Consumer reports Oil test article

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Aug 27, 2003
Vancouver BC Canada
According to this CR article, the difference in engine wear is insignificant regardless of the type or brand of oil, nor is the 3k change interval required. I think the oil companies just want us to buy more oil! -------------------------------------------- Testing the Oils We put identical rebuilt engines with precisely measured parts into the cabs at the beginning of the test, and we changed their oil every 6,000 miles. That's about twice as long as the automakers recommend for the severe service that taxicabs see, but we chose that interval to accelerate the test results and provide worst-case conditions. After 60,000 miles, we disassembled each engine and checked for wear and harmful deposits. Our test conditions were grueling, to say the least. The typical Big Apple cab is driven day and night, in traffic that is legendary for its perversity, by cabbies who are just as legendary for their driving abandon. When the cabs aren't on the go, they're typically standing at curbside with the engine idling, far tougher on motor oil than highway driving. What's more, the cabs accumulate lots of miles very quickly. They don't see many cold start-ups or long periods of high-speed driving in extreme heat. But our test results relate to the most common type of severe service, stop-and-go city driving. Each of the 20 oils we studied was tested in three cabs to provide meaningful test results even if a few cabs fell out with mechanical problems or because of accidents. (Six of the 75 engines did, in fact, have problems, none apparently related to the oil's performance.) Our shoppers all across the country bought hundreds of quart containers of oil. Some brands had slightly different formulations in different areas, but all the oils included a full package of additives. An independent lab helped us identify the most representative formulations of each brand. Our engineers transferred containers of that oil to coded 55-gallon drums and hauled them to the fleet garage for testing. Ideally, oil should be thin enough to flow easily when the engine is cold and remain thick enough to protect the engine when it's hot. The lab analyses of each oil's viscosity characteristics (its ability to flow) indicate that motor oils have improved since 1987, when we last tested them. This time, far fewer test samples failed to meet the viscosity standards for their grade, and those were typically outside the limits by only a slight amount. No brand stood out as having a significant problem. We tested oils of the two most commonly recommended viscosity grades, 10W-30 and 5W-30. Automakers specify grades according to the temperature range expected over the oil-change period. The lower the number, the thinner the oil and the more easily it flows. In 5W-30 oil, for example, the two numbers mean it's a "multiviscosity" or "multigrade" oil that's effective over a range of temperatures. The first number, 5, is an index that refers to how the oil flows at low temperatures. The second number, 30, refers to how it flows at high temperatures. The W designation means the oil can be used in winter. A popular belief is that 5W-30 oils, despite their designation, are too thin to protect vital engine parts when they get hot. But one of our lab tests found otherwise. In that test, the viscosity of oils was measured under high-temperature, high-stress conditions. Essentially, no difference was found between 5W-30 oils and their 10W-30 brand mates. But at low temperatures, the 5W-30 oil flowed more easily. Viscosity grade is important, so be careful. Recommendations vary with the make, engine and model year of the car, so check your owner's manual and ask the mechanic for the proper grade of oil. Results If you've been loyal to one brand, you may be surprised to learn that every oil we tested was good at doing what motor oil is supposed to do. More extensive tests, under other driving conditions, might have revealed minor differences. But thorough statistical analysis of our data showed no brand, not even the expensive synthetics, to be meaningfully better or worse in our tests. After each engine ran about 60,000 miles (and through 10 months of seasonal changes), we disassembled it and measured the wear on the camshaft, valve lifters and connecting-rod bearings. We used a tool precise to within 0.00001 inch to measure wear on the key surfaces of the camshaft, and a tool precise to within 0.0001 inch on the valve lifters. The combined wear for both parts averaged only 0.0026 inch. Generally, we noted as much variation between engines using the same oil as between those using different oils. Even the engines with the most wear didn't reach a level where we could detect operational problems. We measured wear on connecting-rod bearings by weighing them to the nearest 0.0001 gram. Wear on the key surface of each bearing averaged 0.240 gram, about the weight of seven staples. Again, all the oils provided adequate protection. Our engineers also used industry methods to evaluate sludge and varnish deposits in the engine. Sludge is a mucky sediment that can prevent oil from circulating freely and make the engine run hotter. Varnish is a hard deposit that would remain on engine parts if you wiped off the sludge. It can make moving parts stick. All the oils proved excellent at preventing sludge. At least part of the reason may be that sludge is more apt to form during cold startups and short trips, and the cabs were rarely out of service long enough for their engine to get cold. Even so, the accumulations in our engines were so light that we wouldn't expect sludge to be a problem with any of these oils under most conditions. Variations in the buildup of varnish may have been due to differences in operating temperature and not to the oils. Some varnish deposits were heavy enough to lead to problems eventually, but no brand consistently produced more varnish than others. The bottom line: Our tests indicate that brand doesn't matter much, as long as the oil carries the industry's starburst symbol. Beware of oils without the starburst, as they may lack the full complement of additives needed to keep modern engines running reliably. One distinction: According to the laboratory tests, Mobil 1 and Pennzoil Performax synthetics flow exceptionally easily at low temperatures, a condition our taxi tests didn't simulate effectively. Mobil 1 and Pennzoil Performax synthetics also had the highest viscosity under high-temperature, high-stress conditions, when a thick oil protects the engine. Thus, these oils may be a good choice for hard driving in extreme temperatures. Note, too, that a few automakers recommend specific brands of motor oil in the owner's manual. You may need to follow those recommendations to keep a new car in warranty. Testing Slick 50 and STP We also tested Slick 50 and STP Engine Treatments and STP Oil Treatment, each in three cabs. (Slick 50 costs $17.79 per container. STP Engine Treatment has been discontinued.) All three boast that they reduce engine friction and wear. The engine treatments are added with the oil (we used Pennzoil 10W-30). They claim they bond to engine parts and provide protection for 25,000 miles or more. We used each according to instructions. The STP Oil Treatment is supposed to be added with each oil change. It comes in one formulation (black bottle, $4.32) for cars with up to 36,000 miles, another (blue bottle, $3.17) for cars that have more than 36,000 miles or are more than four years old. We used the first version for the first 36,000 miles, the second for the rest of the test, again with Pennzoil 10W-30. When we disassembled the engines and checked for wear and deposits, we found no discernible benefits from any of these products. The bottom line: We see little reason why anyone using one of today's high-quality motor oils would need these engine/oil treatments. One notable effect of STP Oil Treatment was an increase in oil viscosity. It made our 10W-30 oil act more like a 15W-40, a grade not often recommended. In very cold weather, that might pose a risk of engine damage. Oil Changes How Often? The long-time mantra of auto mechanics has been to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Most automakers recommend an oil change every 7,500 miles (and a specific time interval) for "normal" driving, and every 3,000 miles for "severe" driving (frequent trips of less than four or five miles, stop-and-go traffic, extended idling, towing a trailer, or dusty or extremely cold conditions). Many motorists' driving falls into one or more of those "severe" categories. In our survey, almost two-thirds of our readers said they had their oil changed every 3,000 miles or less. They may be following the thinking expressed by one of our staffers: "I have my oil changed every 3,000 miles because that's what my father did, and all his cars lasted for many years." To determine whether frequent oil changes really help, we changed the oil in three cabs every 3,000 miles, using Pennzoil 10W-30. After 60,000 miles, we compared those engines with those from our base tests of the same oil, changed every 6,000 miles. We saw no meaningful differences. When Mobil 1 synthetic oil came out, Mobil presented it as an oil that, while expensive, could go 25,000 miles between changes. That claim is no longer being made. But Mobil 1 is still on the market, selling at a premium (along with pricey synthetic competitors from several other companies). And synthetic oil's residual reputation as a long-lasting product may still prompt some people to stretch their oil changes longer than the automaker recommends. Determining whether synthetic oils last longer than conventional ones would require a separate test project. To try to get some indication as to whether synthetic oils last longer, we put Mobil 1 synthetic into three cabs and changed their oil every 12,000 miles. We intended to compare the results of these tests with those from the three taxicabs whose Mobil 1 was changed at our normal interval, every 6,000 miles. Two of the three engines using the 12,000-mile interval developed problems. (We couldn't attribute those problems to the oil.) The third engine fared no worse than the three whose oil had been changed at 6,000-mile intervals. The bottom line: Modern motor oils needn't be changed as often as oils did years ago. More frequent oil changes won't hurt your car, but you could be spending money unnecessarily and adding to the nation's energy and oil-disposal problems. Even in the severe driving conditions that a New York City taxi endures, we noted no benefit from changing the oil every 3,000 miles rather than every 6,000. If your driving falls into the "normal" service category, changing the oil every 7,500 miles (or at the automaker's suggested intervals) should certainly provide adequate protection. (We recommend changing the oil filter with each oil change.) We don't recommend leaving any oil, synthetic or regular, in an engine for 12,000 miles, because accumulating contaminants, such as solids, acids, fuel and water, could eventually harm the engine. What's more, stretching the oil-change interval may void the warranty on most new cars. Where Should You Go? Choosing the right motor oil is only the first step. Someone has to change the oil regularly. Should you economize by doing the work yourself? Should you go to the local service station? The car dealer? A quick-lube center? Our own tests plus the experiences of some 900 of our readers provide some answers to those questions. We asked readers how often they change their car's oil, who does it and how satisfied they are with the service. And we sent shoppers in several parts of the U.S. to 55 local quick-lube centers to assess the service and to collect oil samples. The car owners we surveyed used these four options in roughly equal measure: Service station or garage. Many local garages compete with quick-lube centers by charging $20 to $30 or so for an oil change. And the service station may be a good place to go for other repairs and maintenance. New-car dealer. Some dealers offer regular oil changes for little or no extra cost with the purchase of a car. General Motors dealers offer a "one price" oil change that's competitive with the prices charged by quick-lube centers. But absent such a one-price arrangement, expect such dealer-performed oil changes to cost about $30. Car dealers were also the slowest and least convenient, according to our survey.Do it yourself. People change their own oil not only to save money (oil and filter together can cost as little as $10), but also for the satisfaction of knowing the job was done right. If you handle your own oil changes, be sure to dispose of the used oil properly to prevent it from polluting the environment. It's best to take the oil to a local service station that accepts used oil, or to a municipal household hazardous-waste collection center. Whatever you do, don't pour the oil down the sewer or discard it with the rest of the household trash. Quick-lube centers. These operations promise to get you in and out in as little as 10 minutes. Of our surveyed readers, 90% reported that they waited less than half an hour. Cost: $15 to $33. Although about 77% of readers were highly satisfied with quick-lube centers, service stations and car dealers earned even higher scores. How Reliable Are Quick-Lubes? Quick-lube centers promise a lot for a little. They say they'll change the oil and filter, top off other fluids, check the tire pressure, perhaps even vacuum the car's interior, all in about half an hour and for about $25. To find out how well the centers deliver on that promise, we asked Consumer Reports shoppers in California, Florida, Illinois and Texas to take cars in for an oil change at quick-lube centers last winter. The shoppers visited outlets run by Jiffy Lube, Kmart, Wal-Mart and others. We didn't visit enough centers often enough to rank them from best to worst. But we did see patterns in the service. The shops we visited didn't cut corners. The oil they dispense from a drum is comparable with the oil you can buy in one-quart containers. The shops also did a good job of filling oil and other fluids to the proper levels. But the shops do make mistakes. The most common, one that any servicer can make: using the wrong viscosity grade of oil for the car. Many oil-change centers maintain computerized data on which oil grades are recommended for specific makes and models. But in the cases where we could compare the oil grade we got with the grade the car's owner's manual listed as preferred, the quick-lube shop used a different grade half the time. You might not be able to tell if your car got, say, 10W-40 instead of 5W-30. And one oil change with the wrong grade in normal weather shouldn't harm the engine. But the engine may not always be adequately protected if it has the wrong grade of oil in very hot or very cold weather. The shops are usually fast and economical. They took from 10 minutes to more than an hour to service our shoppers' cars. Average time: 35 minutes. The cost ranged from $15 to $33, with the average at $23. Service varies. Some centers change the oil and filter, period. Others include a variety of services. But note that 18% of our readers who used a quick-lube center complained that it tried to sell them services they didn't want. And a few readers (8%) said the centers didn't perform a necessary service, changing the oil filter. Consumer Reports Recommendations Change the oil yourself only if you have the tools and equipment, can safely dispose of the used oil, and feel that it's worth the hassle to save about $15. Otherwise, any of the commercial alternatives can do an adequate job. Use a garage or the dealer when you also need other work done at the same time. Choose among quick-lube centers according to price and service, and be sure you tell the center what grade of oil your car needs. Discount coupons are common, so you need never pay full price.
This must be an old test as it doesn't appear to be online anywhere. Trying to measure physical wear at one point in an engine is not particularly useful... as significant wear could be occurring at any other point in the engine. 1) What they should have done was an oil analysis (relatively cheap and simple to do)... which would have measured all wear in the engine.. The oil with the least wear metal (and other combustion products) in it would be the best oil? 2) A patch test on the oil should also show up the difference (refer a product such as Fluid Rx). 3) Alternatively measure the amount of ferrous metal on a magnetic sump plug with the various oils? N.B. Ferrous metal is usually the major wear metal even in alloy engines. Less metal means less wear... which means better oil. Synthetic oils seem to always win this comparison... although semi-synthetic oils are almost as good... while mineral oils don't do so well. That seems to be the general consensus on this forum? :-)
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Originally Posted by slick1
This must be an old test as it doesn't appear to be online anywhere.
The thread was started almost 16 years ago - lol.
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