Green Fleet

Saving Money & the Environment through Oil Initiatives

January 2012, Government Fleet - Feature

by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

Oil analysis allows fleets to determine the best time for oil changes. Photo courtesy Universal Lubricants.
Oil analysis allows fleets to determine the best time for oil changes. Photo courtesy Universal Lubricants.
At a Glance

Some fleets that have benefited from oil analyses, re-refined oil, and lifetime filters include:

  • The City of Los Angeles extended service intervals for the entire hybrid fleet.
  • The City of Charlotte, N.C., reduced oil usage by more than 50,000 quarts and filters by more than 5,000 in 2011 in comparison to 2009.
  • The City of Westminster, Calif., cut its waste filter stream by 75 percent by using lifetime oil filters.
  • The Town of Buckeye, Ariz., is able to identify potential vehicle problems early.
  • Sioux Area Metro in South Dakota is able to comply with the City's green initiatives.


We all know the standard recommendation for an oil change: every 3,000 miles or three months, whichever comes first. But with advances in technology always marching forward, that recommendation may not be as reliable -- or economical -- as it once was.

Now, with oil analyses on their side, many fleets are monitoring and extending oil cycles beyond the age-old 3,000/three-month rule -­- and with some surprising results. Likewise, re-refined oil and reusable filters are also transforming the face of oil changes.

A snapshot of these oil initiatives at work offers a glimpse into their effectiveness, and perhaps a view of the future of oil use.

The City of Los Angeles uses re-refined petroleum products in approximately 65 percent of its equipment.
The City of Los Angeles uses re-refined petroleum products in approximately 65 percent of its equipment.

Los Angeles Saves 25% off Oil Change Costs

Prior to revamping its standard oil change cycles, the City of Los Angeles had a policy of changing oil every 4,000 miles or every six months for its fleet of more than 1,000 hybrid automobiles and light trucks. However, that schedule was actually more frequent than some manufacturers' recommendations, so the City decided to take a closer look.

Before extending service intervals on its entire hybrid fleet, the City chose a small group of units for a trial study.  By performing an oil analysis on these units, it was able to determine the impact of extended service intervals on these models. When it did, the fleet found no marked difference in the oil chemistry -- a thumbs up to extend cycles for the rest of the hybrid fleet.

"We completed an internal study and determined that we could extend our oil change frequency for our hybrid automobiles out to 5,000 miles/10 months for some models and 8,000 miles/10 months for other models and still remain compliant with the manufacturers' recommended service intervals," said Richard Coulson, director of Fleet Services, Department of General Services, City of Los Angeles. "This has produced very good results for us. We have been able to reduce the number of oil changes by approximately 25 percent.  Not only is there a savings on parts and oil, there is a significant labor savings."

Now that the entire hybrid fleet operates on extended cycles, Coulson's team continues to perform random oil analyses -- a reliable way to be sure the new schedule remains acceptable.

In addition to extending cycles for its hybrid fleet, the City of Los Angeles also performs oil analyses on its construction and heavy-duty engines in order to ­predict premature engine wear. Again, the "pilot" model applies; rather than test 100 percent of the equipment, the fleet tests just a few units from chosen groups. This keeps test costs down, while at the same time showing reliable results from a representative sample.

The City of Los Angeles also relies on another key oil initiative: using re-refined petroleum products in approximately 65 percent of its equipment. "This has been a long-standing practice that has worked very well for us," Coulson said. "Re-­refined oil enables us to reduce our waste footprint on the environment. There is also a significant cost savings when multiplied by tens of thousands of gallons of oil purchased annually."

Together, these oil initiatives reduce the City's overall costs to maintain the fleet, and reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated as well. Extending oil change intervals has allowed the City to save as much as 25 percent of the annual costs associated with an oil change. And, depending on the product, the City saves as much as 74 cents per gallon of oil by using re-refined oil. 

"While there is a cost associated with performing routine oil analyses, the savings generated by extending service intervals easily offsets cost," Coulson said. "And, the public appreciates organizations that do everything they can to contribute to a healthy environment."

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