Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oil Change and the Environment by Roger W. Louton

Oil Change Intervals: Every 3000 miles?
Roger W. Louton
PHS 100
David Terrell

Warner Pacific College

Oil Change Intervals and New technologies
A question pondered by Steve Swedberg, (2010), is: "How often should I change my oil? Is it every 3,000 miles or 7,500 miles?” “Is my driving pattern ‘severe’ or ‘normal’?” “Does the drain interval differ if I’m driving a gasoline-fueled car or a dieselpowered light truck?” Automobile owners ask all of these questions, and usually hear the answer from quick lubes, car dealers and garages” (p.20). We all know what they are going to suggest, and that is change your oil every 3000 miles because it means more sales for them, and more oil sold by the oil companies. The old adage which often accompanies the 3,000-mile recommendation is “its good insurance.” There is better way to determine the right oil change interval, one that has been scientifically studied and is more definitive.
Ever since the 1960’s, the recommended oil change for vehicles operating in severe service has been 3,000 miles. That number has remained basically unchanged in most drivers’ minds, even though improvements in engine design and oil quality have made it a very conservative number. At the same time, the push for a cleaner environment has resulted in increased oil recycling and pressure to dispose of used oil properly. The logical extension of these forces has been a shift to suggest waiting longer between oil changes. That would certainly be a safe recommendation for today’s advanced vehicles and better formulated oils.
One situation to compare is what the standards are for oil change intervals in Europe. There are virtually no quick lube outlets in Europe; “Do-It-For-Me” oil changes are done by authorized garages or dealers. In 2004, David McFall wrote “European oil changes, tied tightly to the vehicle’s overall maintenance schedule, usually require a customer to make an appointment and invest half a day to get the work done. The price approaches $100 using Euro Standard oil, and with longer European drain intervals and less average annual driving (about 9,000 miles per year, versus about 12,500 miles in the United States) means that an oil change and maintenance is usually not needed more than once a year, although at least one “top off” may be required.”(LNG, p14)
“In the USA, “Do-It-For-Me” oil changes are rapidly approaching 75 percent of all oil changes in the U.S. private sector”, according to Nancy J. DeMarco (2010). A customer can drive into a quick lube for an oil change without an appointment and be finished within 30 minutes at a basic price of about $30. Despite the lower cost of a quick-lube service in the United States, the cost for oil change customers is about even. U.S. quick lubes promote an oil change every 3,000 miles or three months, that is, four or even five times a year, for an annual tab of at least $120. The European driver who changes once a year pays about the same, even with the higher priced oil. Why is the oil change interval for European cars twice as long as “recommended” for US vehicles, despite them both using the same oil formulas? It would have to be profits. For any oil change chain or oil manufacturer to agree to this would cut directly into their sales and stockholders profit sharing checks.
One major consideration of unnecessary oil changes is what happens to all that used oil that was not really needed in the first place. According to David McFall (2004) “Every year in the United States, this too-short drain interval results in the unneeded production of 300 to 400 million gallons of engine oil; excess consumer expenditures of around $1.5 Billion, and tens of millions of unnecessary oil changes”. While “Do-It-Yourselfers” can take their used oil to almost any garage, quick oil change facility or service station for disposal, the fact is that many do not. Instead, much DIY used oil is disposed of on the ground, down a storm drain or in the trash. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of used oil generated by DIYers is disposed of improperly, a 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Energy stated — some 348 million gallons a year. “There is a certain segment of the consuming public that is not convinced that the small amount of oil they dispose of is significant enough to cause serious harm to the environment,” it added. Longer oil change intervals would reduce this volume of used oil being improperly disposed of. (McFall)
One major automotive company, General Motors, came up with an idea to finally define what the oil change interval should be. Beginning in 1984, Donald Smolenski and Shirley Schwartz of General Motors Research started working on an idea that would allow the engine to tell the motorist when the oil needed to be changed. They figured that engine usage could be equated with oil change intervals and went to work to identify what parameters should be followed.
For the next two years, Schwartz and Smolenski worked on proving their theories through field testing of various engines. First, they ran field tests on vehicles operating in various driving cycles and conditions, with regular used engine oil analysis measuring a number of oil properties. They collected and analyzed data to develop a pattern of useful oil life. It turned out that an algorithm could be based on the engine’s operating temperature and the total number of engine revolutions.
After 20 years of oil life monitor (OLM) use, and with massive amounts of engine data available, GM believes there is potential for significant oil life extension. OLM’s are now found in almost all North American GM vehicles, and over 6,500 miles is a common drain interval today. In December 2009, Smolenski told the ICIS Pan American Base Oils & Lubricants Conference that the 3,000-mile interval is not “cheap insurance” — it’s sheer waste. Especially with the OLM, oil change intervals of between 6,000 and 15,000 miles are achievable. “If all U.S. GM vehicle owners used the GM Oil Life System as intended, more than 100 million gallons of engine oil could be saved annually,” he urged. (Swedberg)
In the oil change market that has seen steady sales at around 1 billion gallons per year since 1980, those 100 million gallons would be a noticeable dent! With all the recent attention about oil spills, and the dangers oil drilling poses to any environment it is taken from, a standard for oil change intervals should be defined and promoted by the oil industry, the automotive industry and the Environemntal Protection Agency. These industries should not put profit in front of the environment and instead, should use the new standards to prove to the world that they are now doing their best to protect the environment. They could even use that standard as a selling point as to why a customer should buy their vehicle or use their oil, or oil change service.
Along with this subject, our excess usage of oil, I will take away from this class that all members of society can act as individuals and make a large impact on our environment when it comes to making lifestyle decisions. What can I do to limit my carbon footprint? How can I use less energy? How can I influence others to do the same? Actions speak louder than words, and there is a big difference between saying you are going to do something instead of actually doing it. So I am going to do just that, let my actions speak for me, and do what I can to make a difference.

Swedberg, S. (2010, March). Oil Changes by the DASH. In Lubes N’ Greases Magazine, (p.20)
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McFall, D. (2004, October). Worlds Apart. In Lubes N’ Greases Magazine, (p.8)
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DeMarco, N. (2010, July). Shell Slams Motor Oil Shams. In Lubes N’ Greases Magazine, (p.3)
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McFall, D. (2003, March). Drain Intervals:How Long Must We Wait? In Lubes N’ Greases Magazine, (p.1)
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