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posted: 6/24/2012 5:18 AM

Recycled oil should still be clean

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Q. I took advantage of the free oil change at the local dealership. I also had tires rotated for the ad price of $9.95. Great deal!

I was seated in the waiting room and saw my car being hoisted, oil drained, filter changed as well as tires being rotated. I even got a free car wash. When I got home I changed the air filter and when I was under the hood I double checked the oil level. When I did that the color of the oil got my attention. It was darker than I've seen in all my years doing oil changes by myself.

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I called the dealership and asked if, because it was a freebie, they used recycled oil. Their answer was "Absolutely not. We only use new oil and it was 5W-20 weight." This was also incorrect since the manual for the 2011 Nissan Sentra calls for the 5W-30 oil.

In your experience have you ever heard of recycled oil being used at dealerships for oil changes? Can you direct me to a place where someone can run a check and tell me if that is recycled oil?

A. I am not sure how much help I can be here; if you hadn't seen the oil getting drained, my thought would be that it got missed somehow. Even if they used a "recycled oil product" it would be clean looking when it is new.

You did not say how many miles are on the car but since it is a 2011 I will assume not many. Since it is a fairly new car, the oil should stay clean looking for a long time. It is possible on an older car with lots of miles for the oil to look dark right after it's changed. Oil acts as a cleaning agent on the sludge that has accumulated in the engine. That would not be the issue in this case.

If they used the wrong oil, I would ask them to do another oil change with the correct oil. Hopefully the oil will have a clean look after it's changed this time. Sometimes if a deal is too good to be true it's not such a great deal.

As I have shared many times, find a shop you trust and then trust them to do right by you. Five quarts of good quality synthetic blend oil and a filter will cost a shop somewhere around $20, give or take a few dollars. I think it is probably worth a few dollars for labor to have the service done for you and a courtesy inspection performed.

If you still want to get the oil analyzed there are some labs that will do that. I Googled "oil analysis" and several popped up, the first one being www.blackstone-labs.com. They offer a free test kit but the oil analysis costs $25. I hope this was helpful.

Q. What's your opinion on synthetic oil vs. regular oil? Is it really better for the car and does it save you money? Does it make a difference for newer vs. older cars? For example, a 2012 Hyundai Elantra vs. a 1997 Mazda Protege?

A. You could go either way with synthetic oil, but there are pros and cons.

There are many advantages to using synthetic oil. It flows better in cold weather. It does not break down under heat and stress as easily and you can stretch out your oil-change interval longer.

The big negative is your oil change will cost twice as much. If you are thinking of switching to save money, I don't think you will, mainly because I would not recommend doubling your oil change interval.

Using quality synthetic blend motor oil will give you great results and protect your engine just fine. Using a synthetic is great, too, but don't push the oil-change interval out too far as the oil still gets contaminated over time with dirt and the byproducts of combustion.

I use synthetic oil but I still change it between 4,000 and 5,000 miles and usually closer to 4,000. Another reason to avoid longer oil-change intervals: the longer you wait, there are fewer opportunities for a qualified technician to perform preventive inspections on your vehicle to keep you safe and worry free.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to underthehood@dailyherald.com.

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