By Bill Siuru, Greencar.com
According to a recent study by the California Integrated Waste
Management Board, 73 percent of California drivers change their oil more
frequently than required. This same scenario no doubt repeats itself
across the country. Besides wasting money, this translates into
unnecessary consumption of $100-a-barrel oil, much of it imported.
Using 2005 data, the Board estimates that Californians alone generate
about 153.5 million gallons of waste oil annually, of which only about
60 percent is recycled. Used motor oil poses the greatest environmental
risk of all automotive fluids because it is insoluble, persistent, and
contains heavy metal and toxic chemicals. One gallon of used oil can
foul the taste of one million gallons of water.
It's been a misconception for years that engine oil should be changed
every 3000 miles, even though most auto manufacturers now recommend oil
changes at 5,000, 7,000, or even 10,000 mile intervals under normal
Greatly improved oils, including synthetic oils, coupled with better
engines mean longer spans between oil changes without harming an engine.
The 3000 mile interval is a carryover from days when engines used
single-grade, non-detergent oils.
For several years, automakers like General Motors
<http://autos.yahoo.com/gmc/> , BMW <http://autos.yahoo.com/bmw/> , and
Mercedes-Benz <http://autos.yahoo.com/mercedes_benz/> have installed
computerized systems that alert drivers via an instrument panel light
when it's time to change oil. As an example, the General Motor Oil Life
System (GMOLS) analyzes the engine temperature, rpms, vehicle speeds,
and other driving conditions to calculate the rate of engine oil
degradation. Then, software calculates when the oil needs to be changed.
Other systems work similarly.
Because of the many external conditions and parameters that have to be
taken into account, calculating the precise maximum service interval
using mathematical models alone is difficult. Now, Daimler AG has
developed a more direct and precise way to monitor oil quality directly
on board a vehicle.
Daimler uses a special sensor integrated into the oil circuit to monitor
engine oil directly. Oil doesn't wear out, but rather dirt and
impurities cause oil to lose its ability to lubricate properly,
dictating the need for a change. Daimler uses the oil's "permittivity,"
that is, the ability to polarize in response to the electric field. If
the engine oil is contaminated by water or soot particles, it polarizes
to a greater extent and its permittivity increases.
To evaluate the quality of the oil, permittivity is measured by applying
an AC potential between the interior and exterior pipes of an oil-filled
sensor to determine how well the oil transmits the applied electric
Because not all impurities can be measured with sufficient precision via
the electric field method, Daimler also measures the oil's viscosity to
detect any fuel that may have seeped into the oil. Daimler researchers
measure viscosity while the vehicle is in motion by observing the oil's
side-to-side motion in the oil sump. The slower the oil moves, the
higher its viscosity. This movement is registered by a sensor and the
viscosity is calculated on this basis.
A single sensor, along with the information already monitored by
on-board computers, is sufficient to determine the various parameters of
the engine oil. Daimler will likely use the technology first on its
commercial vehicles. Here, large oil reservoirs mean larger quantities
of oil can be saved. Plus, a predicted 25 percent increase between
service intervals and reduced downtime will be of interest to fleets,
and thus justify the added cost of installation.