It wasn’t until recently that I truely experienced a particular engine’s absolute need for synthetic oil. Sure I have read the articles about the Volkswagon 1.8L turbo and the sludge-induced death of similar engines as early as 15,000 miles. I had even pulled off many a sludged up valve covers in my days as a tech. But when I experienced an automobile that spat and sputtered and ran like crap on conventional oil until it had the exact weight and synthetic blend of oil, it was a shocking first.
Not too long ago, a frequent and friendly customer of ours came in. We always enjoy this particular customer’s visits because she keeps us on our toes as a witty and arnry, older lady. She has sworn to us on multiple occasions that an appropriate oil change schedule/frequency should involve something about the moons/starts position in a calendar year or some other scheme that I can’t quite remember. She insisted that the manufacturer recommended frequencies were a market result of the car-makers being “in cahoots” with the oil cartels. We have known her long enough now that there is no use trying to convince her of the scientific principles behind the expectations of your engine oil’s practical lifespan lest we become lumped in with the cartels and loose her favor forever.
The fact is, the automotive industry has gotten better. I know its hard to believe with all of the recent memories of runaway Prius Hybrids and bankrupt big guys in Detroit but it has. We are making better engines with tighter and more accurate tolerances and we are able to produce engine oils that can be certified to contribute minimal amounts to particulate emissions. This is why we are running thinner oils and sometimes expecting them to be replaced only once a year. 5,000 7,000 and 12,000 mile oil change intervals are becoming commonplace. No the truth is not setting us free, the technology and science is getting better. However, don’t expect a new variable valve timing Ford engine to accept the 15W40 summer oil of yesteryear or you’ll be stuck mid intersection in your brand new ride.