Peek Oil?

peek oil

It’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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  • DItty DItty on Feb 03, 2007

    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

  • Masthouse Masthouse on Mar 27, 2007

    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.

  • DweezilSFV GM. Still trying to make OnStar happen.And still the answer to a question no one ever asked.
  • Corey Lewis Look, here's the voice warning record player!http://japanesenostalgiccar.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/datsun_810_maxima_voice_box.jpg
  • Buickman as Donnie Brosco said... Forget about it.
  • Theflyersfan I remember this era had Camrys and Accords getting thicker on the ground, but I don't recall seeing many Maximas of this generation. At least with my fuzzy recollection of the mid-80s (I was about 10), it took the next generation before seeing more of them on the roads.But the car TALKED. And especially seeing that the only other talking car you knew of was KITT, it was cool as crap to sit in a real talking car. Now we can't get our nav systems and Android Auto to shut the hell up without going through menu after submenu after settings change.
  • Rolandoblomblando I’ve stopped reading Matt Posky articles because of how cynical and ignorant they often are. When I read this headline though I just couldn’t help myself. I mean, really?!Here’s some economics 101 Matt:Demand HIGHSupply LOWmeans price INCREASESSeriously man, this isn’t complicated.
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