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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A fleet technician at the City of Charlotte, N.C., takes an oil sample for analysis.

A fleet technician at the City of Charlotte, N.C., takes an oil sample for analysis.

 

Charlotte obtains ROI in Six Months

Efforts to extend oil cycles at the City of Charlotte, N.C., began in 2007, with a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to conduct a fuel reduction study. Completed in 2009, the outcomes of the study helped the City identify ways to extend oil cycles - without risking damage to vehicle engines.

"The City as a whole was exploring ways to reduce costs, and we immediately recognized a way to contribute to that effort through oil reduction initiatives. When we realized the cost savings the initiatives could have for the City and the efficiency these initiatives could provide, we proposed the plan to the Business Support Services key business executive and eventually the city manager," said Karen King, manager of Business Support Services/Equipment Management Division, City of Charlotte, who retired in December 2011. "With their support, we were able to purchase the necessary equipment and within the first six months of implementation, we matched the amount spent on equipment in savings. It was a true return on our investment."

Based on the oil analysis, the City learned that changing the oil every 3,000 miles was, in most cases, too often. As such, it extended cycles to 6,000 miles and continues to test the results.

These efforts have yielded big savings for the City. Compared to 2009 usage, in 2011, it  reduced oil usage by more than 50,000 quarts and filters by more than 5,000.

The City's oil initiatives have also resulted in fewer customer visits to the shops, less windshield/downtime, and a 49 percent decrease in oil changes.

In all, the implementation of findings from the fuel reduction study saved the City more than $280,000. And that's not all - by reducing customer downtime and cutting employee labor time, the City also sees significant savings from budgeted maintenance expenses.

"The ability to reduce costs associated with taxpayer dollars is always a benefit to the public, and we have successfully achieved this through these initiatives," King said. "Our strategies around oil have also ensured that the equipment used to provide critical services (e.g., police and fire) to citizens are running efficiently and available on the road."

Westminster's Lifetime Filters Improve Maintenance

The City of Westminster, Calif., also relies on oil analyses to determine appropriate oil service intervals. The City has used TBN test kits, as well as sending out samples for full analyses for many years. In 1999, the City began testing various oils to extend oil drain intervals. Testing confirmed that Pure Power lubricants performed as claimed and were well suited to extended drain intervals. Since making the change, the City has moved to drain intervals of 12,000-15,000 miles in emergency units and 18,000-25,000 miles in non-emergency units. 

The City also uses Pure Power lifetime, cleanable oil filters. Unlike paper filters, where the majority of the oil passes over/against the filter, 100 percent of the oil flows through the reusable filters. 

"There are huge benefits and savings available in this area, and employing these filters has benefitted our operation in several ways," said Kevin Beach, fleet superintendent, City of Westminster. "First, there is no need to buy and stock oil filters for most of our units. Second, because these filters are cleanable, we can see any unusual/excess contamination. This has helped detect several engine issues before they became serious. Third, improved fuel economy. And fourth, use of lifetime filters has cut our waste filter stream by 75 percent."

Beach said increased cost savings and reduced environmental impact spurred the City to employ these oil initiatives. So far, the City has saved more than $222,000 in oil, filters, and oil-related repairs.

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Oil analyses at the Town of Buckeye, Ariz., shows its oil change intervals are on target.

Oil analyses at the Town of Buckeye, Ariz., shows its oil change intervals are on target.

Buckeye Identifies Potential Vehicle Problems Early

For the Town of Buckeye, Ariz., manufacturers' recommended intervals for severe-­duty usage vehicles are working well. But, the Town continues to monitor these units' on-board oil life meters and relies on oil analysis to maintain safe and effective service intervals.

"We follow manufacturers' recommended intervals so we have the reliability expected and not have any complications on warranty repair issues," said Mike DePaulo, fleet management supervisor for the Town of Buckeye. "Oil analysis has helped us identify potential problems before they negatively impact our fleet. Our testing has shown that the intervals we are using are in an acceptable range."

In addition to oil analysis, the Town has also been using recycled motor oil for nearly a year. "By using recycled motor oil, we are accepting a role in environmental stewardship," DePaulo said. "Knowing that you are trying to do the right thing for the environment and the conservation of the world's oil supply is a major benefit."

Switching to recycled motor oil has resulted in a number of positive measures for the Town. The oil Buckeye uses contributes to the returns of more than 140 million gallons of used oil to the marketplace as clean, pure motor oil. It can also be re-refined and reused indefinitely, with no loss of quality. This, of course, means major benefits for the environment, as oil re-refining reduces greenhouse gases and heavy metal emissions when compared to burning used oil as fuel.

DePaulo says there are some costs associated with using recycled oil, but that in the long run, the investment is a worthy one. "Unfortunately, the costs associated with green initiatives are usually higher. This includes everything from vehicles to cleaning products," he said. "But it's important to look at the big picture and weigh the complete value, not just the costs. In the long run, you know you are doing the right thing for the environment and the conservation of the world's oil supply by recycling."

Sioux Falls Focuses on the Environment

Sioux Area Metro in South Dakota, the City of Sioux Falls' public transportation provider, converted its fleet of 54 diesel buses to re-refined motor oil in November 2010.

According to Bill McCarty, maintenance manager for Sioux Area Metro, the re-refined motor oil costs a bit less than the agency's previous regular oil purchases.

Oil analyses, which the agency have been doing for years on oil and transmission fluid changes, show the re-refined oil performs as well as conventional oils. McCarty said the transit agency is looking into extending oil change intervals for additional savings. However, many vehicles remain under manufacturer warranty, which limits the fleet's ability to extend intervals.

Altogether, the reduced cost and benefit to the environment in switching to re-refined oil have been advantageous for the transit agency, and it is looking into using other re-refined oils such as automatic transmission fluid. The agency also recycles engine anti-freeze, tires, batteries, and most scrap metals.

"The City of Sioux Falls had been suggesting that we go more environmentally friendly," McCarty said. "It fit right in with the City of Sioux Falls green initiatives."

Tips for a Smooth Transition

With the successes of each of these initiatives also come growing pains in their implementation. As such, these fleets learned a few lessons along the way - lessons that may make the transition easier for fleets seeking to make similar changes.

For the City of Los Angeles, it was important to closely monitor vehicles on the new oil change schedule to ensure no early symptoms of premature engine wear popped up. Extending oil change cycles also required the City to revisit its preventive maintenance schedule, update its fleet management system with the new schedules, and inform its technicians and customers of the change. 

"We continually look for methods to gain efficiencies in our fleet maintenance operation," Coulson said. "Because preventive maintenance is such an integral component of any fleet maintenance program, we routinely evaluate our oil initiatives." 

For the City of Charlotte, training was key. "We made significant efforts to train our staff on the new processes and purchased equipment. We also knew that in order for these initiatives to be successful, we would have to educate our customers on what we were doing differently and how it would positively impact their business," King said. "Our staff made several presentations to customers, held meetings to discuss the oil initiatives, and addressed any concerns they may have had."

King said it took some time to change the mindsets of customers, who were accustomed to getting oil changes every 3,000 miles. "It was critical for us to work collaboratively and educate our customers on the benefits of the new oil strategy and explain why we implemented the initiatives," she said. "Having the data from the fuel reduction study allowed us to provide the proof of analysis needed to justify our new processes for oil management."

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The Future of Oil Initiatives

While these fleets plan to continue to use oil analyses, both King and Coulson are looking forward to implementing larger initiatives.

Moving forward, King plans to meet the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulations and compliance specifications to bring the City of Charlotte's special transportation services and fire apparatus vehicles on board with extended oil cycles.

Coulson plans to pilot an off-line hydraulic oil filtering system. "This system will enable us to filter hydraulic oil when a truck comes into the shop for routine maintenance. By doing this, we hope to see longer life in hydraulic system components," he said.

With newer technology on the horizon, these and other fleets will continue to rely on these advances to guide their decisions, and further reduce their reliance on oil -- all without adversely affecting equipment lifecycles, of course.

Steps for Launching Your Own Oil Initiatives

For fleets considering launching their own oil initiatives, consider these tips, shared by other fleet professionals:

  • Do your homework. Before extending oil cycles, do a double check to make sure you stay in compliance with manufacturers' warranty requirements.
  • Ask around. Ask other agencies about their oil initiatives, and learn from them.
  • Stay objective. Keep the evaluation of your fleet objective. Does the change really make sense? What do the numbers say?
  • Think small before you think big. Before rolling out a full-scale plan, try piloting it on a smaller group of vehicles to make sure you'll get the results you expected.
  • Engage customers. Communication is key in making sure drivers are on board with the change. Their buy-in will be integral to a smooth transition.
  • Get a great project manager. Having one point of contact to address all areas of the initiative will increase buy-in and ensure the implementation is strategic and systematic -- not to mention successful.

 

Greenhouse Gas Savings of Re-refining Used Oil    
Fleet Size Composition Used Oil Generated
(gallons)
GHG Emissions Avoided
(metric tons) 
Emission Equivalencies
200 100 gas/100 diesel 1,242 10 1,086 gallons of gasoline consumed
600 300 gas/300 diesel 3,726 29 1,183 propane cylinders used for home barbeques
1,000 500 gas/500 diesel 6,120 48 Carbon sequestered by 1,233 trees grown for 10 years in an urban environment
1,000 500 gas/500 diesel (with transit) 32,535 253 Energy use for 22 homes for 1 year
Safety-Kleen, a producer of re-refined motor oil, provides a greenhouse gas reduction estimate for fleets that use a closed-loop recycling process. Estimates are calculated using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

 

SOURCES

  • Kevin Beach, fleet superintendent, City of Westminster, Calif.
  • Richard Coulson, director of Fleet Services, Department of General Services, City of Los Angeles
  • Mike DePaulo, fleet management supervisor, Town of Buckeye, Ariz.
  • Karen King, retired manager, Business Support Services/Equipment Management Division, City of Charlotte, N.C.
  • Bill McCarty, maintenance manager, Sioux Area Metro, S.D.

 

Related Article:

Oil Initiatives Government Fleets Should Consider

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