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posted: 7/8/2012 5:58 AM

Oil debate continues on change intervals

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Q. I'm a regular reader of your column and typically enjoy its content. But I believe you "missed the boat" regarding your cautionary response a reader who recently requested your opinion on synthetic vs. regular oil.

I'm a mechanical engineer who's utilized Mobil 1 brand synthetic oil in my cars ever since it came to market and have only changed it annually in every car I've ever owned without ever having any engine wear or reliability issues, even in the cars I kept for more than 100,000 miles and then later passed on to relatives.

And, also based on my personal experience with steel plant machinery lubrication, which has changed from "natural" oils and greases to "synthetic" types, it's a known fact that sometimes 10 or more years of equipment lifetime extension and significant maintenance reductions result!

Then as my technical management career progressed, I eventually bought my first Mercedes-Benz, then my fist BMW, then my first Porsche, all of which come from the factory filled with Mobil 1 synthetic oil and an "oil life computer" that calculates when a change is due, based on the way the car is actually driven. And typically based on my actual driving characteristics, my Porsche, BMW and Mercedes computers didn't ever recommend oil change service even after a full year of my driving.

Synthetic oils and greases drastically reduce component wear and corrosion, dramatically extend component life and because they don't react with residual carbon and condensation water, which forms acid in "natural" oils, still don't have to be changed more often than annually.

A great example is my regular airport limo driver, who after previously changing his natural oil once per month, switched to pure synthetic oil two years ago on my advice. He now changes the synthetic oil semiannually and is now approaching 350,000 trouble-free miles.

A. Thanks for being a regular reader and for your thoughtful response. I don't disagree with anything you have stated. I would like to add though that in addition to the advent of synthetic oils, the improvement of "regular" oil has occurred as well.

In fact, most quality oil is now a synthetic blend that performs very well for half the price. I believe in putting in the type of oil that the manufacturer requires, but stepping up to a pure synthetic oil is a good thing and will provide the benefits you state. If the manufacturer requires a pure synthetic oil (like many of the Euro brands, and some domestics as well), you should never go to a lesser oil.

The one negative I see with a really long oil change interval is that it could be a year, as you stated, before a technician gets under the hood and a chance to look over the car and perhaps head off any potential breakdown.

You could eliminate that concern with some kind of a semiannual service or inspection and of course the oil level should also be checked at regular intervals as well.

I have shared in the past and should have stated in the column you referred to that I use a full synthetic oil in my own vehicles. One of them requires it, but the other is a 1995 Chevy Tahoe that has 215,000 mile on it. I have owned it since it had 7,000 miles and have always used synthetic oil. I have never had any engine problems or failures.

Trust me I am a believer, but cost is not such a big issue to me and I also have only extended my oil change interval by 1,000 or 2,000 miles. Maybe I am still a little old school, but not totally; we no longer preach three months or 3,000 miles at our shops (that is real old school).

Engines have improved, lubrication has improved and with tighter controls on fuel and emissions, the oil does not get as dirty. Great information you provided and great dialogue that I am certain will benefit our readers!

• 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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