 miles – your wasting your money and polluting the environment. Stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

  • avatar
    miked

    GlennS: My theory with warmup (not scientific research) is that it’s not good and it’s not bad. How’s that for a CYA answer. It’s not good because extended idling is a at low oil pressure (of course on a high-idle for warm up it may not be as bad). It’s not bad because you’re letting the oil get circulated and things getting up to operating under no load.

    My caution that I try to tell people is that it may be fine to warm up the engine, but still don’t go driving hard as you leave your driveway because the gear oil is still frozen and the driveline isn’t warmed up yet. You still need to take it easy until at least the whole thing is warmed up. What I do is just let the engine warm while I’m scraping the windows and then I drive off slowly. I’m lucky that I have a nice set of roads that slowly take me from 25 up to 65 over the course of 15 minutes so things get to warm up nice in the winter.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    GlennS: in modern cars, it won’t help or hurt to warm up a car before driving, but it does waste gas/money. The recommendation is to drive off right away, if perhaps somewhat gently the first few minutes.

  • avatar
    roadracer

    A couple years back someone posted dyno results on a car just like mine (’98 GTi VR6), using premium vs regular gas. The difference was 10 hp. I put a chip and a (loudish) performance exhaust on my car to gain maybe 10 hp. You really think I’m willing to give up 10 hp to save $2 on a tank of gas?

    Both my VW and my wife’s Benz get fresh Mobil 1 every 10,000 miles, whether they need it or not. I expect 200K out of the Dub and 300K out of the Benz, barring any accidents.

  • avatar
    Mechie

    A comment about engine oil life monitoring systems – they ain’t just in expensive vehicles – and from my experience they are a heck of a convenience.

    My ’01 Intrigue (3.5l V6) is still going strong at 280k km (174k mi) while following the GM oil life monitor in the vehicle. The oil life monitor is coming on roughly every 9k km (5.6k mi) in 90% highway / 10% city use. (North Greater Toronto Area, Ontario). No special synthetic oils or ‘gold-plated’ filters; just the bulk 5w-30 / Fram filter cartridge at the local quicklube place.

    Interestingly, my new ’06 Impala SS (5.3l V8) is averaging 12k km (7.4k mi) under similar conditions. Could GM have adjusted their computer algorithm to stretch out oil change intervals?

    There is a good discussion of one manufacturer’s (GM’s) strategy in their oil monitoring system. It’s pretty sophisticated, and it’s in a lot of vehicles:

    http://www.cadillacfaq.com/faq/answers/oilmon.html

    There’s a good discussion of the tradeoffs in determining the condition of engine oil on this link. A discussion of the GM strategy is also under ‘Monitoring Driving Habits’:

    http://www.memagazine.org/backissues/membersonly/may99/features/vitalsigns/vitalsigns.html

    Finally: there’s an interesting endorsement of the GM technique of monitoring engine oil life (at least as a strategy to fight oil sludging) from the Center for Auto Safety:

    http://www.autosafety.org/article.php?did=969&scid=126

  • avatar
    hondaboy55

    Hi Kids:

    Oil and wheel alignment:

    Ball joints do have a lot to do with wheel alignment. Autos with upper and lower ball joints keep the wheel’s attitude with respect to the ground. And the distance between the upper and lower ball joint determine when ball joint wear begins to show up in other areas even though the units are a long way from failure. Ball joint designs that are close to one another 12″ or less can wear sooner and you should see these effects sooner. Space of 14 – 16″ found on larger or taller tires are stronger given the same ball joint size. And as they wear the movement top to bottom of the tire is less until failure. Illustrated in this example, if you hold a yardstick at the center with one hand, its almost impossible for that person to prevent anyone from easily moving the top or bottom of the yardstick towards you or away from you. Contrast that with placing your hands at the 12″ and 24″ marks on the yardstick. The assembly is stronger, longer lasting, and small amounts of play that may develop from wearing parts allow for much less tire movement top to bottom. Those who have owned 4 wheel drive pickups with differentials up front and “kingpins” instead of ball joints with less than 12″ of separation will attest to the short life of close spaced pivot points. So by design, as these parts wear they will allow the tire’s attitude with respect to the ground to change, and depending on design, change a lot way before failure, and cause problems like tire wear, wandering and in some cases vibrations especially in association with poor pavement.

    On one of my Hondas we had a bad upper ball joint for years (90,000 miles) before it started to make noise. We had the car looked at 4 times, each after new tires were put on, 2 Honda dealers, and 2 independent garages. All said the alignment was ok, before and after the job. One independent had a computer printout of the specs before and after alignment, the numbers were the same and that was the last alignment until the ball joints started to make noise and I replaced them, then the tire wear problem went away. The length of the problem, 4 front tire sets was puzzling, the joints may have had some problem that did not show up under regular inspection.

    As for oil, it is the second determining factor in engine life. Design is the first. Engine design in the last 30 years have gone from longer stroke, high torque design, to higher reving lower torque, short stroke engines. Along with this engine vibration, and temperature, are large contributing factors to engine life. High torque engines put more force on items like cylinder walls, and connecting rod bearings. Lower torque higher reving engines put less force on these items, and by reving higher by design require less recipricating mass, and better balance. The more force put on items that slide against one another, the greater time these items will spend with the oil forced out from between them. As we know from the playground, as the merry go round speeds up, unbalanced items fly off. And an unbalanced item that causes a vibration is also forcing a thinner layer of oil between the moving items that caused the imbalance. Disassemble an engine and you will see the force bearing portions of the connecting rod bearings will be worn, just as the unbalanced tire has more wear on the heavier side. Balance has a lot to do with keeping an even layer of oil between the moving parts. Higher torque, slower turning engines also allow more blow by in the cylinder. And there is no way around it. One because there is a defined amount of time that a fire at 14:1 air:fuel will burn in a confined space designed to get work out of the expanding gases, and a piston reacting to expanding gases slower. ( in low reving engines ) The piston is retreating slower, higher pressures in the older engines forced more burning gas past the piston rings, taking the lubricant with it, from the cylinder walls and allowing them to wear more.

    Oil does go bad, and it does so quickly. In one of our Hondas, 335,000 miles the overhead cam has a solid link between the cam, and valve stem. The oil between the cam follower and the valve top keeps the noise down in that required expansion area between the two. The area in many solid lifter type engines have an adjustment called valve lash, that is the space I’m talking about. Without any adjustment made to this engine in its life, there is a slight tapping you can hear when the oil has 3,000 miles on it. Run the engine before, and after an oil change and after the change the noise is gone. This simple observation, and you may not agree, but the cushioning effect of the oil changes in those short 3,000 miles. And the same thing shows on all our hondas, averaging 250,000 on each engine. The change in oils properties can also be seen in hot roders who have very accurate oil pressure gages on their engines, check the pressure before and after an oil change (same operating temp) and there will be a higher reading after a change. Guaranteed, old oil is thinner. You will find this if you change the filter or not, I tried it wondering if it was the filter changing the dynamic, it did not.

    Oil related engine failures are more common now then ever before partly due to poor design, and much higher operating temperatures. Toyota had at least one recall because of lubrication problems causing engine sludge in a V6 they had early in their pu’s my brothers 97 had the problem, t-100 I think it was…?
    Chrysler has had engine sludge and engine failures for over 10 years in its engines less than 50,000 miles in many cases. Ford and GM the same, it just takes some looking to find it. And its one of those quality issues why get burned $5,000. on an engine they refuse to fix. Look here: http://www.daimlerchryslervehicleproblems.com/ This site has more reasons not to buy a Chrysler than any, I have seen. And if you look you can find one like it for all US and A car companies. That site will take some time to go through, and they are not consistent on ending a story before beginning another, but if you follow one story through to the end, you will see not only engine problems, but many design flaws that continue for more than 10 years. The steering problem on its LHS line describes how the poor design of its steering systems greatly magnifies forces on ball and cup sockets that should not be happening. There is no reason to design a system that stupid. Ball and cup joints should guide the action, not take the load.

    Have a cool day !

    me.

  • avatar
    hondaboy55

    The question marks should be inches in the top part of the posting. 12-14 inches.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Paul, I’m not sure about the specifics, though I did read about it on a variety of Audi sites, but it has to do with the design and location of internal vent channels–what we used to call “breathers” back when they were external–and the buildup of sludge within them. Yes, certain engines in certain years, which indicates that the problem is caused either by El Nino or by engine design.

    Tech 98, oil filters are built by a small number of companies to the price point and specifications of the people who then label them “Purolater,” “Fram” or whatever. There’s a company called Champion that makes the Champion filters I’ve always used on my aircraft, and they also make Mobil 1-labeled filters and I believe the “Made in USA”-labeled Mahles (German company). I was surprised to learn that the Mobil 1 filters are in fact excellent filters, since I always assumed one was simply paying for the label, but they’re considered to be outstanding. There are others, and there are ways of spotting them from their internal configuration, and you c an do a web search to learn all about it. But basically, you’re getting what you pay for when you buy a $2.98 oil filter instead of an $8 one.

    Glenn in CT, I thought we’d all learned that warmup while idling is dumb and that everybody had rejected to old methodology, but maybe not. Warmup while driving, and drive off the instant the car will accept load (which in an FI engine is immediately). Why? Because you want to warm up the car quickly, not slowly, and if you let it idle in the driveway, it’s simply spending extra time grinding away. Also, most people forget that lots of other stuff should warm up too, on a very cold day–wheel bearings, gearbox, steering, shocks, etc. So they sit there and let the coolant-temp gauge come off the peg and then roar away with a transmission full of molasses.

    Just drive as though you have an egg between your foot and the gas pedal while the car is cold and you won’t hurt a thing.

  • avatar
    rtz

    My `01 Ranger doesn’t have a knock sensor and it pings like a mother on 87 and 89 so it “has to have” 91 just so it doesn’t ping.

    If you want to extend your oil change intervals, at least change out the filter every so many miles.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    JJ: the reason cars have “higher horsepower” in Europe is that they in fact don’t. Euro hp numbers are DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm) and U. S. are SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The DIN formula produces a slightly higher number than does SAE.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    For all you True Believers, go to http://www.synlube.com to read all about a lifetime no-oil-change oil. Never heard of it, but hey, it’s a Russian invention, just like the airplane, the radio and the computer.

  • avatar
    Maxwelton

    There’s a lot of conjecture based on feelings of “that can’t quite be right!” and very little factual informtation supporting your positions on oil changes. Just because the oil industry would like you to use more of their product doesn’t mean you need to.

    K&N air filters are terrible. That’s all hype, and has been proven so.

    Here’s some real world experience: A buddy of mine’s father bought a new Mercury Monarch in 1978. he never changed the oil, air filter, or spark plugs. Ever. In 1985 the car has 110,000 miles on it, and they decided to sell it–and to give the buyers a treat, they decided to do a tune-up, oil change, and all that before it hit the ads.

    The spark plugs were…interesting. They had almost completely eroded and the gaps seemed like they were an inch wide (clearly not, but they were horrible). They still worked.

    They opened the drain plug for the oil and NOTHING came out. Oh, it had plenty of oil, but the sump was completely sludged up. They put two or three quarts of diesel in the sump, started the car (I’ve never seen such a smoke show) and after about ten minutes they were able to get some flow from the drain plug. They changed what they could, but cheap oil back in, let it run for awhile and did it again, and got a bit more out, which was “good enough.”

    I imagine the filter had been bypassed for years.

    Point is, the car ran fine, for what it was. It’s an extreme case, but according to the industry, that car should have expired sometime in 1979, while it was still going strong six years later.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    A group of pistonheads got a few brave volunteers and a few bucks together to conduct a methodical study on the service life of synthetic oil, one brave man even running the same few quarts of Mobil 1 Synthetic for 40,000 miles. They basically would send samples to an oil testing lab at regular intervals to see how the oil changed over time.

    Here’s the link:
    http://neptune.spacebears.com/cars/stories/oil-life.html

  • avatar
    mikey

    You can call me nuts,lots have.I change my oil every 5000 KLM
    I oil door hinges every 2 weeks.Trans fluid 80,000 KLMS.I check all fluids and tire pressure once a week.
    Is it a waste of money?Yeah probably, it makes me feel good though.
    As far as octane goes the 3.4 runs fair on reg but it really likes 20% high octane so I feed it 10 or 15 liters a week.
    The 3.8 however prefers 50% high octane and it runs like a swiss watch.
    On account of the fact I have a shaky job and an even shakier pension [hourly rated GM] I may be driving these Pontiacs for a long time.Hopefull maintaince may pay off.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    While I believe that changing your oil too frequently is as silly as putting high-octane in a Civic CX, it’s still the cheapest repair you can do on your car.

    Plus, like most turbo owners, I got a little bit paranoid about the cooling function my engine’s oil ALSO provides, and it ain’t worn off yet.

  • avatar
    JJ

    JJ: the reason cars have “higher horsepower” in Europe is that they in fact don’t. Euro hp numbers are DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm) and U. S. are SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The DIN formula produces a slightly higher number than does SAE.

    Ah…didn’t know that. Kind of figures though, thinking about it, but you never know till you know. Thanks for the info :)

    So Porsche, for instance, quotes all numbers according to the same standard, which will probably be SAE…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Some European manufacturers sometimes try to cheat a bit by using DIN numbers in the U. S. and not saying so, and I believe Porsche has been one of them, most recently in the case of the 997 Turbo. It’s why you’ll see Car and Driver use slightly different numbers than you might have expected, since they’re scrupulous about converting to SAE.

    I remember when the 360 Modena Ferrari first came out, Ferrari NA made a big deal of it having “400 hp”–they even did a press event at a New York-area horse track that I attended where they somehow collected 400 horses and set them loose down the track with a Modena leading them all, which must have had the Ferrari PR guys’ hearts aflutter.

    Truth is, however, the Modena had 400 x .9861 hp, which comes out to something like 394 hp (daughter stole the calculator…).

  • avatar
    Tyler D

    Great. After reading this, I’m worried about the 1MZ-FE in my Camry. Should I be? It has already lasted 225,000 with regular 4,000 mile oil change intervals with regular dino juice.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Another point about oil I didn’t put in the article: Unless you’re a fanatic, buy cheap oil, and don’t pay more for highly advertised brands. Did you know that Shell owns both Pennzoil and Quaker State? Generally, big oil house brands, particularly Chevron and Texaco, score very high among those that know, and are usually way cheaper. Frankly, its a lot like gas, you don’t really know which refinery its really coming from and who owns which brand on any given day. If the oil meets the current specs for new cars, its good enough.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Thanks to a frozen oil plug, I’m trying the “no oil changes ever” experiment in my CRX. The current Mobil 1 and matching filter went in at 174k, now at 180k a year and a half later. Car is used exceptionally hard; frequent cold starts, plenty of hard accelerations up to and above the 6500 RPM limiter in all gears, long uphill WOT runs, etc.

    No way it’s ever getting less than 93 octane gas again. The car knocks so badly on 91 that restarting it when hot is impossible – it preignites and bounces the starter back. The octane requirement is gradually going up, too. Pretty soon I’ll have to start adding methanol.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Tyler D: depends on the year. Google “Toyota oil sludge” and youl find lots of info. Sounds like you’re doing fine, though. The sludge problem often showed up within 20-40k miles.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    For an interesting piece that is, coincidentally, something of a refutation of Herr Niedermeyer’s theorizing, go to http://www.schleeter.com/oil-sludge.htm.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Alright Stephan, even though Mr. Schleeter is probably an excellent mechanic, there are numerous specific errors and vague generalities in (oil company propoganda) in this article. I’ll address some of them:

    “Why is oil sludge affecting more cars…Environmental pressures: 1. higher emmission standards were enacted. Fuel mixtures have to run leaner, and leaner mixtures cause higher combustion temperatures…”

    Hello, and this guy is a mechanic?? Since the introduction of the Lambda Sond (oxygen sensor) in the mid/late 1980′s, every gas engine runs at exacty stochiometric air/fuel ratio (thats what the O sensor does, gives feedback to FI system), otherwise the cats won’t work properly. Actually, this is why some old carburated engines could be made to run quite economically (pre-smog controls), because you could put in smaller jets to run “lean”, and this is what Chrysler and others did with “lean burn” in the late ’70′s and early ’80′s. But a modern closed-feedback system will not allow you to run lean under any circumstance. He’s flat wrong!

    2. (regarding coolant) “worn-out coolant takes on an electrical charge that chemically acts like acid on engine parts”

    Gobbledy-gook. I don’t know how a changed electrical charge in the coolant will wear out engine parts, when the only part the coolant touches is the water pump. I fail to see a logical connection to oil sludge.

    3. “Lighter oils tend to break down faster…”

    This is typical unverifiable oil company propoganda, as is the whole rest of the article. He’s pushing expensive oil changes on his clients, and understandibly so for two reasons:

    1. He makes more money on the oil changes.

    2. It’s the obvious safe thing for him to say. If a client of his has sludge (because of certain engine design issues), or has any other problem, he can always say, “I told you to change the oil every 3,000 miles/3months”.

    You’re not going to hear much truth about this issue from anyone who has a vested interest in it professionally. I will recommend anyone who wants to learn more about this to check out bobistheoilguy.com. Fantastic site and endless debates.

    Bottom line: oil analysis is the final arbiter, and that is what fleets do. BTW, big diesel trucks commonly run 25-30k between oil changes, based on analysis. There’s also a thread about an oil analysis of a Boxster’s first oil change at 9,000 miles, it was remarkably “clean”, contrary to all expectations.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    Oil change: Yeah the idea of changing every 3k miles was ingrained part of US car culture. And this is likely a waste of money.

    I do every 5k: 1. easy math 2. cost is not a big deal, even at quick lube 3. Yes I will never see benefit, but I like to take care of machinery, cars take a lot of energy to build I figure the longer it runs the better.

    For cars I’d say the most common factor hurting lubrication is short trips. If you live very close to work think about more frequent changes.

    Octane: My cars run on 87, but if I had a car that used premium I’d buy it. The cost difference stays at 20 cents per gallon even as the price climbed; now at 2.40 per gallon premium is now only 8% more expensive. Plus you’ll get part or all of this back in fuel economy. Heck why spend 1000′s for extra Hp and not spend more to get the potential?

  • avatar
    allen5h

    OK, now here is what I want to know.

    I check the oil in my 2001 Accord 4 cyl, it is 1 quart low, and all I have in my garage is an unopened bottle of 20-50 Castrol racing oil that is like 5 years old. Do I dump it into my engine and mix it with the 5-30 that is already in the engine?

    Also, the dang this is eating a quart of oil in between oil changes. Do I simply keep adding quarts of oil during the year and then change the oil and filter once a year?

    Thanx….

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    allen5h: depends how finnicky or cheap you are. There is no real harm in mixing different viscosities, unless you then bring up the average cold viscosity above your manuf. requirements. I don’t think 20-50 is a Honda approved weight. The 20-50 is going to thicken your oil a bit. Are you in a cold climate? Will you be changing oil soon?

    I generally try to stick with the same viscosity and stay within maunfacturer’s recommended viscosity weights.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    allen5h: I didn’t read your post correctly, since you have 5-30 now, adding the 20-50 should keep you within (below 10) cold viscosity range…your cal; I would buy some more 5-30.

    Yes, keep it topped up with additional oil, and change oil and filter according to manuf. recommendations or your own interval, if you feel you have reason to deviate from that.

  • avatar

    I drive a new Mazda 3 in NYC, my day start with an 8 mile drive on the west side hwy, it can be as cold as 25 degrees winter up to 90 degrees summer.
    The car came new with a sticker for first oil change after 3k miles.
    I did ask the dealer why only 3k?, he said: “we are in NYC”.
    Now, I wonder if my money goes down the drain, so far 2 oil changes with 7k mile on the odo.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    Thanx Paul, now I am wondering about the 5 year old bottles of oil that have gone unopened. Safe to use?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    allen5h: I don’t see why not.

  • avatar
    GlennS

    Thank you all for answers to the cold weather “to idle, or not to idle” car warm-up question. :-)

    For many years, I’ve been driving away slowly and not warming my cars up by idling in the driveway. Thought it would be a good time to ask the question, though, so I did. :-)

    As long as we’re in full myth-busting mode, and the comments have ranged from oil, to break in, to gas (and ball joints again–what’s up with that?;-), and since it’s a long weekend for some of us, here’s another qustion:

    What say you to this from http://www.toptiergas.com/

    TOP TIER Detergent Gasoline is a recently established new standard for gasoline performance. Four of the world’s top automakers, BMW, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota recognize that the current EPA minimum detergent requirements do not go far enough to ensure optimal engine performance.

    Since the minimum additive performance standards were first established by EPA in 1995, most gasoline marketers have actually reduced the concentration level of detergent additive in their gasoline by up to 50%. As a result, the ability of a vehicle to maintain stringent Tier 2 emission standards have been hampered, leading to engine deposits which can have a big impact on in-use emissions and driver satisfaction.

    These automakers have raised the bar.
    Yadda, yadda.

    There’s a list of “Top Tier” gasoline brands at the site.

    Fantastic site, TTAC is,
    Glenn in CT

    P.S. to RF: If Top Tier gas would make good fodder for a future TTAC piece, feel free to delete this comment. :-)

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Paul,
    Thanks for the great read. It is a pity that so many car owners have been bamboozled into the 3k/3month routine. You blame Jiffy Lube, but I think it starts with the dealer.

    Whenever you buy a car (except BMW), the dealer is very careful to sit down with you and explain to you the maintenance interval, which he has conveniently circled for you in your manual.

    When you protest that you don’t drive under harsh conditions and you’ll be following the manufacturer’s suggested schedule for routine driving, the dealer helpfully points out that “you live in state XYZ, you know how harsh our {submit harsh season here} is!”

    Nice guy that he is, the dealer has already scheduled an oil change for you at the dealership for 3 months from today. And the first one is FREE, just because he loves his customers and wants to get them started off right with the dealer service department.

    What a great dealer. Even got me that $600 undercoating I needed so badly for only $400. You know how rough the {again, submit harsh season here} can be around here!

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Paul, this has been an interesting discussion, but perhaps you should contact this BMW owner and tell him that he’s smarter than your average pistonhead.

    http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=177375&highlight=oil+sludge

    Keep an eye out for this well maintained 330 coming to a Certified Pre-Owned BMW lot near you.

  • avatar
    GlennS

    While I’m a convert to going by the ECU recommendations for oil changes in my new Civic, my last Civic (’96) got new dino oil every 3K-ish.

    While I may have wasted money by doing so, I can tell you that when I brought the 10-year-old car in for the requisite “trade-in evaluation drive,” the sales manager got out of my car (with 160,000 miles on it), looked right at me, and exclaimed: “It’s still strong!”

    So while the 3K oil changes may not have helped, they certainly did not harm–save for my wallet, anyway. :-)

  • avatar
    f8

    That makes no sense at all.

    “Oil never wears out. It can become contaminated and certain additive characteristics can change. But in normal operational use in modern engines, this usually happens quite slowly.” Yeah, when I check my oil right after an oil change, it’s a nice amber color. When I check it after 3,000 miles or so, it’s a lot darker. I mean, you can literally see the difference.

    Yeah, you can run your car on old oil and filter for longer than 3K miles. You can also use your tires long after they worn down past the recommended safe point, or use your power steering system without fluid so tht it’s not power steering anymore. The point is that it increases risk of those components failing.

    Seriously, is a $15-20 dollar procedure that you do 4-5 times a year and that takes 20-30 minutes each time that much of a hassle? You bought an expensive and complex machine, yet you lament the need for what is one of the easiest, least expensive and least time consuming maintenance procedure for that machine.

  • avatar
    210delray

    Tyler D: If you’ve made it to 225K miles without sludging, it’s simply not going to happen.

    I had a ’97 Camry 2.2L 4-cylinder. I learned of the sludging potential in 2000, after the car had over 50K miles. I had been changing my oil every 5K miles (averaging 3+ times a year).

    Well my car never developed sludge, and I kept it till Feb 2004 with 111K miles, when I sold it on eBay. It still looked and ran great.

    As was mentioned earlier, a lot of the sludged engines happened early in the car’s life, leading me to believe that driving type (short trip for example) had something to do with the issue.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    As far as oil changes, Whatever the manual says, I do.

    I dont buy expensive oil. I agree that synthetic is better, but I am on a budget. I do believe in using a better filter, but not a top of the line filter. I generally use Pur 1 Filters and whatever oil is on special. The API lubricating rating of all the oils I looked at is the same – from the cheap stuff to the Mobile 1. Living in the northeast, most cars rust out and fall apart long before the engine dies anyway.

    Everyone worries about engine lube. Automatic transmissions fail at a much greater frequency, but how many people have their ATF changed at a regular basis ?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    cheezewggie: You bring up a very good point. I talked to a guy who had over 500k on his Chevy pickup, but was on his third automatic transmission. There’s not a lot of ready info on the subject. And most transmission oil changes don’t get all the fluid out; you have to drop the pan for that.

    To what degre there is a correlation between changing the fluid (or not) and transmission failure? I have no idea. Worth looking into.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    Paul,

    It does seem odd that an engine uses a spin-on oil filter but a transmission uses a thin piece of screening. I understand that the original Saturn (and the only REAL Saturn) used a spin-on type automatic transmission fluid filter. I wonder if that transmission experienced a lower failure rate.

    It is also interesting to note that heavy construction equipment manufacturers use hydraulic oil filters. Maybe they know something the automobile manufacturers dont…

    Should Jiffy lube promote the 12,000 mile transmission flush & Fill ? They’d sell a lot more oil and screens.

    BTW,
    Your editorial was quite interesting. Check out the “Bob is the Oil Guy” website if you get a chance.

  • avatar
    windswords

    I have been a frequent visitor to BobIsTheOilGuy.com and have come to the same conclusion about oil change intervals. I have two cars. The daily commuter to work (mostly highway miles) has 4 cylander and a 5 spd manual. I change the oil every 5k with a filter change (never use Fram). I by cheap oil for it (Auto Zone or Walmart). The 5k interval make it easy to know when to change the oil. I just did the 60k change. The second is my wifes 2003 Durango with the 4.7 V8. For that I use Mobile 1 5-30. I change the oil and filter (any brand but Fram) and then after 5 thousand more miles I take out that filter and replace it with a Purolator Pure 1, which is their top of the line filter. At this point I have to put a half quart or so of oil back in. Then I go for another 5 thousand miles. So total time between changes is 10k with filter change and a little oil added back in at 5k. Overkill? Maybe, but not a hint of problems with either car. The 4.7 in the Dodge has been a great engine getting very good mileage for a 4000+ lb. truck.

    From research I did on the Chrysler 2.7 sludge problem it appears that most of the trouble was encountered in the large cars (LH, Intrepid/Concorde). There were cases of sludge in the midsizes (Stratus, Cirrus, Sebring convertible) but not nearly as many. Apparently something was different in the way the motors were used in the larger cars. On the Sebring convertible forum the majority of the posters were using full synthetic for their changes and following the manufacturers interval or shorter. They were not experiencing sludge and many of them had over 200k on their engines. They also recommended getting the timing belt changed when called for as it is an interference motor.

    hondaboy55 I have been to daimlerchryslervehicleproblems.com and I have come to the conclusion that it is a “sour grapes” type of website. It appears the guy had a problem and this is his way of getting back at Chrysler. If you look closely you will see that he almost never backs up his claims of various problems with any reference to the original source material. A lot of it says”someone reported to us…” but you never know who that person is. There is no way you can verify any of it. The website is a one page wonder with no other pages to link to except for Chyrsler external sites.
    The font, background, and design are very amateur and it hasn’t been updated in a long time.

    You can find someone who has had a problem with ANY automaker (yes even Toyota and Honda). If every car from a certain manufacturer had a sludge, or steering, or ball joint, or other problem then they wouldn’t be in business anymore. For every person who says their (fill-in-the-blank) car was “junk” you will find many more who will say they put hundreds of thousands of miles on them with no problems. That’s how good cars have become.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    cheezeweggie; I spent a lot of time there preparing for this article. It’s a gold mine, if you’re willing to dig. I ran by the 100,000km no oil change test by them, and the knowledgable ones had to admit it was quite reasonable, as long as oil was topped up.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Paul,

    If your car is tuned (via the ECU) for 87 octane, than you actually degrade performance by running 91/92 Octane. For “tuner” cars like the WRX you can get trick chips that can take advantage of 110 octane racing fuel. Don’t laugh — there are fifteen gas stations in the San Fernado Valley alone that sell racing fuel.

    If your car (like mine) is tuned for 91, your lose power (and mileage) by using lower octane fuel. Sure, it will run, and the sensors will acommodate for the “bad” fuel, but…

    If you paid more money for your vehicle because it is a performance car (hello!) than it is insane to fret over less than $3.00 a tank in the interest of degrading your engine’s output. Especailly because it also lowers your mileage.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Jonny, I’m not “fretting”, just trying to put out some “truth” so that folks can make their own informed decisions. I have no crusade, and ran premium in my 300E for the same reason you do.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I’m glad to see this issue slowly getting more coverage. The advertising blitz of JiffyLube/Pennzoil (Pennzoil owns Jiffy Lube, and Pennzoil is in turn owned by Shell Oil) and others continues to preach an outdated gospel.

    One thing which is helping is that many new vehicles from volume makers like GM and Honda include an oil life monitoring system which takes into account temperature, RPMs and other factors to arrive at a good estimate of the remaining life of the motor oil. Generally these will call for the oil to be changed somewhere between 5k and 10k miles depending on the vehicle and driving conditions. These companies have put some serious R&D effort into the calculations the vehicle makes. It makes much more sense than the old 3,000 mile/3 months rule of thumb.

    Of course most car dealerships try to ignore the mfg. recommendations and still push the 3/3 gospel.

  • avatar
    bestertester

    * i agree that there is very little evidence of cars failing because of infrequent oil changes.

    * i think that anybody who never changed his oil would feel rather stupid if his car failed nonetheless. changing once per year or every two years sounds to me like insurance: not really necessary but a good element in the cost/risk equation.

    * what is really damaging (as well as under-reported) is over-filling with oil and unnecessary topping-up. this is a scam that often kills bearings and rings on older cars.

    Pit Stop did that to me earlier this year: i brought my car in for some exhaust repair and the mechanic charged me for one litre of expensive oil because “it was low”. this was quite obviously a lie since i had checked it one week earlier, and i found it to be over-filled subsequently. i am a peaceful guy but i think i should have sued his ass.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Is a 3k mile OCI more wasteful than buying a new car every 100k miles? I’m trying to nurse my 88 BMW 528e to 400kmiles on its original drive train. I can change my oil for less than 10$ using Walmart oil and Auto-Zone housebrand oil filters. I have started to lengthen the OCI to 5kmiles. At 328k, I’m heading down the home stretch

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Ordinary engine oil is a by-product of the refining process and becomes available whether the refiner wants it or not. As a lubricant, it has very little value at all until it is doctored with a group of additives, from which comes the viscosity and durability rating shown on the container.

    As we all are aware, the basic raw material is a very viscous black goo, that has to be diluted with solvents at the refinery so that it can be processed.

    Unfortunately, these solvents are carried over with the lubricating oil fraction and are the major reason for the rapid deterioration of the additives in cheap oil.
    Within 1000 Km, your ordinary oil is not doing much of a job of lubricating your engine. At high temperatures, this oil carbonises rapidly and most of the black residue that drains out at an oil change is not engine wear, but burnt, deteriorated, oil that has carbonised itself into oblivion.

    A $1.50/litre motor oil, no matter what the brand name, should not be left in your engine for more than 5000 Km.
    100% recycled oil, selling for eighty eight cents per litre in the big retail stores, has hit the market. Note that even these oils have an SF/CC rating, which only goes to show how low these standards really are!

    So that, in general, engine oil has not improved much in the last five years and may, in fact, be less durable than it used to be.

    Here come the so-called 100% synthetics which carry a little disclaimer on their label: ” not including carrier oil”.

    These products are known as Hydrogenated Esters (HE) and are little more than properly modified mineral oils, although they certainly perform much more adequately and are probably good for 24,000 Km between drain periods, with regular filter changes.

    Fourth generation products, are now available, as used in the aircraft industry, where oil changes are uncommon, at least in jet planes.

    If one can find a way of formulating a PAO (polymer) based product containing no mineral oil whatsoever, at an affordable price, then one has a fourth generation engine lubricant that can remain in an engine, until the engine is rebuilt.

    Filtration of pure PAO lubricants is not challenging for the filter because no carbon is present, and the filter is doing what it should do, eliminating the odd metal particle.

    If you have a new car and wish to comply entirely with your warranty, then your owner’s manual calls for an oil change every 12,000 Km.

    Changing a pure PAO product at this distance is major overkill, but costs only $85 on average and is therefore no more expensive than cheap oil changed every 4000 Km, particularly if the latter service is done at the dealership.

    Another common objection to leaving oil in an engine for long periods of time is contamination from products of combustion.

    In the case of mineral oil, one can actually form an emulsion with water, resulting in a beige coloured `mayonnaise’ that is some times seen on oil filler caps.

    By contrast, PAO based lubricants shrug off water and acids and will not form emulsions. Consequently, as soon as the engine lubricant reaches the boiling point of the condensables, PAO’s reject them through the PCV valve and go back to doing their job of lubricating the engine, completely unaffected by diluents of any kind.

    If we still have your attention, here’s a more technical explanation:

    Since different fractions of the crude have different boiling points as well as different viscosities, progressive boiling is used. Those fractions with lower boiling points are allowed to vaporize, and are collected and then cooled.

    These neutral fractions typically have lower viscosities, while the bright stocks (those with higher boiling points) generally have higher viscosities.

    As such, we can separate oils by viscosity.

    But here’s a problem. If we compound an oil to have a relatively low viscosity (or a multi-vis oil with a significant amount of these lower boiling point/lower viscosity stocks) some of them will vaporize at high temperatures, resulting in higher oil consumption. What’s left behind has a higher viscosity. Varnish and sludge are also present. If the decrease in viscosity, amount of sludge, varnish, and cam lobe wear are too high, it fails the API service test.

    That’s why a 5W-30 oil that meets the SF rating represents a major step. Those oils are said to be “energy saving” since their lower viscosity at lower temperatures (with thick-film lubrication. Remember, if the viscosity is too low, surface-to-surface contact may occur resulting in increased friction and wear!) results in lower part-to-part friction. Yet by passing the SF rating, it shows that it’s still pretty good.

    Now, there are many things in the average motor oil than various refined fractions of crude. Included are various additives, such as anti-wear agents, extreme pressure (EP) additives, anti-rust agents, .

    Most of these are self-explanitory. They are added to enhance the performance of an oil. The EP additives are put in to help the oil hold up between surfaces which feature high contact stresses such as those between the cam lobes and followers. Detergents and dispersants are put in to help remove dirt and sludge and hold it in suspension, until it’s either removed in the filter, or the oil is changed.

    Also included are various oil modifiers such as pour point depressants, viscosity index (VI) improvers, and seal swell agents.

    Pour point depressants are added to inhibit wax crystal growth at low temperatures. This gives the oil better cold cranking performance.

    VI improvers are designed to help an oil’s viscosity/temperature performance. Remember that at high temperatures, an oil’s viscosity drops. If it drops too low, we lose film thickness, and are in big trouble! The viscosity index (VI) is a measurement of how an oil’s viscosity changes with temperature, compared to reference oils. The higher the number, the better. VI improvers are polymer compounds with interlocking structures (polymers are long chain molecules). Because these chains are interlocked, they don’t move as easily at high temperatures and resist viscosity loss. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily contribute anything to lubricity, and in fact begin to wear out under shear stresses. As they wear, the oil’s VI deteriorates, and we’re left with the old VI improver, which has to be held in suspension. This is another reason to change your oil frequently! The VI improver’s sensitivity to high shear stress is significant in that if the shear stress is high enough, the oil may experience either a temporary or permanent loss of viscosity!

    Finally, an oil company may add various compounds which help protect the base stock, such as anti-foam agents, antioxidants, and metal deactivators. The antioxidants are important as they prevent the oil from reacting with oxygen at high temperatures and forming sludge, varnish, and lacquer.

    So where do synthetics fit in? What are they? The term “synthesize” means to put together from small bits. Rather than separating crude into various fractions as is done with conventional oils, synthetic base stocks are made by reacting various organic chemicals together. For instance, if an acid an an alcohol are allowed to react, a compound known as an ester is produced. (As an aside, the aroma present in flowers is generally produced by an ester. Others include butter, lard, tallow, linseed, cottonseed, and olive oils – although I wouldn’t substitute my favorite engine oil for any of them in my cooking, or viceversa!) Other synthetic hydrocarbon compounds are also suitable for lubricating oils, and manufacturers may blend two or more compounds together to arrive at suitable properties.

    It should be noted that many additives are also made of synthesized compounds.

    First, though, let’s compare a conventional oil to a synthetic. A synthetic may require considerably less VI improver to have the same viscosity index. Remember that the VI improver wears out. Synthetic’s are also more thermally stable.

    Synthetic base stocks also have lower pour points – often below -50 degrees F, and require little or no pour point depressant. In contrast, bright stocks may stop pouring at 25-30 degrees F, and need it.

    Still, synthetics are a bit more expensive, so compounding one to compete directly with a conventional oil may not make economic sense. That’s why they are usually made to have superior properties. The extra performance is often worth the cost penalty.

    For instance, synthetics can be compounded with very low pour points. This gives good cold-cranking performance. They may also be compounded with slightly lower viscosities at lower temperatures (while still meeting SAE specifications). This helps to reduce friction, and results in less wear, and better fuel economy.

    Now the 5W-30 “energy saving” oils will do the same thing, but as we’ve discussed before, to lower the viscosity, these oils may be compounded with fractions which have a higher volatility. After a period of time, they begin to boil off or oxidize, leaving behind an oil of higher viscosity. Now, that same oil may meet API SF specifications, but a synthetic may remain stable for a LONGER period of time. (Esters exhibit excellent performance in the API test. Other compounds are very, very good also.) That means that longer drain intervals are possible.

    A word on use. Some synthetic compounds are not compatible with conventional oils. However, most manufacturers, have recognized that one may add a quart of their product to someone else’s, and have compounded them to be. To do otherwise would be to pass up their intended market! (As an aside, I try to avoid having to mix conventional oil, if I can help it. While they are also compounded to be compatible, the performance may not be the same when mixed together. It’s ok in a pinch, but I don’t make a habit of it.) Also, the lower friction resulting from the use of a synthetic lubricant makes them unsuitable for break-in.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Wow, Phil, there is obviously a lot of science to oil changes and a lot of resident knowledge at TTAC. So my question is this.

    As technology improves and carmakers move to annual oil changes (several are at 10K miles already), then the same oil will be used over four seasons. So do those of us whose cars are subject to extremes of cold need an engine block heater in winter?

  • avatar
    philbailey

    An engine block heater is FAR more beneficial for your engine than a remote starter. It’s nothing short of cruel to let a cold engine idle for half an hour while you have breakfast.

  • avatar
    hularocker

    The main reason reason I use synthetic oil is because of what I have seen with my own eyes. Years ago when it was about 10 maybe 15 below zero F, which it can get down to in Wisconsin more than a few times each winter, I put containers of dino oil and synth oil outside overnight. In the morning the dino oil was the consistancy of thick molasses and did not pour while the synth was pretty much the same viscosity as it was at room temp.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Phil, can you give us the source of the article you quoted in your post? Very good information. Thanks.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    The article was written by me and is posted on my website. I am grateful to Mr Fred Rau for some of the information on which the article is based. When the dust settles on this issue, the next one up is the subject of oil additives, such as “teflon” and molydisulfide. Almost all of which are totally useless.

  • avatar

    A few things Ive seen after over 20 years in the repair biz (mostly Saab) can be useful for everyone. Its amazing how different enviro conditions affect engines. North or South? High or low? Mostly cold or hot? Short trips or cross-country? Is your engine turboed? Timing chain? Mfgs put cats under the oil pan on some cars so the engine will get hot ASAP. Good for emissions, mileage, quick heat when its winter…maybe not so good in summer heat, stop & go. All these factors need to be considered to determine what “right” is.

  • avatar
    86er

    re: daimlerchryslervehicleproblems.com

    Ah yes, every few months I click on a link that reminds me that the ball joints on my 00 Dakota are going to cause me a catastrophic accident.

    Makes me want my 86 Silverado back :P

    Edit: Ya know, on account of the king pins.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Phil,

    Can you post a link to your site? Thanks.

  • avatar
    Mailman1

    Just one question. Who is Paul Niedermeyer, and why should we believe him?

    ~Dave

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Mailman1: I don’t want you to believe me; if my “heresy” makes any sense, do your own research and make up your own mind. If you want to “believe”, maybe you’re at the wrong place. The “Truth” is not a fixed destination, its a journey.

  • avatar
    Mailman1

    I was just looking for your credentials. It’s not a matter of faith. I believe in God, but not necessarily in everyone else. It’s not that I even disagree with you, because I don’t know enough about the topic to presume to do that. So, who are you, and why should I believe what you say on this topic?

    ~Dave

  • avatar
    qfrog

    I put my trust in synthetic oils, I have for as long as I’ve been driving. In recent years I’ve seen far too many modern engines fail long before their time and I do mean their time as per the owner’s intent of keeping the car… frequently death before conclusion of the lease. Sure I could afford to replace an engine due to lack of lubrication. As per my calculations it is less costly to just maintain a realistic 5-7k oil change interval while using synthetics than to replace the engine. Sure engines can go for exceptionally long periods of time with the same oil but that depends entirely on the oil being used and the effectiveness of the filter and the propensity of the engine to develop sludge.

    Certainly you can run an engine for a long long time if you have a large enough volume of high quality oil with a nice additive package and a demonstrated ability to avoid oxidization and deterioriation over time while utilizing a filtration system and crankcase ventilation method and system which are effective and operating properly. All of this is dependant on the number of cold starts, duration of operation, operating temperature, percentage of time during operation the engine sees which percentage of it’s output and many many other variables which I can not imagine.

    Not all engines are the same, have the same tolerances and or experience the same variables in the same moderation… so ideally oil change intervals should vary accordingly and with an oil of the apropriate specification or higher.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Dave: as it relates to this article, I’m a very part-time freelance writer. I’ve worked on my cars for some 40 years. I read a lot. I am naturally suspicious of marketing PR (propoganda) that comes from companies pushing a product or service (I know about that, having been a corp. exec).

    I think a lot of readers of my article aren’t reading it carefully, and drawing the erroneous conclusion that I am telling folks to stop changing their oil. I don’t say that anywhere here. The gist of my recommendations is:

    “if..you’re not planning to keep your car past 150k or so, and you run it under favorable conditions…CONSIDER extended intervals…”

    By extended, I primarily mean longer than the commonly promoted 3,000 mile interval.

    My first paragraph is very clear: I’m trying to bust the JiffyLube mantra of 3,000 mile oil changes. And I don’t want anyone to freak out if they’ve gone somewhat longer than their manufacturer’s recommendation; thinking that they’ve damaged their engine.

    I change my own vehicles’ oil fairly reasonably regularly, the one that gets the most highway miles, the intervals are between 6-10K. My old cars, once a year, regardless of mileage.

    Some of my writing is obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek; but then I’ve learned not to take every word I read here completely literally; it’s part of the style here, despite the site name. This site (in my opinion) is to stimulate thought and discussion, and my article is not meant to be the gospel of no-more-oil-changes.

  • avatar
    Mailman1

    Ok, Paul. Thanks for answering my question.

    ~Dave

  • avatar
    Mailman1

    BTW, what do you think of eliminating some waste by using bulk oil? I was in the military for a long time, and they always used re-filtered bulk oil when servicing their cars and trucks. Seems to make sense. If oil doesn’t break down, then all you need to do is drain it from your crankcase, put it through several levels of filtering, and then put it back into the crankcase.

    ~Dave

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    It can and it’s being done, but there is some question of whether the product fully meets the current manufacturer’s specifications. If it does, it should be ok. The distribution is spotty yet.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I’ll still change my oil myself every 3-4k miles. I’m leery of putting any undue stress on a rotary engine as oil is a tad more important in a rotary than a piston engines since its used to lubricate the apex seals.

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    This story may not be as pertinent to this discussion since it is 30 years old or so, but my father bought a brand-new Mazda Miser station wagon in 1977. Living in Wisconsin, it began to rust within a year, but ran great (and over 30 mpg) for 100,000 miles. That’s when he decided to run synthetic oil in her. The motor basically seized and blew up (or something, as the story goes) shortly thereafter, leaving him stranded on a cold (duh, it’s Wisconsin) winter night.

    Are there better periods in a vehicle’s life to switch from dino to synthetic than others?

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    From what I hear in the classic Porsche 911 community, where this is a constant question, the very general answer is “never.” Either you use synthetic from the beginning, assuming a newly rebuilt engine, or you don’t switch. Everybody–loose term, admittedly–who does switch experiences increased oil leakage through seals and gaskets.

    This doesn’t mean that if you have a 2005 Volvo that has run conventional oil for 15,000 miles you can’t switch to synthetic (we’re talkin’ dinosaur cars here, in terms of air-cooled 911s), but I suspect your dad experienced something related to the same kind of problems the Porsche guys find all the time.

    So I would say the very general answer is that if you have a relatively new car, switch to synthetic any time you wish. If you have a car that lost its cherry in the mid-1990s or earlier–my guess–expect increased oil leakage. And if you have a ’77 Mazda and liv e in Wisconsin, hey, it’ll do a grenade imitation.

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    SW,
    Not quite in on the 911 references, but I see what you’re getting at. That’s why I’ve always run Castrol Syntec (part conventional part synthetic as opposed to full synthetic) in 2 Toyotas, 2 Hondas, and a Subaru (all 90s models) and have never seen any engine problems or more than 1/2 quart consumption in a 3K mile period, even with well over 100K miles on them. Then again, I’ve always changed it every 3K. I think I’ll stretch it to 4 or 5 now after reading all this, but I’m still skeptical about full synthetic.
    -E

  • avatar
    nino

    Yes, certain engines in certain years, which indicates that the problem is caused either by El Nino or by engine design.

    Hey, don’t blame me!

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I’m glad to see at the bottom of the comments section that you reitterated your summation at the bottom of your article regarding extended oil changes. However, when I first read the article it sounded like you were recommending never changing the engine oil unless you planned on keeping the car over 100k miles or at least not changing it more frequently than every 24k miles or so (and based on the postings here, I think everybody took that impression from the article). While I seem to be constantly at odds with everybody else who insists that 3k or possibly 5k mile oil changes are necessary, I think that going beyond the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval is a mistake. While you ask if anybody knows of an engine failure that can be directly linked to insufficient oil changes, I ask can you defintively link any failure to insufficient maintenance? I know that engines fail; are you suggesting that none of these failures are due to insufficient lubrication brought on by not changing the oil frequently enough? Personally, I owned one car that blew the internal seals. Since this wasn’t caused by overheating, I am left to assume it was caused by insufficient lubrication. I also know of one relative’s car with a destroyed engine. Once again due to insufficient lubrication. An idiot friend of my wife’s got a nice well running Honda Prelude. She failed to have the proper maintenance performed and that car’s engine was clattering like you wouldn’t believe in less than two years with a serious loss of power (I’m assuming a loss of compression in multiple cylinders). I have seen sludge in the heads and oil pans of older cars. It’s not a nightmare story cooked up by “Big Oil”; oil really does cook into a sludge. Anybody with experience in a materials lab knows what happens when parts move by each other at fast speeds or heavy loads with no or insufficient lubrication. Friction causes the surfaces to wear down; it’s just a fact of the physical universe we live in. Friction also causes lubricants (mainly through heat) to break down reducing their viscosity. I’ve seen it in the lab. Also, as a factual point, prior to the 60′s cars had a 2,000 mile oil change interval if they were equipped with an oil filter or a 1,000 mile interval without the oil filter. I know, I have a 58 Chevy Truck with the original 235 engine, and I am turning into kind of a nut when it comes to classic cars ;-). Oil changes got bumped up to 3,000 miles in the mid 60′s, and have continued to increase with the development of the internal combustion engine itself and the oil that is used in it.

    Regarding the octane issue. Modern engien control systems will possibly (though not always) allow you to run a lower than recommended octane fuel in your car. This si done by retarding the ignition timing based on the knock sensor detecting engine knock. Back in the bad old 70′s when I was a kid :-), I remember people who manually retarded the timing in their behemoths so they could use regular instead of premium fuel, but from everything that I have read, there is no getting around it, the power output of the engine will decrease if the timing is significantly retarded. Additionally, in some engines-the one in my wife’s Cobra Mustang for instance-you must use a mid-grade or premium fuel due to carbon deposits in the combustion chambers.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Paul Niedermeyer,

    I truely believe it is the believe that “How many have you seen that failed because of poor maintanence? Therefore it is not needed” attitude that put American industries down hill. Manufacture determine the interval (i.e. 7.5k on regular load, 3.75k on severe) based on the load, the oil standard, the safety margin, the warranty, and of course, the attitude of the owner (how many percent do people run over limit).

    The same interval of SH when I got my corolla in 95 is probably equivalent to 2x the same amount on the newer SM oil. Then you look at the better synthetic (Mobil 1, Group 4, not the fake synthetic Group 3 that Castrol, Valvoline, Pennzoil, or Quaker States are selling), and the use of oil analysis, I am running my M1 for 12k miles, 4x the common wisdom.

    Does it means I can run it for 12k safely? Sure, TBN is still above limit. Does it means my engine is fine? Sure, the wear metal is still below average. Does it means everyone should do it? No, because people don’t take care of their car like I did, and I don’t replace my car every 100k like the few richies here, who claimed “how long are you going to keep your car anyways, don’t bother doing all the extras”.

    This is the same attitude that many US manufactures take, and thus goes our industrial power. When engine oil is only $0.69 a quart in Kragen (Chevron or Shell on discount), why save $10 on material and $20 on labor every 10000 miles on a car that is going to last only 100k miles? Thats only $3k difference in its lifetime.

    You end up paying it all back when you want to sell that 100k car 10 years down the road and it blew a puff of blue smoke in the tail pipe.

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    Water is never worn out either. So, when you’ve had a glass, you can reuse it without hesitation. Maybe some filtering is required in most cases…

    How about engine flush “extracorporeal dialysis” (not a XXX bottle poured in the oil refilling hole). Sounds like good idea if you suspect sludge build-up. Anyone?

    $5 for one quart of Mobil 1? Hey, in Sweden I pay $25 for one quart of the only oil BMW recommends for my car: Castrol SLX 0W-30 (labelled BMW). I use it because I really had trouble with another brand: the hydraulic valve play compensators (or whatever they are called) didn’t close the valves at cold start-up and I had to tow the car to the BMW shop. Hard choice.

    I use 98 octane (euro) because the small price difference over euro 95 is justified by a slightly added mileage, and I get some more power. Simple choice.

  • avatar
    Arragonis

    I drive a Skoda with a VW TDi Diesel engine – the oil specified is super-dooper-special-delux-oil-only-for-VW-TDis for which there are only 2 suppliers – VW themselves and Millers.

    It costs more than the best Gargle Juice in Monte Carlo.

    The car tells me when it wants more, usually 5-10K miles.

  • avatar
    jazbo123

    Paul,

    Do you actually own a car?

    Just kidding… but really I have vehicles that run like shit on regular gas. (A high output Saab turbo and an Audi V8.) Me thinks you generalize way too much. For many cars though premium is a waste, as it is in a lawnmower.

    And I can feel when oil additives are worn out, usually in about 8k miles (normally aspirated) and about 6k miles (turbo).

  • avatar
    browner

    This site is a great source regarding engine oil. It’s where I first learned about the danger of dissolved condensation leading to nitric acid in the oil.

    href=http://www.carbibles.com/engineoil_bible.html

    The point I’m trying to make is that the optimum time for changing oil ought to be related to a number of factors, of which distance travelled is probably one of the least important in most cases. Here is my selection in rough order of importance:

    1. Number of cold starts (more condensation in a cold engine)
    2. Ambient temperature (how long before warm enough to stop serious condensation)
    3. Effectiveness of crank case scavenging (more of that anon)
    4. State of wear of the engine (piston blow-by multiplies the problem)
    5. Accuracy of carburation during warm-up period (extra gook produced)
    6. Distance travelled (well, lets get that one out of the way)

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    One thing to remember:

    When an article is misread and/or misunderstood, which seems to be author Niedermeyer’s claim, it’s not the reader’s fault.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    i have a golf thats pushin 200,00 miles, it had an oil leak that used appx one quart per 2000 miles, so i just kept replacing the used oil in the crankcase, changing the filter occasionally. Got the leak fixed, now i replace half a quart per 5000 miles or so.

    i wonder if i should do a for real oil change now and then? i never did changes more than about 10 – 12K miles at best. I always knew that the 3K interval was nonsense. I use the cheapest on sale oil i can find, tho i do buy good filters.

    maybe every 20k or so, i think.

  • avatar

    Like jerseydevil, I have an old car (216k miles) that burns oil and I am not sure what to run in it. My 1990 Civic Si burns about a half quart a week (about 350mi per week). I have used synthetic since owning it (4 years and 40k miles ago). The burning is just getting worse, and I have been tempted to switch to dino so I can change it more often without breaking the bank. In my Corolla (wife’s car), the oil looks great when I replace it at 5000-6000 miles.

    In the Civic, I have nasty dirty black oil at 1000k. I feel awful running it to 3000, and it runs much more smoothly after the change. Changing just the filter helps for a week, but that is about all.

    What should people with old cars (that we expect to run indefinitely) like us do?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    In 1996, Cunsumer Reports conducted a study of various brands and weights of oil, and different oil change intervals (OCI). 75 NYC taxis with fresh engines ran 4.5 million collective miles, half with a 3k OCI, and the other half with a 6k OCI. At the end of the test, the engines were torn apart and carefully analyzed for wear. Regrdless of brand, weight or OCI, NO measurable differences could be observed.

    As my article states prety clearly, my main purpose was to bust the JiffyOil 3,000 mile OCI mantra. This CR test certainly does.

    I would love to see a similar test going to 10,000 mile OCI.

  • avatar
    voltron1011

    I had a roommate that that used to change his oil every 2000 mile…. Well, to make a long story short, his timing chain broke at about 120,000 miles and destroyed his engine….
    I always tell people like this, that they should save their money they are spending on frequent oil changes and use it on stuff that will really cause damage to your engine. Most modern cars will have other things giving you probs long before the motor dies out due to lack of a 3000 mile change.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    neilburg: I am not “an expert”, but I’ll venture a guess and recommendation. I suspect your engine is somewhat tired and partially worn out, and maybe you have some blowby (exhaust getting past piston rings) that is contaminating your oil. Have you done a compression test?

    If I were you, I wouldn’t bother with synthetic and changing it so often. I would try a regular (dino) oil, possibly a formula made for older engines. While I’m somewhat suspicious of the many oil special formulations (RV, turbo, etc.), the high-milage one makes some sense and is probably worth a try. Stick to the heavier end of your car’s recommendations (10-30, or 20-40, depending on weather).

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    In an old 215k car I had, somewhere under the engine-transmission area, oil started to leak out, forcing me to check the oil level every other day and top up with my expensive synthetic brand. A young neighbor in the motor business came up to me while I had the hood open for the X:th time that week, inspecting the growing wet spot under the car. He simply told me: “Don’t use synthetic oil any more, because it will continue to drop out all the time you don’t drive the car. Use regular cheap oil, it becomes thicker when cold and you will only lose some when driving”. And I thought I was smart!

  • avatar
    voltron1011

    I remember some mechanics telling me to use thicker dino-oil (20w-50) on high mileage engines. They said the tollerances are wider on these motors and thin oils will not do anything.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    when i purchased my [new] 97 boxster almost ten years ago, the porsche dealer in san diego promised me free regularly-scheduled oil changes [using synthetic mobil one] for as long as i owned the car.

    well, i still own the car and intend to keep it as long as possible. during my first three years, i averaged about 12,000 mostly freeway miles per year. since then, i tend to drive it about 3500 – 4000 miles each year [all here in southern california].

    but last spring, when i called to schedule my usual oil change, i was advised that porsche now says that under these conditions, i only need to change my oil once every other year.

    i’m still not entirely comfortable with this recommendation. can anybody confirm whether or not the advise alluded to above is reasonable and appropriate for my car and how it has been operated?

  • avatar
    Cavendel

    PhilBailey’s Website can be found at

    http://www.baileycar.com

  • avatar
    Cavendel

    Jazbo123 wrote

    Me thinks you generalize way too much. For many cars though premium is a waste, as it is in a lawnmower.

    Actually, I use premium in my lawnmower. I buy 10 gallons at the beginning of the summer. I’ve heard that the octane of gasoline will slower lower over time. By the end of the summer, I hope that the gas is still over 87.

    I do the same thing for my boat, the last fill up of the season is high octane, hoping that by spring it won’t have lowered to much below 87.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    philipwitak: actual laboratory oil analysis is the final arbiter of the conditon of used oil. At the bobistheoilguy.com web site, there is a thread regarding the analysis of a Boxster’s oil that went about 9,000 miles. It was in excellent condition. Lots of commentators to the thread were incredulous. Check it out for yourself (search “boxster”).

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Cavendel: And you heard this from a truly reliable source? Me thinks not. Gas will form varnish with age, but I have very strong reason to believe that the octane does not go down, especially in such a short time. In some (remote) parts of the world, gas is only delivered once a year, or less. Sounds like an old urban legend/wive’s tale.

  • avatar
    GlennS

    When an article is misread and/or misunderstood, which seems to be author Niedermeyer’s claim, it’s not the reader’s fault.

    It’s pretty clear to me:

    Obviously, I don’t expect pistonheads to forgo engine oil changes completely– if only because following manufacturer’s recommendations safeguards your potential warranty claims. Still, if warranty isn’t an issue and you’re not planning on keeping your car past 150k or so, and you run it under favorable conditions– a long commute, lots of highway miles, milder climate, etc. — consider extended intervals.

  • avatar
    MgoBLUE

    SherbornSean:

    When I bought my TL, Acura of Auburn told me that unless I plan to move to northern Canada, I wouldn’t benefit from an engine block heater. I know their head salesman very well — and I trusted his input.

    The issue for me (having an attached garage) wasn’t as big as for the many New Englanders who don’t have that ‘luxury’.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    MgoBLUE,
    You were smart to go to Auburn. I’m not a fan of the guys in Framingham.

  • avatar
    noley

    Oil is such a religious discussion.

    But unlike religion where it is impossible to know the answer, we do know changing oil in a car is a generally good thing. Not changing something as inexpensive as oil and filter is foolish on a machine worth thousands of dollars.

    As for octane, I’ve not put a stopwatch on it, but my turbo Saab “feels” a lot stronger with a load of 93 octane than it does with a load of regular. But I go halfway most the time and run mid-grade. Works fine and I rarely need extra few horses in the real world.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Paul: you and I should market our own brand of oil. It is the same as regular oil, but magically makes cars feel faster because it actually lubricates engine parts and only needs to be replaced once a month, or whenever owner has a few extra bucks.

    My oil will magically improve mileage (your results may vary) and will extend length and virility, when used in combination with a Playboy air freshener hung from the rear view mirror.

    Who wouldn’t pay a few bucks extra for that?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    SherbornSean: I’m with you on that. When I was (quite a bit)younger, I was convinced my car ran better after I washed it, and even more so after a good wax job. It probably had less friction going through the air. We could sell the combination of oil and wax and freshener together (triple play).

  • avatar
    rprellwitz

    # New2LA:
    January 13th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    “The oil life indicator goes approximately 16,000 between changes in most BMW’s. BMW recommends synthetic oil only. However, since oil changes are part of the car’s purchase price for the first 4 year, and since the car bugs the hell out of you if you don’t do it, everybody gets them done.”

    Just some anectodal information on this as I have owned a few bmw’s – 98 M3 – 01 M5 – 04 M3 and 06 M3 – the longest computer recommended interval I had was 12,300 miles in the 06 M3 and the shortest was in the 04 M3 7800 miles. All but the 98 M3 require – Castrol 10W-60 oil as well. Available from your friendly dealer for $8.95 / qt.

  • avatar
    ash78

    OK, so what does everyone think about the Tornado Fuel Saver, then?

    ;)

  • avatar

    Thanks to Browner for the link to carbibles. The most useful thing here.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Somebody may already have mentioned this, and if so, my apologies…but I don’t have the time to read all of the comments just yet. Maybe later or tomorrow.

    Paul mentions warranty as a reason to keep up with the oil changes.

    That’s valid.

    But there’s one other EXCELLENT reason for keeping up with them even if you plan to sell or trade your car before putting a lot of miles on it.

    Resale value, and the ability to trade it to a dealer who wants well-maintained cars to put on his “certified used car” lot.

    That latter one is important. If you don’t keep up with maintenance intervals, the dealers can’t sell them as “certified used,” which means you’ll get less money (or no money) for it.

    If you plan to sell or trade in, even a private buyer might want proof of regular maintenance. If you can’t provide it, you may get less money for your trade. Whether or not the decreased value in trade would be greater than the cost of the oil changes remains to be seen, I suppose.

    In other cases, not having a maintenance history could even scuttle a sale.

    When I sold my 136,000 mile Miata for $1,000, the buyer asked to see the maintenance records. I couldn’t let him keep them because they had my credit card numbers and whatnot on them (some were from the time when credit card numbers were written down; these days they only show the last 4 characters).

    This was a 1993 car that I sold in 2003; a ten or eleven year old car, depending on how you do the model-year math. My buyer wanted to race the car, but wanted assurances that the engine had been taken care of. If I couldn’t produce at least a fair number of maintenance receipts, the sale would certainly have been scuttled.

  • avatar
    ash78

    ZoomZoom
    Certified Pre-Owned cars from private sellers? Maybe if they’re under 3 years old and in perfect condition. From my experience, they’re almost all under 3 years old and from corporate fleets. Personally, I would never keep a car so few years that a CPO plan would be interested, but there are many people for whom that is very valid. This time period also coincides with the warranty, so its doubly important that you keep up with maintenance per mfr recommendation.

    I do mostly DIY for oil, brakes, etc, and so do quite a few enthusiast owners. These records could easily be faked, so I put more value on talking to the owner face to face to get a sense of whether he (or she) is a person that can speak knowledgeably about the maintenance. I’d rather have a seller who can justify why he did his own 5k oil change intervals than another person who did the oil every 3k at Jiffy Lube. IMO, it’s all about the owner.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Still, if warranty isn’t an issue and you’re not planning on keeping your car past 150k or so, and you run it under favorable conditions– a long commute, lots of highway miles, milder climate, etc. — consider extended intervals.

    That’s assuming people actually drive in these favorable conditions. That is NOT a good thing to assume.

    Not to come off as a complete jerk, but that’s a fatal flaw in this arguement.

    Read most owner’s manuals and they recommend “frequent” oil changes for people who get stuck in traffic, do a lot of stop and go driving, etc. Anyone who lives near a metropolitan area puts a severe duty load on their engines and needs to follow the OE maintenance schedule. Whatever that may be, I’m betting it isn’t every 3000 miles.

    Traffic gets worse every year, more cars clog the roads every year…the majority of people in this country are severe use drivers.

    Stephan Wilkinson wisely mentioned many cases of oil sludge buildup from infrequent oil changes. Audi/VWs was the worst, being a turbocharged engine. But witness Toyota’s recent class action lawsuit problems. You can read it here.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Sajeev: Did you read my earlier comment about the 1996 Consumer Report test? They ran 75 NYC taxis (how’s that for a harsh environment?) with fresh engines for a total of 4.5 million miles, half of them with 3k OCI, the other half with 6k OCI. The engines were then totally dissasembled and checked microscopically for wear. There was no difference between the two groups.

    Anyway, where is the fatal flaw? Please explain. Why should stop and go driving be so hard on an engine/oil? Tell me why it’s so demanding on an engine under that circumstance?

    Sure, my mother, who only drives her car 3/4 mile to the store and back, and the engine never warms up, is putting “severe strain” on her oil/engine. And its because of people like her the manufacturer’s have the “severe duty OCI”. They need a legal leverage if my Mom’s car gunks up or whatever.

    Anyway, it’s kind of ridiculous to attack my recommendation (about favorable conditions) by saying “that is NOT a good thing to assume”. Is the average IQ on this site 75? If people don’t understand what the words “favorable conditions” mean”, than we might as well stop writing all together.

    The whole sludge issue was gone into at great length in the comments section. Before you dismiss my article with your “fatal flaw” judgement, why don’t you take the time to read the prior comments that deal with all these issues, especially the sludge problem. Thanks for the link; I read it and many others before I wrote the article.

  • avatar
    chaz_233

    - Tell that to Toyota that wants to blame their customers for their lousy engines’s complete damage due to sludge.
    - While it’s known that oil by itself does not deteriorate but it’s additives do, and you can in principle run it perenially, listening to the car is good advice. You will notice a difference in how it drives and how much gas it consumes and can tell when it’s time for an oil change.
    - I don’t know about other makes, but GM cars have oil life monitors and with those, oil changes are recommended once or twice a year.
    - I also believe in synthetics. Again, you will notice the difference and the numbers are there in terms of better cold/high temperature lubrication
    - personally, I do like taking the car to the dealer every couple of months to change the oil, at least as long as its under warranty, so they can fix things if they find something wrong

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Sajeev: Did you read my earlier comment about the 1996 Consumer Report test? They ran 75 NYC taxis (how’s that for a harsh environment?) with fresh engines for a total of 4.5 million miles, half of them with 3k OCI, the other half with 6k OCI. The engines were then totally dissasembled and checked microscopically for wear. There was no difference between the two groups.

    Paul, I read it and I agree: 3000 mile oil changes are overkill with most oils and under most conditions.

    Maybe I missed something here, so we need to quantify the “extended intervals” we’re discussing. 6000 miles between oil changes is the norm these days. But going any farther? (10k or more from what I’ve seen in owners manuals) That is probably why we have sludge problems in late model VWs, Toyotas, etc.

    Anyway, where is the fatal flaw? Please explain. Why should stop and go driving be so hard on an engine/oil? Tell me why it’s so demanding on an engine under that circumstance?

    I wish I knew, but I know what I’ve seen: heat/traffic/excessive idling/stop and go driving breaks down and contaminates oil much faster than the ideal world of 70 degree weather and average speeds of 30+mph in one’s daily commute.

    After 6-8k, my Mobil 1 is going south. It smells charred, is pitch black and is about as thick as water (well kinda). On the other hand, when I drove from Houston to Atlanta (drag raced and then went back) the oil was almost as slippery to touch and golden hued as when I first added it. I think I went over 10k on that oil change…I changed it soon after only because of guilt.

    Anyway, it’s kind of ridiculous to attack my recommendation (about favorable conditions) by saying “that is NOT a good thing to assume”.

    I don’t drive in favorable conditions, nor do I know many people who live in urban areas that do. And a lot of Americans live in urban areas.

    Tens of thousands of people in Houston (or any large city) drive in my severe duty conditions and change their oil much later than every 6k. I betcha these types of drivers are why the OEM’s are shelling out big bucks to fix sludge problems.

    There is a good reason why severe duty maintenance exists, and more people should adhere to it because of their driving environment. Unless you lease a new car every 2-3 years and could care less about its long term health. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    And oil filters are another can of worms. The longer the service interval, the degraded/reduced filter flow. Not to mention the widespread use of low-grade filters (Fram, no name filters at many oil change places) can make this problem even worse.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Sajeev: We can disagree about whether normal driving is severe or not, and we’ll probably never agree, but I’ll rebut you on a few points:

    You talk about heat: how often does a modern car ever raise its temperature above its thermostat controlled level. Cars are tested in Death Valley at 120 degrees with AC on. I’ve never seen a newish car raise its temperature in anything close to normal driving.

    Your observations of your engine oil: Those are your subjective impressions, and worth exactly that. I can’t rebut them on their face value. Did you take your used oil to have it analyzed? I spent a lot of time at bobistheoilguysite.com and read lots of analysis of regular and syn oil, and my general impression of what I picked up would be contradictory to your observations. Lots of guys running 15k,10k, or more on synthetic, and having it analysed (positively). I can’t prove you “wrong”, but your observation is not typical, or possibly not correct. Have it analyzed.

    Sludge: As I told you, I already covered this in earlier comments, but here goes again: The ludge problems were almost exclusively limited to certain year Toyota 2.2 and 3.0, VW/Audi 1.8 Turbo, Chrysler 2.7 V6, and some Saab models. After the manufacturers made changes to these engines, the problems went away. That’s why they extended warranties and made financial sttlements. It was traced to some combination of overly tight clearances, PVC/breather problems, and other circulation issues that allowed the oil to linger overly long in certain hot spots which “cooked” the oil.

    Yes, more frequent OCI will help mitigate sludge IF you have one of these particular engines. And, predictably, the manufacturers of these particular engines tried to shift some of the blame on infrequent oil changes, to give some legal leverage.

    Changes were made to these engines, an lo and behold, the problem seems to be essentially gone.

    Here’s my examples of severe duty: pulling a large trailer; driving in an arctic or semi-arctic environment; driving on dirt/gravel roads extensively. You have not begun to convince me that a (typical) car with 150-250 hp thats generating a tiny fraction of that in “normal” urban driving, with modern temperature controls, and a fuel injection system that keeps the mixture optimum at all times is “severe duty”

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    You talk about heat: how often does a modern car ever raise its temperature above its thermostat controlled level.

    Do those testing procedures factor heat soak? Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in 100 degree weather on hot asphalt (my commute to work in July) for 30 mins reduces the cooling system’s effectiveness, no matter what the t-stat wants to do. It even degrades the A/C condensor’s effectiveness, just a little. Have you found a website with info on coolant temp in this case? You can’t trust an OEM temp gauge, I need one of those infrared thermometers and zap some radiators for myself.

    You have a lot of excellent points which I agree with or have no leg to stand on, even though I feel my firsthand experience is contrary to some of it.

    I also see the need to question the 3k oil change, but I don’t know how far you’re going with this arguement.

    So my question to you is, what is an appropriate oil change interval for a normal car in normal urban driving using factory recommended oil (usually synthetic blend) and filter…is it what the owner’s manual states (5k,6k,7k,10k,etc) or are they just trying to force you into dealership service bays?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Sajeev: heat: does the car’s temperature guage show a significant rise under the circumstance you refer to? I would say probably not. But even then, we may be wasting our time on this subject, because I have no knowledge that a moderately elevated engine temperature will cause unusual degregation to a modern oil. It’s pretty unusual to actually “overheat” a modern car in normal use, unless somethings not working right.

    I remember in the ’60′s, a fourth of July parade, all the cars were brand new Ford convertibles. It was in the 90′s, and probably half of them were overheating, steaming, etc. It was a common problem back then. Ford’s recommended OCI in the ’60′s was 6,000 miles. The oils back then were vastly inferior. The chokes were terrible in pulling off, in the winter half the cars had black clouds of stinky unburned gas.

    I have a ’66 Ford f100, well over 200k. 6 cyl, 129 hp. I have pulled Bobcats (excavator) on double-axle trailers (6-7k lbs), hauled 3500 lbs of rocks, endless abuse for 20 years (I bought it for $500 in 1987) compression is 155, all within 10lbs. Runs like a top.

    I’m telling you, compared to the conditions cars went through back then, most of todays cars are coasting, cruising on the freeway, even stop and go.

    So if 6k OCI worked back then, then I’m convinced most folks can go to 10k in normal driving. If they forget, or happen to go longer, I don’t think they should sweat it (the overwhelming evidence suggests they haven’t damaged their engine).

    That’s a very generalized answer. There are exceptions; I understand BMW has some unusal requirements, etc. With expensive, exotic equipment, its probably worth following recommendations more carefully. My article was aimed at the typical driver/car.

  • avatar
    744

    Mr. Niedermeyer:

    As the owner of a 1.8T Passat who has followed the situation closely (and an aircraft mechanic, if that means anything), your understanding of the VW sludge situation is incorrect. I can not speak to Toyota, MB, SAAB…the list goes on. The fact that the list DOES go on is another point that perhaps someone else can dive into.

    There have been no changes to the 1.8T design. The fact is that the engine does not sludge if the correct oil is used on the correct OCI. The engine will sludge with non-synthetic (non VW 502) oil. And/or it will sludge if the OCI is stretched out past the recommended 5.000 miles. I have yet to see a single documented case where one of these engines sludged with the correct spec oil on a 5.000 mile OCI. At this point I must emphasize the word “documented”, since no doubt someone without documentation and with a sludged 1.8T will claim that they did nothing wrong. Good maintenance is always documented.

    I do not disagree with you that the 3,000 mile quack lube situation is wrong. But it is equally wrong to take a cavalier approach to extended oil change intervals—and the ramifications are much greater in the later case. And sludge IS a product of low spec oil and extended drains. It is delusional to assert otherwise. The fact that some engines are more tolerant simply illustrates the point that extended drains must be approached with some degree of caution and sharp pencil rather than a broad brush.

    dlw

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    dlw: I’m not an expert with the specific issues of the VW/Audi 1.8 turbo. I do know that the other “sludging” engines (Toyota, Chrysler) problems went away after certain changes were made.

    Because only certain engines had/have this problem, it is incorrect to say extended OCI caused the problem; its not a problem in the hundreds of other engine families made in the last 50 years.

    Yes, for an engine that is prone to sludging, short OCI intervals and synthetic oil seem to help, although there are documented cases of folks who kept to factory intervals and had terminal sludge. That’s why the manufacturers like Toyota have ponied up with $$’s.

    I agree fully with you; if you have a “sludger” beware of OCI and oil type. Life always seems to present exceptions to generalities, and I honor that.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    _Exactly_ what I said as couple of day's worth of posts ago: as a 1.8T Audi owner (and also an aircraft mechanic in that I'm certified to maintain and annual my own homebuilt Falco…) I have learned that the accepted OCI is 5,000 miles/Mobil 1. No more, no less, no sludge.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    So if 6k OCI worked back then, then I’m convinced most folks can go to 10k in normal driving. If they forget, or happen to go longer, I don’t think they should sweat it (the overwhelming evidence suggests they haven’t damaged their engine).

    That’s a very generalized answer.

    Generalized but fair. Factor in the short term thinking of many consumers (car must be replaced at 100k before it falls apart) and most people won’t know the difference.

    As far as the temperature issue, I’ve seen some cars’ needles creep up a little during hot weather, and others don’t move at all…some temp gauges (getting info from the car’s ECM) are just “dummy” switches set up to move progressively when cold, then lock to one position like an oil pressure idiot light snap switch.

  • avatar
    EJ

    Why would anyone change oil more often than recommended by the manufacturer? In fact, I assume the manufacturer keeps lots of safety margin in their recommendation, so you should be able to change oil less often.
    Personally, I hate spending time on oil changes, so I end up changing at between 8K and 12K miles. The Camry is still doing great at 120K miles.
    Oil sludge be damned!

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I can’t speak to protection, but by God, I know Mobil 1 15w50 made my ancient diesel Mercedes quieter, and others consistently report it as well.

    Reduces lifter noise considerably on those engines.

    (I change the oil every 3k-3500 on my Toyota truck, not because I’m paranoid – hell, even Toyota says 3750 under hard use, but because I’m too lazy to write down a different mileage number, it’s still pretty cheap, and that way, by God, the additive package will never wear out, and there’ll never be any nasty organic acids in the oil.

    200k miles and going strong, but then the 22RE is a strong engine.)

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    This is the only TTAC article so far that didn’t made me any wiser.

    To change or not to change, that is the question (think of prince Hamlet with a used oil filter on his right palm).

  • avatar

    Toyota settles sludge suit. Serendipitous?

    http://freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070118/BUSINESS01/701180399/1014/BUSINESS01

  • avatar

    Don’t forget: Old cars can be saved by frequent oil changes because if they develop leaks that are not easily noticed, the oil level drops. I have heard of people with small gasket leaks running without oil and destroying their engine because “I was just running a little behind on my 3,000 mile change.”

    For this forum of people with generally newer cars (and who staring under the hood on more than a monthly basis) it is not really an issue. However, it might be for your kid when he/she enters college and takes your 150k-miled Cavalier that has a small oil leak/burn.

    As a universal rule, 3000k may save more cars than we think from running low on oil. I remember a friend who had an issue with this on his old Camry when he decided to use the Amsoil “don’t change it for [some ridiculous number] miles guarantee.” That would have worked if he hadn’t burned/leaked 2 quarts before a quarter of that number was ticked off his odometer.

    So if I could force ALL owners to adhere to one number then 3,000 might just seem reasonable. (Of course if I had power like that, I would require working taillights and other things too).
    For my non-leaking/burning car though…it is a biweekly check and every 5000-6000k (or whenever it starts looking dirty, if that ever happens). I think I will switch to dino and a 2,000 mile schedule on the leaking/burning old engine (trust me, it looks like mud at 2,000).

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Neilberg,
    Wouldn’t these older cars that were saved by 3K OCI more easily be saved through monthly use of the dipstick?

    Car ownership by definition requires at least some engagement on the part of the owner doesn’t it?

    Jan,
    I learned that oil is a topic that invites typically logical people to think illogically. Who knew The Prize was also The Passion?

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Car ownership by definition requires at least some engagement on the part of the owner doesn’t it?

    Most everyone I know couldn’t care less. That’s why Jiffy Lube franchises are as commonplace as corner drugstores these days.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I’m always amazed at the number of people who take active roles in home improvement and maintenance, but do nothing for their cars. People that mow the lawn, clean the gutters, but find those who work on their own cars to be “quaint” or “cheap.”

    Houses are pretty robust and don’t involve hurtling down the road at 80mph, plus quietly saving your ass from certain death dozens of times per day.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    neilberg: strictly speaking, the more a car leaks or burns oil, the longer you can go with OCI (assuming you top it off), because you’re replenishing it with fresh oil and the additives that tend to wear out.

    The general conclusion to my posting of the 62,000 miles without an oil change article on a motor oil change “experts” web site was that based on the the fact that 1980′s VW engines tended to burn 1 quart every 1-3k, it was getting the (not quite) “equivalent” of an oil change every 4-12k.

    Obviously, anyone who doesn’t check their oil level and top it up is asking for big trouble.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Here’s the solution, that will find its way into every new car before long, and make all of our agonizing about oil changes sound as antiquated as talking about changing points:

    Delphi has announced a new type of engine oil condition sensor (for diesels, for now) that measures/analyses everything necessary to inform the operator when the optimum (maximum) OCI has arrived. Unlike the ECU’s, this unit actually constantly analyses the oil for a number of parameters, including viscosity, soot level, oil level and temperature, among others.

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2007/01/delphi_introduc.html

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Paul,
    With that capability, GM could take it a step further. An OnStar concierge could use that data, as well as data from the ECU and TPMS to schedule appointments for a service van to come by while you’re at work and change the oil, battery, tires, air filter, wipers, whatever.

    You could see Cadillac or Buick offering this as a service package that is included with your lease payment. Would give them the ability to one-up Lexus on the dealer service front, and increase their revenues.

    “BMW may offer free oil changes, but Cadillac offers freedom from oil changes.”

    As a bonus, this sort of data could be aggregated for GM engineers to use in selecting oils, engine design, etc.

  • avatar

    Sean,
    Actually, GM vehicles do monitor your “oil life” (and many other parameters) now and OnStar can send you a “Vehicle Diagnostics Report” every month for free as part of any OnStar contract. The problem is that there are a lot of cool things that OnStar CAN do with their technology, but they are so incredibly devoted to privacy (really, they are quite serious about it) that many of these ideas may never be able to come to light. I don’t know about that oil change idea (though it is a neat application). Most people would fear GM service denying warranty work because of something the dealership pulls from OnStar. This is what OnStar is guarding its customers from–and they do it very well.

    Paul,
    My problem is not solved by having to top off. I have not read of people saying “when it looks like tar and makes your engine run roughly, change it,” but that is my situation a little before 3k–even using synthetic. The oil probably has a lot of good stuff left in it…but it has a lot of dirt and black crud in it too! Of course, I don’t WANT to mess with the oil that much, but it is cheaper and easier to change the oil monthly (if it comes to that) than to swap the engine.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    neilberg: if your oil looks like tar after 2k, your engine has serious issues. My recommendations intrinsically are somewhat generalized; your engine falls out of that realm.

    But to say that people should change oil at 3k because they won’t check their level is like saying everyone over the age of 50 should have an angioplasty instead of checking their cholesterol.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    I put 10k miles on full synthetic oil changes. I put 13K on my last, I should’ve checked the level as well though. This is on a ’97 Tahoe with a vortec 350. Sajeev can verify that I’m a car guy as well. 3k is propaganda and a waist.

    However if you’re driving a high performance modified vehicle tuned to within an inch of it’s life, one tank of crap gas could end up blowing your mega dollar motor.

  • avatar
    DItty

    Apparently the author doesn’t know anything other than what he has heard/read about oil change intervals. After owning mutiple vehicles of all ranges of type, body style, and manufature, regualar oil changes are a MUST!!! Your vehicle is going to treat you as well as you treat it.

    I saw someone post a question about turboed vehicles. Depending on your start-up/shut-down procedures, you will need to change your oil as per the manufacturer. Diesel vehicles, expecially modern post-1990-sih diesel, will also need oil changes every 3000-7500 miles.

    Oil change intervals depend on how YOU drive your vehicle. If your hard on it, you need to change it more often, if your driving 100 miles a day on the highway at 60-65 mph with no hard exelleration, then you can probably go 7500-10000 miles with out a major problem, though your fuel consumption will suffer.

    I would recommend you follow the manufacturers recommendations on YOUR oil change intervals, have your oil analysed by a company like Blackstone every 2-5 oil changes and take allowances in your intervals by evaluating your driving habits. If you have questions, go to the dealership and talk to a technician. (Not nessesarally the same dealer you take YOUR car to, but one of the same manufacture.) Tell the tech your driving habits, and they will advise you on your intervals.

    Hope I helped someone needing some further guidance on this…. If you need further help…I can help though I’m no expert…just experianced with autmotive troubles.

    Ditty

  • avatar
    masthouse

    I have recently moved to the US from the UK and suggest that you check out the manufacturers recommended service interval for your vehicle on the European websites. UK Toyota, for example recommend 20,000 miles! or 2 years for all models which ever comes first with only a safety check at 12K!. The story is the similar for most of the other makes, 10K around the minimum you will find. If anything the typical jouneys are shorter in Europe with just as large seasonal temperature variations. I therefore struggle to find any other plausable explanation other than the “powers that be” in the US have intentionally brainwashed the American public into firmly believing that their engines will suffer serious damage if the oil is not changed every 3-5K or so ! When you try to put put a $value on this it is easy to see why ! Lets hope from an Ecological viewpoint honesty will prevail but I fear it will also take a brainchange for most American motorists after being led up the garden path(or to the local quick lube) for so long ! It is intresting to note that all the roadside lube shops have been extinct in the UK for many years!

    Sorry guys! Its an absolute fact that there tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars needlessly spent on oilchanges each year in the US not to mention the waste in oil resourse. But I guess if it makes you feel good, carry on! but I can assure you that that is your only benifit.


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