AKRON (Sept. 29, 2003)—Don't treat rumors, hearsay and old wives' tales as automotive gospel. If you do, these forms of bad information may eventually come back to haunt your tire dealership's precious reputation.
Plain old bad information and industry gossip is a fact of life in any trade—including automotive service—but that doesn't make it right. I entered this industry in 1967. Since then, it would be difficult to catalog all the pure baloney I've been fed by supposedly well-informed auto service people.
Motorists are bad enough with misinformation, but self-appointed ex-perts behind service desks or out in the bays are often just as ignorant.
I'm not perfect nor do I know everything. But I think I have the sense to ask someone knowledgeable when I don't know something and then discard the misinformation I've been harboring. Anyway, some of the worst misinformation I've always heard concerns lubricants.
For example, in the 1960s the older mechanics repeatedly cautioned me against using detergent oil in older engines or neglected engines. To grossly simplify, “detergents” are compounds that disperse dirt and deposits so the oil can carry them to the oil filter. I think the rationale was supposed to be that using detergent oil could dislodge so much dirt that it would be counterproductive.
At that time I was rejuvenating a Ford that had been neglected by the previous owner. Intermittently, the engine's lifters would tap loudly and then quiet down again—a common symptom of dirty lifters. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, I switched to detergent oil and changed the oil and filter every 2,000 miles. Within a year, that Ford's lifter noise was gone for good.
When I sold that car 70,000 miles later, the buyer's big concern was she couldn't hear the engine idling and often engaged the starter with the engine running! I then did the detergent oil changeover on a variety of other engines with equal success.
To me, warnings about Arco's graphite-type motor oil were another instance of flagrant misinformation. Some readers may recall Arco's big push for its graphite oil in the very early 1980s. I was selling shop equipment at this time and a good customer was switching his service station from Arco (Atlantic Richfield) to Getty Oil. He insisted on starting with a clean slate and was selling off the existing Arco-branded inventory. I offered him 50 cents on the dollar for several cases of the graphite oil and he accepted.
As I made my rounds selling shop equipment, I heard legions of stories about how the graphite oil allegedly would find or create leaks. Service managers and mechanics warned me that it would creep past the valve stem seals and foul the spark plugs. On and on the warnings went. Over about five years, I used up that graphite oil in two cars and two trucks. No oil leaks or fouled plugs occurred. All of these engines had been pressure-washed top and bottom beforehand because that's how I maintain family vehicles.
More recently, I've heard service personnel carrying on about the tendency of synthetic motor oils to cause leaks. “Use that stuff and the engine will be seeping everywhere,” I was warned. In all fairness, earlier synthetic blends sometimes did seep past marginal seals and gaskets. But sources told me that issue has been addressed.
I had a Subaru equipped with hydraulic lifters that was not garaged during the brutal Ohio winters. I also used it on lots of short-trip driving. It would take a while for those old lifters to quiet down after startup on a cold winter morning. After switching to Mobil 1 synthetic oil, those lifters would silence themselves within seconds after a cold start. The current owner of this car is still using the Mobil 1 with no complications and no leaks.
Lately, I've heard technicians moaning that some oils smell burnt or look too dark to them right out of the container. Meanwhile, lubricant engineers have told me that some of the high-tech formulations used in motor oils and transmission fluids can, indeed, darken the color and cause a funny odor—but that's normal!
Readers, try to get some facts before you form wrong-headed automotive opinions. Furthermore, if you're going to test a product, get meaningful results by performing a controlled test. Dumping graphite oil into an engine that already leaks oil and already has dried-out valve stem seals is anything but a controlled test.