Thoughts on new car change intervals

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Jul 7, 2003
Northern California
So the discussions concerning the BMW oil change intervals and the breakdown of the BMW labled Castrol Synthetic when used for the full interval of approximately 15,000 miles as recommended by BMW have me thinking. Having seen some UOA's and noting that the oil appears to be right on the raged edge of causing very high wear numbers, I had a few thoughts. It occurs to me that maybe we need to rethink our limits on what is acceptable levels of wear and contamination on oils. Looking at new cars, it does not appear that it will be economical to keep/maintain them for 20+ years like older cars. It used to be that the most expensive components in an automobile were the engine and the transmission. Other items were relatively inexpensive and reliable (think manual window, seats, analog guages, etc.) Now we have cars that have a great deal of automation and electrical systems. These components are not cheap to repair when they break and are far more likely to fail than an engine. When I look at the price of used high end automobiles (look at the early 1990's BMW 750il, $70,000+ new, most selling now for less than $10,000, some as low as $4,000) I believe the exorbanant cost of other than engine repairs are becoming the limiting factor in auto life. Given those costs, I have to wonder if BMW, Mercedes, Etc. figure that given their service intervals, the engine life will probably still exceed the life of the rest of the vehicle, and therefore, there is no need to waste money on more frequent intervals. Any thoughts, comments, etc? Cary
You may have a good point, Cary. I remember growing up in the early 60's. Most folks that our family knew bought used cars, and drove them into the ground. Now, everyone we know drives new cars and they trade them in frequently. Everyone is afraid to put over 50K on a vehicle, for fear of low trade in values. A sign of good economic times? We all know here at BITOG, that today's vehicles are capable of 2-300K+ easy. I have a 1996 Ford Crown Victoria, with 162K on it, and it runs like a top. At this point,the brake lines seem to be badly rusted, but other than that it is in fine shape. I paid more for my new GMC Duramax pickup than I did for my house 20 years ago. I am sure the engine and transmission will outlast me, not so sure about the rest of the truck. At least the manufacturers are getting a LITTLE smarter and doing parts or complete exaust systems in SS. The Duramax fuel lines are SS. If they would only do the bodies in SS, we would have it made!
Here in Maine rust is vehicle killer numero uno. I sold, last year, a 1986 Mazda pickup for $20 to a guy from Tennesee that needed the (great running) engine. The frame was mostly swiss cheese and wouldn't pass inspection. So I put it on eBay. [Smile] I wonder if BMW et al are in a chicken-egg loop with their dealers-- customers complain about the cars because the maintenance is too expensive because the dealers tack on too much B.S. so the manufacturer tries to get them in less. This makes the dealer even more likely to make every oil change a full going-through. Or is it the ego that the car is only in the shop "once a year"? Does going to Jiffy Lube interfere with golf games that much? Do yuppies razz each other over being seen in the spouse's car or mechanic's loaner? Are they that shallow? [I dont know]
If they would only do the bodies in SS, we would have it made!
Delorean. [Cheers!] Sorry, no Irish Graemlin.
I don't think that BMW has to many issues with the costs of service, because there is so little to do on the new cars (you should see how little there is on my Wife's 94 525i, hydro-lifters, timing chain, basically plugs, oil & coolant). Actually BMW parts are pretty cheap. For example, a major service is about $300-400 (30,000 miles & 60,000) and maintence items are pretty cheap (brake rotors are about $45 each, pads $45 pair). I don't think that Mercedes and BMW are interested in saving $50 (internal cost for a covered oil change with included service) per year if it ruins their reputation for reliable, long lasting cars. Also they are using these long intervals in Europe (look at the MB 229.5 spec with up to 30,000 mile oil changes). I really wish there were more UOA's of new Mercedes on this site. One thing I forgot to mention before is I wonder how much of the milage increase is due to lower contanimination of the oil/better oils. It would be interesting to take an SE/SF mineral oil, run it in a low milage 80's auto for the manufactures interval and see what the numbers look like. Here are two UOA's posted previously for a BMW with the factory synthetic. The numbers really aren't to bad.;f=3;t=000499#000000 And these numbers from the 15,000 mile interval from the Jetta look like the motor will be fine for the life of the other components on the vehicle.;f=3;t=001006 Cary
It certainly has provided a selling point to the sales people that do the extended warranties. They all give you the spiel about how expensive the electronics are today and why the warranty is such a great deal. Good point though, the engine will outlive the body, transmission and the computer chips. I hope they are built better then most PCs, my hard drives fail about every 2-3 years now.
Buying new cars these days?'s called "leasing". Nobody "leased" cars in 1975. Heck I remember my parents buying a brand new mid-size Pontiac in 1975 for $5k. I know, I know..the incomes weren't what they are now, blah, blah, blah.. But, I do think that cars are lasting longer due to improvements in overall quality, fit and finish. However, no car will ever be perfect and there will always be oversights, undersights and engineering flaws...let alone dealership misinformation, mismanagement or screwups. Likewise with oil and the Euro-demands (eg. A3)vs. U.S. availability (A1) factors... As far as's always cheaper to maintain than replace. And that old addage ONLY becomes truer every day...unless you can slap down $30, 40, 50+ every couple years to replace your 4 door-electronic-filled-box-on-wheels.
I believe that cars are far more reliable today than at any time-- far better than the vehicles of 25 years ago. I plan on keeping my Hyundai Elantra for 200,000 miles. That's why resale value (which in Hyundai but not Kia, is rapidly improving and now better than most American cars) was never much of a deal with me. I do think, however, that if the car is like most of the others that I've owned that there will be other items that are not oil related that will be the cause of giving it up. The air conditioning compressor will fail, or the car will only be worth $500 and need $400 in brakes, or the front end will need several hundred dollars of work. These are the kind of things that have done my cars in--not (for the most part) engine failure. A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, that's why I just plow ahead with SuperTech oil with a 4000 mile change cycle.
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