By on October 12, 2018

Ford Focus ST, Image: FlickrPatrick writes:

Sajeev,

Thanks for the column and the sage advice, but mostly for the generosity as lemons perp. (FYI Piston Slap queries don’t count as bribes – SM)

Recently purchased a Focus ST, and though I have rebuilt/broken in conventional engines in the past, new car recommendations of oil changes at 5,000 miles plus and no mention of an engine break-in procedure leave me nervous. Especially with the new breed of HO turbo motors. I know better than to push the motor for the initial 500 – 1,000 miles. Reading forums and interwebs, a number recommend an initial oil change at 1,000 to clear out the initial break in filings, then adhere to a 5k oil change schedule with synthetic fluids.

What say you? Running the initial fluids to 10k sounds like an introduction to premature wear to me.

Sajeev answers:

Engine break-in procedures are pretty simple: RTFM, always keep the tach in the black, and vary your RPMs while cruising. The Focus’ owner’s manual will likely say the same, anything extra is ritualistic practice from a concerned owner. Modern engines have fantastically tight tolerances, etc. so don’t sweat it.

Oil changes as per owner’s manual are always recommended, going a bit overboard isn’t a bad idea on a higher performance, turbocharged mill…especially if you get the ECU tuning bug.

I’d do the 1k mile oil change if it’ll make you feel better (or if RTFM demands it). I did that when my 2011 Ranger hit the magic 4-digit number because the dealer gave me a free oil change voucher, at 5k I switched to a full synthetic. From there I went to 8-9k change intervals and never looked back. But a Duratec Ranger isn’t exactly a Focus ST.

Odds are you’ll be more than fine with the 5k interval: do an engine oil analysis to learn if you can extend the interval, or ensure you don’t fall prey to the sludge monsters of recent memory.

[Image: Michael/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

Send your queries to [email protected]m. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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46 Comments on “Piston Slap: Tight Focus on Engine Break-In Procedure?...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    don’t get snowed by BS. I had some d-bag kid at an oil change place try to tell me my SRT-4 should get their $11/qt synthetic because, you know, “these turbo motors.”

    I said “it’s got 163,000 miles, all on conventional. I think it’ll be fine.”

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I had a kid at the oil change place tell me that they couldn’t top off the power steering fluid because they couldn’t find the reservoir. I laughed and said that it had electronic steering. So, the kid tells me that I’ll definitely have to take it to the dealer then to get fluid…

      They walk among us

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      if you have a turbo motor use synthetic. Your manual almost surely requires it and you risk the dino oil coking when you shutdown and it sits at the hot turbo. Plus modern synthetics are easily lasting 10K according to oil analysis I’ve seen people do from Blackstone.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Ummmmmm I think at 163,000 miles the man has gotten his money’s worth.

        I see a fair number of SRT-4 Neons and Calibers along with GT Cruisers running around and I highly doubt the third owners are using synthetic when they do remember to change the oil. Even the young buck working for me who loves his GT Cruiser so much he had things rebuilt when his timing belt snapped.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          You see a fair number of SRT Calibers?

          Did Cerberus bury them all in the desert like unsold Atari games?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            For a county of 75,000 people with ONE Chrysler, Dodge, RAM, JEEP dealer and with small production I’d say having 3 running around regularly (and only one looking like a garage queen) would be pretty significant.

        • 0 avatar
          George B

          Walmart Supertech full synthetic motor oil is inexpensive. I use it in high mileage cars that aren’t leaking or burning much oil. Once the car is using significant amounts of oil, I switch to the cheapest conventional oil I can find and top off the oil frequently.

      • 0 avatar
        gsf12man

        Ford requires semi-synthetic for this engine. That’s what mine is getting (Motorcraft in my case), we shall see. I’ve never had any turbo trouble on conventional or synthetic, although I expect to run this car longer than my last couple turbos.

        • 0 avatar
          gsf12man

          I should add that I do oil changes @ 5,000 regardless of the oil life monitor. I’m not comfortable running longer intervals on a turbocharger, although it would very likely be fine. I’ll do the same if I switch to full synthetic.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            With the Fords you can set a custom oil change interval when you reset it at an oil change. Even if you have it done elsewhere you can re-reset to start at 50% it as soon as the car is returned to you. As Sajeev noted you can RTFM for the instructions.

            The Ford system is not an oil life monitor, it is a simple counter. It does not analyze the driving that has been done to figure out the oil life.

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            Scoutdude, Ford claims that its “Intelligent Oil Life Monitor” does in fact consider the actual vehicle operation parameters when calculating oil life.

            It ought to be able to do that, in the year 2018. My 1989 Thunderbird had that feature. The Vehicle Maintenance Monitor weighted each engine RPM according to the coolant temperature and other factors. The patent literature from the 1980s is pretty interesting.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        The manual most certainly did not specify synthetic. And Chrysler had pretty religiously used water-jacketed turbos since the early days of the K-car, so no coking issues.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        My most recent turbo car, a 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, required full synthetic. That’s hardly indicative of all turbocharged cars, but it’s an example in favor of your policy.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        “synthetics are easily lasting 10K”

        I’d caution that although the properties of the oil that’s still in the crankcase at 10k might be fine, a lot of newer motors running really thin synthetics tend to burn off a non-trivial amount. I was taken aback recently when I noticed my wife’s Camry’s 2.5L sounded a bit “off” at idle, check the dipstick and it’s barely registering on the dipstick, below the ‘low” mark. This was after 7k miles, 500 short of my self-perscribed 7500 interval, and well below the 10k that Toyota suggests. 0W-20 can do that, my 2012 Civic was similar in this regard. FWIW I initially just topped off the 7k mile oil that was in the Camry (a quart low total), but it still made what sounded like a very light intermittent knocking sound at idle speed. I was pretty spooked. Ran out and got some fresh Valvoline, changed it out, all was well, nice and quiet. 79k miles on the car, still made me very uneasy to hear that sound, which perhaps was a timing chain tensioner or something(?)

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          @gtem – your story follows my theory about why today’s engines have such large capacities of oil (compared to the old days). To cover the manufacturers butt on oil burn off.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            The Camry has a fairly normal capacity of 4.7 quarts, I just put in a full 5qt jug in when I change it. My Audi with “128k” miles (I’m questioning everything now that it’s a confirmed “Russian rebuild” car) has a 6 quart capacity and burned a quart just being driven out 500 miles from PA back to Indiana, assuming my bro had filled it to the brim. We’re getting into colder weather now but come spring I think I’ll swap out the M1 “euro spec” 0W-40 for some rotella diesel spec or some kind of heavier 10W-40 for warm weather use.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            *shrug* both of my Mustangs (a 4.6 and a 5.0) burned one quart before the first change, then none after that.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            What viscosity do they run Jim? I also suspect the 5.0 (I assume you’re talking about a Coyote?) maybe didn’t get the low tension oil rings that manufacturers seemed to foist on more every-day sort of sedans and such in interests of chasing every last crumb of fuel economy. The 4.6L definitely didn’t get specd for 0W-20 and low tension rings.

            My old 4Runner with 150k doesn’t burn any 5W30 even in the summer with long highway drives through WV and such or when I’ve towed with it. Same with my old Rangers running 5W-30, likewise the old Lexus I had with 209k miles.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        110k on my 1990 Plymouth Laser Turbo, I have always made a point of idling the motor for a minute before shutting it down if I have been running it hard immediately before the shutdown. In 1990, its coolant cooled turbo was a relatively new thing after all the earlier oil circuit cooled ones that suffered lots of failures due to hot shutdowns. Oil changes every 3K, and used anti coking Castrol “turbo formula”. Switched to synth when the turbo formula was discontinued.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      “I’ve had some d-bag kid at an oil change place…”
      I’ve experienced how even the simplest mechanical procedure can be $crewed up by someone who is ignorant or simply doesn’t care. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I let “some d-bag kid at an oil change place” touch my car.

  • avatar
    brett

    I have a 2.0 ecoboost fusion. Basically the same motor as the Focus ST. I drive, as my spouse says, aggressively.

    I bought the car new and it now has about 50K miles on it with no engine issues.

    I changed the oil at 1k, and then at ~5K intervals with synthetic. Synthetic is probably not necessary and I could probably go to 10k intervals but oil is cheap. My car has oil life reporting functionality and the oil life never gets below 50% remaining.

    I think the change at 1k probably inst necessary with modern manufacturing but, again, oil is cheap, and, like Jeeves, I got my first oil change free at the purchasing stealership.

    B

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      You can set the oil change indicator to less than 100% if you desire. that way you’ll get the oil change soon and oil change now indicators when it is time to change based on your preference.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      All these responses are about mileage. How about time? When I retired recently, my annual mileage plummeted, probably to a mileage similar to a less-used second or third car.

      I don’t even come close to 5K in six months, but I change the conventional oil at that time interval. I’m sure the “3800” would be fine if I waited a few months, it’s not a turbo, but for less mileage-intensive vehicles, a Spring/Fall oil change for Winter/Summer driving seems to work.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        On my C7 ‘Vette they recommend an oil change after a year regardless of mileage. This has created an uproar on the forums as many of these cars are garage queens that only travel to and from Cars and Coffee. I daily and track mine so time isn’t a factor for me. The car has an oil life monitor which uses time, temperature, RPMs and other parameters to tell you when to change the oil. Seems like a better system then purely mileage based as there is a big difference between multiple cold starts, high RPM track driving and highway cruising.

        As for the OP – on all my turbos (owned 3 of them across different makes and models) I ran Mobil 1 synthetic with changes at 3K then later moved to 5K. I got over 100K on a 1.8T VW engine which is a well know sludge monster yet I had no issues. My oil change place recently started recommended 7.5K changes as many new vehicles state you can go that long due to the better tolerances of today’s engines (I assume) combined with these newer synthetic oils.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          With my classic Mustang (which rarely see’s 3000 miles during a summer driving season) I don’t like it to sit around all winter with old oil in it’s crankcase so I get an oil change shortly before parking it for the winter.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            Me too on that with my Laser. 2000 miles in a summer at most. Recently I have gotten lazy and risky, and skipped years, hoping that the synthetic oil won’t degrade over time with one summer’s worth of contaminates in it.
            Fresh oil, pump up the the tires, Stabil in the fuel, disconnect the battery, drop the insurance, and watch it disappear under the snow behind my garage.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’ve noticed on many of those turbo motors that if you leave the cruise control on you’ll rarely get above “half-tach” – mostly because that’s where all the torque is. I just figured that was smart practice for the 1st 1000 miles or so and then you could start wringing it out.

    I do like these oil life monitors. My 2nd gen Highlander just has a light that goes off every 5,000 miles to remind you to change the oil. With my largely highway driving I’m sure lots of oil life is being wasted.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The so-called “Maintenance Minder” in Hondas is usually dead-on, at least in my experience! The “wrench” telltale appears at 15% oil life remaining, and according to several Blackstone analyses I’ve had done on my last two, a J30 Accord and the current one in my avatar, I’ve got about that much working additives left in the oil. In all my Hondas back to 1994, I’ve never lost or burned enough oil to notice a change in level on the dipstick, save for a few hundred miles on my current car, likely as a result of the break-in of the VCM (setting rings, etc.).

      As to break-in procedures themselves, I vary my speed and avoid full-tilt acceleration during the miles specified in the manual; to assist with the seating of the rings, I’ll drop speed to around 50mph on the freeway when traffic allows, then briskly accelerate to 80mph without hitting redline. Hasn’t failed me yet.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    My 2005 Legacy GT burns ~1 qt every 1500 miles (almost 140k miles on it now). I change it at 3500-4000, just because. And it’s usually pretty dark, some burned off, etc. Mind you, I drive it like I stole it almost every day.

    OTOH, wife’s 2015 Town and Country gets an oil change every 6 months just because – usually does around 5k miles in that span. Used to go to Walmart for simplicity, but it’s taking longer and longer to get a turn. Added a Fumoto, switched to Magnatec for $20-22/change. Still $30 in fluids + parts, but then I can do it after she gets home one night..

  • avatar
    Lefty54

    I’ve done an oil change at 1500 miles in every new vehicle I’ve had. Does it help? I don’t know. Maybe.
    Does it hurt anything? No. So I’ll keep doing it.

  • avatar
    TDIandThen....

    As far as I can tell, changing oil much less than the manufacturer’s recommended interval, is a waste of oil and and an expression of neurotic control issues. As the shrinks like to say.

    I could see changing after the break in period, and maybe at 9,000 km instead of 10,000. But it’s not 1975 in here. There are even videos on the YouTubes talking about oil in a sciencey way and from manufacturers too sometimes.

    Yeesh.

    • 0 avatar
      turbo_awd

      It depends, TDIandThen…

      Initially, recommended interval for my ’05 LGT was 7500 miles, probably due to CARB / emissions. I did 3500-4000 anyway, as did a lot of others on legacygt.com (my source for everything, as this is my first subaru) who had prior experience with the EJ255. Then, people with 7500 OCI started losing engines due to clogging oil screens and oil starvation (maybe running it dry?). So Subaru switched EVERYONE to the “severe” 3750 mile OCI. Not everyone got the memo (they did this retroactively), and some people still lost their engine because they followed the INITIAL recommended interval that was just too optimistic.

      I think you should follow the recommended interval, IF IT MAKES SENSE. CA launched a “don’t change oil too soon” initiative – for our 2015 Town and Country 3.6 Pentastar (no turbo), I’m fine doing changes every 6 months / 5k instead of 3k.

      • 0 avatar
        hpycamper

        The manuals usually have a lower mileage/time interval change for severe service which some people don’t realize includes their mostly short/slow trips. Like others have said, oil is cheap, so I will continue to do twice as many changes as generally recommended.

  • avatar
    ItsBob

    Scoutdude said—
    The Ford system is not an oil life monitor, it is a simple counter. It does not analyze the driving that has been done to figure out the oil life.

    Not sure what Ford vehicle you are referencing when you say this, but for the last 4 years or more, MOST Ford vehicles have the IOM (Intelligent Oil Monitor) which indeed monitors most everything that affects oil life.
    With lots of hwy driving in the summer temps mine has never tripped at up to 12000 kilometers. Theoretically says could go to I believe 16,000 kms which I am not willing to.
    So the system “IS” monitoring speed, outside ambient temps, if engine reaches operating temp on trips, starts and stops, etc, etc.

  • avatar
    macnab

    IIRC when turbos appeared on everyday cars the makers reduced the drain intervals. I think the reason wasn’t that the turbo had a high boundary temp that was cooking the oil but rather that it spun at ~250K rpm, shearing down the viscosity early. Can somebody tell me if I’m right and has anything changed?

  • avatar
    someoldfool

    The Acura service manager told me that since Honda backs the extended powertrain warranty, just follow their advice. The oil life monitor takes the trips into consideration, did I drive it long enough to get the oil hot? I changed the oil when the car said to do so, around 9,000 miles. Traded the car after 8 years and 55K miles, no oil burning issues whatsoever.

  • avatar
    raph

    That’s odd the owners manual doesn’t have a break in procedure. The owner’s manual on the Shelby GT350 asks that you don’t push the car hard or use it on the track until the car hits 1,000 miles on the odometer.

    I followed the break-in procedure and set the oil life counter to 50% and havent had any problems with an engine that is notorious for oil consumption.

    I also didnt worry about replacing the factory fill until the chage oil message appeared.

  • avatar
    marmot

    My favorite was the Mazda service writer saying my Miata needed wheel alignments every 15K. My response was so rude I later apologized.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    I’m amazed at all the voodoo.

    GTI: use oil that meets VW’s specifications. Check it regularly to make sure you have enough. Change it at VW’s recommendations. They don’t use anything like what Honda does; it’s a simple 10K/1 year, whichever comes first, alert.

    And the proof is in the used oil analysis.

    If you’re using voodoo to determine short oil change intervals because you’re “scared”, you need to put on your big girl panties and get a used oil analysis.

    Trust me: 10K changes using VW spec oil on a modern factory spec GTI is, in fact, plenty.

  • avatar
    OE Supplier Veteran

    I have had a 2013 Focus ST since new and followed no unusual procedures re: break in. It’s been too long (six years) but if the manual called for first change at 5k kms, I probably did that. I change oil per the vehicle information system, which seems to be at 15,000 km intervals. The car now has 235,000 km, uses no (or negligible amounts of) oil, and overall functions flawlessly. I have only ever used full synthetic.

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