Save the planet with motor oil

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Photo courtesy of kendrak at Flickr.com

Eco-conscious drivers pay a lot of attention to how much gasoline their cars use, but what about the motor oil? When cars are properly maintained, they use far more gasoline than they do oil, and driving a car requires more trips to the gas station than the service station. An unfortunate side effect is that our attention is focused on gasoline and oil isn’t something that the average driver thinks about unless there’s a problem.

Let’s say that you’ve got your ducks in a row. You’re driving a fuel efficient car and getting the best mileage possible. Even if you’re a fuel frugal hypermiler, there are still a few things you can do with your oil to reduce your car’s impact on the planet.

Oil is not a generic product – there are oils with different viscosity, oils made from different sources, and oils with more endurance than others. Here’s a good primer on the different types of oil out there. Of note:

Group IV oils… flow more freely at extreme low temperatures and don’t break down at very high temperatures. As a side benefit, they generally can be specified one or two grades lighter than a mineral oil, which consumes less energy as friction inside the engine and saves fuel.

When was the last time you changed the oil in your car? 6 months ago? 5,000 miles ago? The frequency of oil changes can have a huge impact on the environment.

On the one hand, excessive oil changes are wasteful and use up a limited natural resource. On the other hand, changing oil infrequently can cause damage to a cars engine, increasing pollution from your engine and causing additional pollution from the factory that makes replacement parts. Finding that sweet spot is important.

The majority of drivers play it safe and change their oil more than necessary. Roughly 70% of drivers surveyed changed their oil too often. This results in excessive consumption of oil, magnifies disposal problems, and hurts the pocketbooks of drivers nationwide.

A major cause of this overconsumption is the idea that cars should have their oil changed every 3,000 miles. At the service station, mechanics often put a sticker on the windshield reminding drivers to return for their next oil change in 3,000 miles. When you see that sticker, bear in mind that it was put there by someone who will make money every time you buy more oil. Consumer Reports studied taxi cabs in New York City and found that extending the interval did not affect performance or wear on the engines. They also found that oil additives had no noticeable effect on engine wear or oil endurance.

There is no catch-all rule for drivers to follow – every car has different needs and requires oil changes at different intervals. Read the owners manual for the best information about your specific car, and follow its guidelines. If the manual suggests changing the oil every 7,500 miles, changing the oil every 3,000 miles will only drain your pocket book. Many cars now have an oil change sensor that will notify you when the oil needs to be swapped out.

About half of the oil changes in America are performed by do-it-yourself mechanics. Many drivers change their own oil, or rely on a friend who knows how to change oil. There’s a problem though – few people know about the harms caused by dumping their oil down the drain or bagging it up in the garbage.

Every year, more than 300 million gallons of used motor oil are disposed of improperly. Oil that ends up in the sewer or landfill often seeps out into the water table. Just one gallon of oil can contaminate 600,000 to one million gallons of fresh water. That’s enough drinking water to supply 50 people for a year! The amount of oil in an average car can contaminate 4 acres of farmland and make it useless for a century.

This is a big problem. Less than 5% of used oil is currently recycled. The majority of used oil is burned for fuel or dumped. That’s an easily preventable waste, because there are more than 30,000 oil recycling centers nationwide!

The best way to dispose of used motor oil is to take it to a chemical disposal facility. It’s easy to find a disposal location – find an oil recycling site near you at Earth911.com. By recycling the oil, you’ll reduce the need for drilling for oil and help protect local waterways from pollution.

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Photo courtesy of Spiritwood images at Flickr.com

Paul Graham June 10, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Hey, I’d like to get in touch with you regarding some green news that could be of interest to your blog. Shoot me an email when you have a free moment and I’ll fill you in on all the details.

Thanks,
Paul Graham

Kristin June 20, 2009 at 1:35 am

I don’t diy my car oil changes, and make sure that I bottle my cooking oil and trash it instead of pouring it down the drain – how can household cooking oil be desposed of in a greener maner?

Kristin June 23, 2009 at 2:30 am

Hi Guys
I would appreciate if you got in touch with me – I have an Idea for a collaboration 🙂

John King June 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm

The 3,000 mile/3 month oil change interval was at one time necessary as the motor oils didn’t have the detergents and additives in them as the ones that do now. People who still follow this are wasting their money and as you mentioned contributing to global problems with all that waste oil being burned or disposed of.

I suggest all DIY’ers get an oil analysis done the next time they change their oil. I use a company called Blackstone Labs, but there are others out there. You send in a sample of the oil you drain as well as miles between oil changes and they’ll let you know whether or not you can extend the intervals between changes. I know of people who also use the service who drive very few miles and have been told that they could get away with changing it every 18 months and maybe even stretching it to two years. Engine oil does not break down over time, which is another myth. Bob is the Oil Guy is another great site for info on motor oils.

The money you spend on the analysis you will get back many times over by probably finding out that you don’t need to change your oil as much. Even more important, there will be less waste oil and used oil filters out there to harm the environment.

Finally, in most states (probably all) it’s a law that places that sell motor oil have to take the waste oil from people dropping it off, whether you bought it there or not. There is absolutely no reason to dump waste oil!!

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