Be careful with your engine’s lifeblood

"It feels like car ownership is getting simpler and simpler.
Maybe! Maybe not!"

Many of you are now driving vehicles that seemingly require far less service than your previous vehicle.  You may now have a vehicle that tells you when to change the oil. (Hopefully it is also telling you when to add oil.)  You may have been sold a new vehicle with a service package  that takes care of all your regular maintenance.  It feels like car ownership is getting simpler and simpler.  Maybe!  Maybe not!

The oil change interval is in the news a lot lately.  Data is starting to come in and GM is having chain wear problems in some of their four cylinder direct injected engines. These chains were wearing out before the vehicle was off warranty.  They are reprogramming the oil life monitor (the thing on the dash that tells you when to change your oil) to shorten the intervals.  They are not saying anything other than less time or mileage between oil changes will lengthen the life of these chains.

Most vehicles that have longer oil change intervals require special oils.  Just using a synthetic oil will in many cases not meet the required oil specifications.  Companies like BMW (Most of their vehicles require oil changes at 24 000 kilometre or one year intervals.) have had  their own specific oil specifications for years.  Not every synthetic oil will meet this specification.

Now many manufacturers have developed their own specifications for engine oil.  If you are driving a new Chevrolet, Buick, or GMC it will require a new oil specification.  The specification is called Dexos 1 or Dexos 2.

Approved Dexos1 and Dexos 2 oils have a special logo on the bottle.  These new specifications require higher quality base oils and additives.  Higher quality, as usual, means more expensive.

For your average automotive repair shop keeping all the various oil specifications while maintaining low oil change prices is quite a challenge.  I know at my own shop we have significant quantities of at least 10 different motor oils to meet the various specifications.

As a consumer, make it your business to know what type of oil your vehicle requires.  Read your owner’s manual.  Then ask your service provider if the oil they are going to use meets the specification that your vehicle requires.  If their answer is “5W30 is 5W30” beware!

Just because you are taking your new car to your selling dealer don’t assume they are putting the right oil in.  There is a lot of pressure to keep service costs down on new vehicles especially when the customers have purchased prepaid service packages.

The cost of using an incorrect lubricant can be very significant.  Replacing a small block Chevy V8 engine is not what it used to be.

The result of using a wrong lubricant may take some time to present itself and you may not recognize symptoms until it is too late.

Many vehicles with extended service intervals still have different requirements when the use of the vehicle is deemed severe service.  In general when I research this topic Kootenay driving would almost always be described as severe service.

Mountains and cold weather are tough on lubricants.  In my personal opinion six months or 8 000 kilometres is a practical limit in our area unless your oil life monitor or warranty requirements tell you to come in more often.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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