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Back to the Basics

Written by Randy Gerdin on November 1, 2015

Autumn is the time when many things get going once again. I recently was listening to the sports station and they were doing various interviews with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Wild. One thing the coaches all said was that they were starting with “the basics” and “fundamentals”. All makes sense. Sometime we get caught up in the complexity of things around us that we forget about the “basics”. I know I see this in the auto repair business. I see it with our customers, who want to jump to conclusions, and with technicians as well. I have three recent examples:

  1. A late-model sedan was towed in, we ran some tests and inspected a number of things and found that the engine had no compression. In addition, we discovered that the timing chains were extremely loose. What happened was the timing chain “jumped time”, causing the valves and the pistons to collide, resulting in the values bending. So off comes the engine head to be repaired.
  2. Another late-model pickup truck came in with the check engine light on. The code in the vehicle’s computer indicated a variable camshaft synchronizer issue. We also noticed that the engine was noisy.
  3. My final example is an SUV, which came in with a check engine light on and a code for an oil pressure sensor out of range.

The common problem we found with all three vehicles was the engine oil. The first sedan’s oil level was down over a quart, but more importantly, the oil change interval was way over the mileage. This vehicle only had a little over 100,000 miles on it. The pickup truck, again, was low on oil and it was way over on the oil change interval. I checked our history for this vehicle and found that the owner frequently ran over the oil change interval. There was significant engine damage. The SUV was again over on its oil change interval. The vehicle repair history showed that this was common for this vehicle. The driver told me that he had recently added oil. So the common thread was one of the “basics” was not followed, the lack of oil changes at the correct mileage.

This particular sedan runs an oil feed timing chain tensioner to keep the timing chain tight. When the engine got too low on oil, the chains became loose and their tensioner loosened. Also, infrequent oil changes can lead to sludge build up inside the engine, causing the oil flow to be reduced. This may have caused the timing chain tensioner to not function properly. It is my opinion that if proper oil changes had been done, this problem could have been avoided.

The pickup, again, had not had proper oil changes, which caused the camshaft synchronizer to stick, causing the engine to run rough. Also, the low oil level caused internal engine damage. The SUV was also over on its oil change interval. In this case, sludge accumulated and plugged up a small, internal screen that the oil flows through before the sensor registers the pressure and the signal is sent to the dash and the computer. Again, the basics of changing the oil were not done.
I speak to many of my vendors that sell engines, and they say business is good for them. Their conclusion is that people are forgetting the basic oil changes. Many auto manufactures have lengthened the recommended oil change interval, I feel, as a tool to sell their vehicles. My opinion is that, in most cases, these intervals are too long. This problem is worsened with the fact that some people may forget and extend an already extended interval.

Numerous vehicles are equipped with a program in the vehicle’s computer called an “oil life monitor”. In most cases, I do not agree with the monitor and feel that the oil should be serviced sooner. This is especially true here in Minnesota, where we have such a variation in temperature and humidity. Also, a person’s driving habits also contribute to when you should change your vehicles oil. If you are unsure, please consult an ASE certified technician. This may be overly bold, but I personally do not know one seasoned technician that follows the recommended schedule, especially if they intend on keeping the vehicle for many years. Many of the newer vehicles also require special oils and viscosities. For a few more dollars, it is in your best interest to change the oil sooner with the proper oil. Otherwise you may end up being one of my examples. I Hate When That Happens!

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