EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 24, 2012

Tips on oil changes can be specific

Under the Hood
Brad Bergholdt

---- — When I bought my 2 cars — a 2005 Dodge Caravan 3.8L V-6 and a 2007 Dodge Caliber Dual VVT 2L — I got a lifetime oil change, which Meineke now services. Both the oil filler cap and the manuals state to use 5W-20 oil. Recently, the manager told me they no longer carry 5W-20 oil and their substitute is 5W-30 oil, which he said will work the same. He said that mostly all new cars use 5W-30 oil. Without ruining my engine, will 5W-30 weight oil be OK to use in my 2 cars?

5W-20 motor oil is recommended on many vehicles because it improves fuel economy by a slight amount. 5W, with the W standing for “winter,” is the rating for the oil’s thickness when cold, and 20 refers to the thickness at engine operating temperature. A 0W or 5W oil flows more quickly than a 10W oil at cold startup, providing a vital oil film between moving parts, reducing wear. Thicker oil is needed at operating temperature, due to increased stress on engine parts during a variety of speeds and loads; 30 is thicker than 20.

5W-20 motor oil has yet to match the universal availability of stalwart 5W-30 and 10W-30 oils, leading some folks to make substitutions. My personal belief is that 5W-30 oil could be used without any negative outcomes, but it’s best to stick with what the car maker recommends. My basis for this opinion is that many car makers originally made the switch from 5W-30 to 5W-20 on what appears to be the same engines, to improve corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards. It’s odd that in the past carmakers offered a range of recommended oil viscosities, depending on weather conditions and driving habits. Now, in many cases the only oil listed is the one that promises to meet CAFE standards.

Could using 5W-30 void your engine warranty in the event of a failure? The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act seems to provide sufficient consumer wiggle room, as long as the oil meets American Petroleum Institute standards and didn’t specifically cause the failure.

I think the bigger issue here is why your oil-change place can’t stock an oil that’s recommended by many leading automobile manufacturers. There are now dozens of differing formulas required for automatic transmission, power steering fluid, antifreeze, etc., and a professional service facility needs to be responsive to specific vehicle needs. Would another outlet within this chain have the oil you desire? Could their upper brass be convinced to better meet customer needs? If nothing else, perhaps you can purchase your own oil and bring it to them, and have them credit back their oil that’s unused, or simply go with the 5W-30 oil they carry.

READER FEEDBACK: Joe Antoci suggested an addition to the emergency kit: an old, unsubscribed cell phone, with charger. They’ll still reach 911, even when obsolete.

Another idea is a personal locator beacon, or PLB, for backwoods travelers. These devices are now down to around $250 and can communicate an emergency signal to orbiting U.S. and Russian Search and Rescue Satellites. PLBs are a scaled down version of the EPIRBS used in ocean going vessels and work anywhere in the world. For more information, take a look at: http:/// www.landfallnavigation.com, and select PLBs. I own and recommend the McMurdo Fastfind 220. Another great choice is the ACR ResQLink 406MHz GPS Personal Locator Beacon. It’s nice to know that a rescue helicopter is only a button-push away.

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-the-hood@earthlink.net; he cannot make personal replies.