Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.
Mark, who has been with the business for
over 20 years, is an ASE Master
Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE L1
certification, and has an associates degree in business
(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP)
What kind of motor oil do you use? Do you know the specifications and the grade? Does your oil carry the API (American Petroleum Institute) designation? Are you using the correct weight oil for each model and year car?
This industry has definitely become way too complex. The subject of motor oil is only one example. Currently at our shop, we stock 10W30 in bulk and quart bottles of: SAE 30, 5W20, 5W30, 10W40, 15W40, 20W50 and Synthetic 5W30 and 10W30. It seems like every time I turn around, we are purchasing case lots of motor oil in new weight formulations. Like most shops, if we are uncertain, we look in our lubricants book or electronic database to make sure we are using the correct type and weight oil for each vehicle. I am starting to wonder if using the factory recommended oil is that important. Case in point: Recently one of my technicians purchased a new Honda CR-V. Our technician was happy to learn that his first two oil changes would be "free." During his first oil change visit to the service department, he struck up a conversation with another technician employed at the dealership. Our technician asked him if they would be using 5W20 oil as listed in the CR-V's owners manual. The technician gave him an interesting reply: "Are you kidding? The oil we use for the free oil change jobs comes from the bulk bin. We don't even know what's in their." Well, like the saying goes: There's no such thing as a free lunch. So much for the "free" oil changes.
Anyway, I also had the opportunity to talk to several other shops about this issue lately. One shop is a large GM dealer that advertises a 15.95 oil change. Our discussion turned to how they "break even" or turn a profit on these economically priced oil change jobs. Although we've never offered a bottom price oil service, I presumed that the trick was the up-selling of other needed items like wiper blades and tires. The shop employee told me that the main reason they can generate a decent profit is that they purchase the oil at a deep discount. Now that he had peeked my interest, I questioned him further. Turns out their shop is purchasing "re-refined" motor oil. Since I had never heard of "re-refined" motor oil, I decided to do some research on this oil via API. I learned that re-refined motor oil is the end product of a long process involving used oils. The oils are cleaned of contaminants, (dirt, water, fuel, and additives), through vacuum distillation and then hydrotreated to remove any remaining chemicals. Finally, the re-refined oil is combined with a fresh additive by the blender to make the finished lubricant. It is interesting to note that 14 percent of used oil collected is turned over to re-refiners who return used oil to its original virgin oil state. However, not all re-refined motor oil carried the API certification. Clearly, you have to do your homework first before getting involved in these new oils.
Speaking of new and different oils, what's with all the new transmission fluids lately? It started about fifteen years ago when all we had to carry was Mercon Fluid for Fords and Dextron Fluid for all other car brands. Then GM developed Dextron 2, then they developed Dextron 3. Then a blend fluid called Dextron/Mercon was developed so we purchased that. Then about three years ago came a special fluid for late model Chrysler transmissions. Chrysler claims that their transmissions are designed in such a way that other fluid types will cause internal failure. As a result, we had to stock that type. Now we have to purchase Mercon 5 for the newer Fords. Now Ford is claiming that using anything but Mercon 5 will cause trouble in their 99 and newer models. When will it end? Pretty soon we'll have transmission fluid coming out of our ears. Perhaps we could add onto the building to accommodate the storage required for all this nonsense. I'd like to meet the engineer that designed some of these transmissions. I'll bet he has quite a deal going with the oil companies. He ought to be retiring real soon.