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Oil and Oil Change, Synthetic or Crude

One of the most controversial subjects of the automotive service and repair industry is the subject of what oil is best, what viscosity should I use, and how often should I change it.

A lot of the controversy stems from personal preferance and not from real world experience. In this article I will attempt to relate real world examples and let the reader decide.

As to what oil is best let's divide the oils into two categories; crude oil based and synthetic. I will not discuss the good or bad of synthetic blend except to present this thought. Blends remind me of the axiom of being "a little bit pregnant". A woman is either pregnant or she is not.

Any oil will do the job of lubricating the engine so long as it has a full additive package and complies with the service classification required. Where the problem arises is that on the cheaper oils especially the house brands the additive package is not as good and thus does not offer the protection of the national brands. When the additive package is gone the oil still lubricates, but it does not provide the other protections such as dispersant, pour point depressant, detergent, anti wear, etc.

The simpliest way to prove this to yourself is to have a fresh oil and filter change, take your vehicle for a good drive of about 30 miles, during this road trip try to maintain a speed of about 60 miles per hour. Reduce or eliminate any noise other than the running of the vehicle (eg: turn off the radio, lower the fan speed, turn off the cell phone, etc) and just listen to the engine. Even in some of the really quiet cars you can hear it and sometimes even feel it at this speed as this is it's best cruising speed. At 60 miles per hour the engine is running at about 2000 rpm on most vehicle.

You will notice that the engine is running relatively quiet and has very little roughness to it just after an oil change.

Try to perform this same test once every week and notice the change, especially when three or four weeks have elapsed. Usually you will notice the noise level increaing and the feel becoming more rough. This is a sign that the additive packages are failing or have already failed.

I know the following could be agrued that it is not very scientific, but we are not discussing science we are discussing oil and its ability to protect the engine for a normal oil change cycle. I have known and driven the vehicle in question for over 120,000 miles so it could be said that I am very familiar with the vehicle. The oil that was normally used in the vehicle was first Kendall, and later Valvoline when Kendall was no longer available. Both of these oils could be driven about 3,000 miles before the additive packages were gone enough to become noticeable.

I was asked by the "service manger" to test the following two products as the stores were in close proximity to the business and the business was considering the products from a profit perspective. I purchased the products and I personally tested two house brand oils and house brand filters on the vehicle and used it to commute about 80 miles per day. The two house brands of oil and filters tested were; AutoZone and O' Reilley. The same viscosity index oil (10W30) was used as is normally used in the vehicle. The vehicle exhibited the same smoothness just after the change.

The O' Reilley product was first. The noise level and the roughness previously exhibited near the typical change interval of 3,000 miles was appearant after only a little over 1,000 miles. I was concerned enough about the vehicle and immediately changed the oil and filter.

The Autozone was second. Just as before the noise level and roughness disappeared on the fresh change. However the noise and roughness reappeared at only 800 miles! I was shocked.

I was considering the idea of moving this vehicle to a fully synthetic oil and was more curious about how it would function. I considered using Valvoline full synthetic, but opted for Mobil 1 instead as it has been around longer and Mobil would obviously be the leader in this technology. I also considered Amsoil but since it was not as readily available, Mobil 1 was the choice.

I have always believed in paying a fair price for a good oil filter and firmly believe in the filters that used to be made by AC Delco, Motorcraft, Mopar and others. A company "Champion Labs" builds quite a few filters for the OEM markets. It is extremely hard to believe that a filter (oil, air, fuel, etc) being sold by some wholesalers at ridiculous pricing could even remotely do the job as it is built for a price point NOT a quality point (eg: some oil filters cost the quick lube shops about $1.00 for most vehicles).

I opted to buy the Mobil 1 filter and was extremely surprised at the weight of the filter, it was almost as heavy new as some other brands being removed during an oil change. It was higher priced by a bunch, was it worth it?

The main goal was to see how long the additve package held up. Imagine my surprise to learn that the vehicle was quieter and smoother than it had ever been just after an oil change. I drove the vehicle 1,000 miles, no change. 2,000 miles no change. 3,000 miles and the vehicle was finally exhibiting the normal noise and roughness of just after an oil change...not like it would at oil change time.

I have seen first hand the amount of varnish deposits (Mercedes & BMW) in engines that specified synthetic oil and 7,500 miles services so I would not allow this amount of miles and opted to arbitrailty increase the oil change interval to 5,000 miles OR when the noise and roughness level returned. 4,000 miles and still good. 5,000 miles and still ok, but I had reached my personal limit.

This got me to thinking about the cost factors. IF I continued to use Mobil 1 the cost (on sale) would be about $37 for the product. On the other hand a Valvoline and high quality filter (on sale) would cost about $24. Now considering that 3 Valvoline changes would cost about $72 for 9,000 miles of service, 2 Mobil 1 changes would be about $74 for 10,000 miles of service and obviously a better lubricated and performing engine. It really became a no brainer to me...Mobil 1 from now on!

Now to changing the specified oil viscosity of an engine, just because it has 100,000 or 200,000 miles on it is utter nonsense. That engine has performed well for all those miles and increasing the viscosity will in all likely hood cause its' demise earlier not prolong its' life. IF you change the oil and filter with a good product whether it is crude oil based or synthetic at regular intervals there is no reason to run the risk of damage simply from a sales pitch.

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