By on May 18, 2009

Tom in North Carolina asks:

Sajeev, my 2005 Dodge Durango (4×2 Limited with Hemi and tow package) hit a critical juncture in April. The truck hit 70,000 miles meaning the 7/70 power train warranty expired, and Chrysler just BK’d. Since the vehicle is in great shape, good for road trips, is all but paid for, and is worth less to a dealer than it is to me, I plan to keep it for awhile. I have been told the 5.7 with the 5 speed auto is a fairly bulletproof power train, and with proper care and feeding should last a long time. The truck gets no severe service and is driven fairly gently, 70/30 highway/suburban use, 18,000 miles per year.

To keep it running I am debating keeping with the OEM scheduled 5000 mile oil changes (usually available for about $22) or switching to Mobil One at 10k or 15k change intervals. If I switch to synthetic oil, would you suggest a “better” quality oil filter (and what brand)?

Sajeev replies:

Obviously you should buy a brand spankin’ new Durango and use nothing but the cheapest stuff in it. When component failure comes knocking, suck the taxpayers dry with Ceberus’ lifetime powertrain warranty.

But seriously: the OEM oil chosen is a synthetic blend, which is more than adequate for most needs. I do prefer switching to Mobil 1 (or comparable) and extending the service interval to 6,000–10,000 miles, depending on your driving conditions (traffic, speed, etc.) and regional climate. So you can’t go wrong with either setup unless you plan on keeping this SUV forever, far past 200k miles. Then switch to synthetic.

Another often overlooked concern: make that switch to synthetic ASAP. As motors get older and tolerances between gaskets loosen, the thinner molecules of synthetic are known to cause oil leaks. You should be fine at your mileage, however.

As far as filter recommendations, this website does a great job presenting the engineering specifications of leading oil filters. But as TTAC commentator Tosh once mentioned, their/my recommendations do not include testing with before/after oil analysis.

I use Wix, Purolator PureOne, and Mobil 1 filters on my personal vehicles on 6-10k oil change intervals: the Mobil 1 filter is only used on the ones with seriously expensive engines that see more, umm, demanding amounts of throttle. I use Wix more often mostly because of price and availability at my favorite parts store. Frankly, any of the more expensive filters (no orange cans of death, please) is fine for your switch to synthetic.

[send your technical questions to mehta@ttac.com]

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33 Comments on “Piston Slap: Dodging Trouble with Synthetic Oil?...”


  • avatar
    50merc

    What is an “orange can of death”? Are some filter brands not safe to use?

  • avatar
    broccoli

    That would be F**m, see linked website above for the full story. However, I used the cheap, available everywhere orange cans for years without trashing an engine, but then around here cars usually rust out in ten years, long before before they mile out.

  • avatar
    trlstanc

    Anytime I’ve got a car that I want to keep running for a long time, I usually send off an oil sample for testing (http://www.blackstone-labs.com/gas_engines.html) Blackstone Labs is great, and for a few bucks they’ll let you know how your oil is holding up, if you can go longer between changes, and if anything nasty is sneaking in.

    I don’t know if it’s worth it for the typical car, but it’s nice for the piece of mind.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    K&N makes a disposable oil filter–how are they?
    I picked up a couple as part of a synthoil/filter package deal, but haven’t used them yet.

  • avatar
    MBella

    The K&N, Mobil 1, Bosch, and others are made by a company called Champion Labs. They are usually all good filters. They even make the Wal-Mart Supertech filter, which is a great value on a really good filter. I personally use a Puralator PureOne not because of the construction which is on par with the Champion Labs filters, but because of the wax seal which removes easier on my Subaru. It has the pre-cat really close to the filter, and the heat causes other filters to really stick on, and there is not enough room to get anything other than an oil filter socket to remove it, which can slip on the other filters. As the others have said, as long as you avoid Fram, you will be fine.

  • avatar

    broccoli : I used the cheap, available everywhere orange cans for years without trashing an engine, but then around here cars usually rust out in ten years, long before before they mile out.

    I don’t know when Fram let the beancounters run wild, but there was a time when their filters were great. Or good enough. No matter, other companies make better/more advanced designs now and Fram is a damaged brand.

  • avatar
    readingthetape

    I strongly concur with the advice to use a Mobil 1 filter. But for the oil I’d go with a full synthetic designed for high mileage vehicles (over 70,000 miles). The high mileage specialty blends have additives that do wonders for keeping the gaskets from weeping and leaking. For my vehicles the viscosities I need come from Valvoline Full Synthetic Maxlife, but Mobil 1 also has a high mileage version, but in fewer viscosities. One car with 135,000 and one with 200,000 and neither burns a drop of oil between changes, or leaks a drop.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    If you go with Synthetic Oil, why not use a good one like Amsoil? or similar,go with the best for what you can afford!along with a decent filter.

  • avatar
    cnyguy

    Why does everyone get their shorts in a knot concerning oil & filters?
    The best advice comes right out of the owners manual: use this oil and change it at this interval. Simple.
    The best oil filter is the OEM one: the manufacturer is not going to risk an expensive engine replacement with a sub-standard filter.
    We have a fleet of pickups at work that get used hard every day- right to the max (and maybe a little more) of their towing limits and we change oil & filter by the book. We get about 300,000 miles out of a truck before retiring it.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    Keep in mind the 2005 model year Durango with the 5.7L had an early implementation of the MDS system. You need the 5w-20 in there as recommended by the owners manual. The thicker 5w-30 will not really harm your engine, but it could prevent the MDS from working properly.

  • avatar
    windswords

    As the owner of 2003 Durango (previous generation) I may be able to speak with some authority here (or not).

    After the initial oil change at the dealer I switched to regular Mobil 1. I use a regular Purolator filter. After 5000 miles I remove the regular Purolator and replace it with a Purolator PurOne. That makes me add about 1 qt. of Mobil 1 to the motor to replace what was in the old filter. After 5000 more miles (10k total) I change all the oil and the filter (back to regular Purolator). Rinse. Repeat. The truck has over 70k miles on it and there have been no problems, not even any oil seepage. Our Durango is a 2wd with the 4.7L V8.

    Works for me. Try at your own risk, blah blah blah.

    I would also second gettting an oil analysis (Blackstome is very reputable) if you are going to change your interval/oil/filter.

    cnyguy:

    “The best oil filter is the OEM one: the manufacturer is not going to risk an expensive engine replacement with a sub-standard filter.”

    Not really. Problem is the OEM’s change their suppliers at the drop of a hat (well, actually, at the drop of a price). So the filter you bought the first year you had the car may not be the same supplier in the 3rd year. At least you have better chance of knowing what you are getting when you buy aftermarket.

  • avatar

    orange cans of death
    This had me laughing in pain when I read that.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    1. The referenced website for the filters is outdated.
    Besides, the role of the oil filter in the modern engine is grossly overrated.
    The new motors don’t produce nearly enough of gunk or particles to clog up the filters media even in 20K miles!
    And the vast majority of the particles are so small that they go right through the oil filters media unfiltered.

    Save your money and buy the cheapest oil filter on the shelf. I woudln’t use the Frams though – not because they won’t last. There are better options for the same money or cheaper.

    2. The synthetic oil molecules are NOT any smaller than of those in the regular oil. The size of the molecules is not what makes the gaskets leak.
    You can switch to synthetics anytime you want. You can also mix synthetics with the non-synthetics if you choose so (totally pointless).
    The myth that synthetics will cause leaks is just a myth.

    3. The vast majority of synthetics today are not the “true” full synthetics anymore.
    They’re made of the highly processed “hydro cracked” crude oil, so called Group III basestocks, which are much cheaper to produce yet match the qualities of the more expensive Group IV basestocks – the former “real” synthetics.

    4. Mobil 1 used to be based on the Group IV. Not anymore.
    I’ve run all kind synthetics in my car, including the “exotics” – Red Line and “German” Castrol.
    Now I just buy whatever is on sale and run it at 10-15K intervals.
    I’ve also done a couple of Blackstone lab oil analysis. All came out great.
    btw, Pennzoil Platinum is always a good deal at your local Walmart.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    A synthetic blend (premixed or your own) is good enough. Stay to the manufacturers change intervals. Viscosity is important. Use the lowest one. This will help protect the engine during start up.
    Do not use Fram filters.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Synthetic oils or not….that Durango looks like a {cockneyed accent on} “Dodgy motah” {accent off} to me.

  • avatar
    Eric Bryant

    Oil wear is a funny thing – there are no hard-and-fast rules. I’d recommend exactly “trlstac” stated – use Blackstone or a similar lab to help guide your oil selection and change intervals using science, not guesswork.

    Here are a couple interesting examples:

    http://www.autoblog.com/2006/08/02/determining-oil-change-intervals-via-analysis

    My wife’s ’01 Accord is really easy on oil – running Castrol GTX out to 8500 miles is no sweat. On the other hand, the highly-modified stroker motor in my ’96 Impala chews up its oil in about 2500 miles. Most vehicles will fall somewhere inbetween; at $20 a pop, it’s foolish not to obtain real data instead of relying on gut feels and Internet lore.

    On the topic of oil filters – I’m less worried about the filter’s ability to live up to its name (if I’ve got so many wear particles that I clog a filter, I’ve got much larger problems), but rather with the filter’s other tasks of providing anti-drainback and pressure bypass functions. As for me, I’ve trusted the following filters on the aforementioned stroker (which cost me $10,000 in parts and machine work): Wix, Mobil 1, K&N, Purolator, and AC Delco. There are lots of good filters in the world; just do a bit of research. If in doubt, the OEM’s filter probably doesn’t suck.

  • avatar

    unleashed: thanks for correcting me on #2. I love learning more and correcting old wive’s tales. Would you say this link explains it better? (excerpt below)

    Petroleum oils can screw up your seals and gaskets and then fill the holes with gunk and deposits to cover their tracks. Synthetic oils come in and begin to clean up the place. Once it’s clean, the holes might be exposed (if there were any) and the oil begins to leak. After a while (no way to know how long) the synthetic may be able to help the seals and gaskets regain their composure and stop the leaks

  • avatar
    unleashed

    Yes, it does.
    The most of Amsoil related sites are very educational and easy to read.
    And Amsoil makes great stuff indeed. It’s just not as cost effective IMHO as many other options available on the market. ;)

  • avatar
    cnyguy

    @windswords
    cnyguy:

    “The best oil filter is the OEM one: the manufacturer is not going to risk an expensive engine replacement with a sub-standard filter.”

    Not really. Problem is the OEM’s change their suppliers at the drop of a hat (well, actually, at the drop of a price). So the filter you bought the first year you had the car may not be the same supplier in the 3rd year. At least you have better chance of knowing what you are getting when you buy aftermarket.

    OEM’s may change suppliers but they do not change specs. In any case, car companies will sometimes cover an out-of-warranty repair if the owner can show a history of using only OEM service parts (seen it) while giving an owner who used aftermarket parts a hard time on an in-warranty repair (seen that too).

    As to Fram’s quality- the TV show “How It’s Made”
    visited a Fram oil filter factory and in the backround you can see Fram filters being painted in other-than-orange colors (of higher priced brands). Oops!

  • avatar
    unleashed

    Every dealer is a huge YMMV in that respect, especially now.

  • avatar
    poohbah

    RE: OEM Filters

    To make matters more confusing, consider Honda. They have two filter suppliers, and dealers have no say in which ones they get when orders are filled.

    The 15400-PLM-A01 is labeled “filtech”, and made by Dana which makes Wix. This one is considered excellent, at least on the Honda owners forum I visit.

    The 15400-PLM-A02 is made by Honeywell, which I understand owns Fram. The reviews I read regarding this Honda filter trashed it.

    So there you go, I guess. For what it’s worth, I stockpile the A01s.

  • avatar
    George B

    I use genuine Wal-Mart Super Tech ST3593 oil filters and Mobil 1 oil. Filter is a fairly good 6 hole “1999 Version” Champion design.
    http://www.knizefamily.net/minimopar/oilfilters/reference.html#champion
    The ST3593 used on Hondas is pretty good, but open the box and check before buying other Super Tech oil filters because other model numbers of the Wal-Mart brand looked cheap.

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    This company is beginning to get a following
    http://www.bndautomotive.com/page/page/901818.htm

  • avatar
    Lee

    There is no way in hell i would have an oil change interval of 10000 miles, even on synthetic.

    I use Mobil 1 oil and filter every 5k.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I guess I missed it, but why is Fram being vilified? I had used the “orange can of death” for many years with no problem, but I did stop using them a few years ago – but only because I was getting better filters for about equal money. So what happened? Fram used to be rated well in consumer publications…

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    fram bought a lot of great reviews. They tend to use lower quality materials and assembly methods. There are better choices.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    Fram uses cardboard end caps that look fragile. That’s the main difference.
    Just about every other brand uses metal end caps.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Right around my first 5,000 mile oil change I started using Amsoil in my Prius every 5,000 miles through the manufacturer’s warranty on the gas engine part of the drivetrain.

    Although it’s expensive, I’m still using the Amsoil. Now at 80,000 miles, I am sticking to a “mostly 6,000 to 7,000 mile” change schedule, depending on convenience and where payday falls.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Bob IS the oil guy

  • avatar
    MBella

    Petroleum oils can screw up your seals and gaskets and then fill the holes with gunk and deposits to cover their tracks. Synthetic oils come in and begin to clean up the place. Once it’s clean, the holes might be exposed (if there were any) and the oil begins to leak. After a while (no way to know how long) the synthetic may be able to help the seals and gaskets regain their composure and stop the leaks

    This happened to me on my old Passat. I was using conventional oil and it didn’t leak. I got a job at the VW dealer, stocked up on free euro Castrol Syntec, and the the front oil seal started leaking. After about three oil changes it stopped again.

  • avatar
    windswords

    cnyguy:

    “OEM’s may change suppliers but they do not change specs.”

    True dat, but how good are their specs? They could be the minimum to get the maximum savings out of their oil filter purchases. We’ve all seen what happens when they don’t spend the money needed on a head gasket or transmission part. When it fails, no one goes, “Oh that terrible, [Bosch, TRW, Federal Mogul, Dana] company, they make lousy parts”. No, they say blame the OEM. When you make a part under YOUR company’s name to be sold to the public, I trust it more than the OEM part, unless I know what the specs are and they match the aftermarket parts.

  • avatar
    windswords

    By the way, if you decide to go with the 10k mile oil change interval as I detailed before you should:

    Buy any oil filter you want (and trust) for the first 5k that’s on sale.

    Buy whatever you think is the best oil filter that you can easily get for a reasonalble price (in my case I use Purolator PureOne).

    Use a synthetic or synth blend you trust (and more importantly have researched).

    Check your oil regularly to make sure you are not burning/losing oil (this is after all, a longer change interval).

    And most important do an oil analysis after a few changes to see how it’s doing for your vehicle.

    For those who wish to save money, you can create your own synth blend. Just take 1 or 2 qts of synth (I think 1 qt is plenty), and 2 or 3 qts of regular. Make sure they are the same viscosity rating and are from the same company. That way the additive package will be the same/similar. I haven’t priced it recently but, for example I believe that 1 qt. of Castrol Syntec plus 3 qts. of regular is cheaper than 4 qts. Castrol synth blend, but you will have to see for yourself.

  • avatar
    Eric Bryant

    @ Lee – How did you pick your oil change interval of 5,000 miles? That’d be twice as often as required by my wife’s V6 Accord – but half as often as required by the engine in my Impala.

    My point is that there are three approaches: 1) Stick with the manufacturer’s recommendations; 2) Obtain scientific analysis of your vehicle’s oil and use it to establish a change interval; and 3) Witchcraft and guesswork.

    A suprising number of enthusiasts appear quite willing to take approach #3.


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