Why you should be sampling your vehicle / car oil, fuel and coolant?

Oil analysis is often spoken about in terms of large diggers, ships, production machinery in factories, power generation, and large fleets of vehicles such as rail, truck and buses. It is not usually mentioned in terms of cars. I mean obviously labs have looked at the car industry before when promoting oil analysis simply because of the size of the market, but since the main selling point has often been on reducing downtime costs the industry has always gravitated around machinery with large costs of failures. For instance the cost of a power station, large factory or mining production process being unable to operate are going to be more costly in terms of downtime than your car breaking down during the daily commute.

Up until the last couple years oil analysis in cars has been used only by car enthusiasts wanting to know every detail of their engine. However, in a market where many still don’t even know how to check their oil level with a dipstick (75% of car owners) may have never considered taking an oil sample.

However, this does not mean oil analysis can’t still save you money. In this article I present the potential savings a typical UK road used could potentially save with oil analysis.

Cost of fuel usage – average fuel consumption can be improved with a more efficiently running engine. The average person driving 10,000 miles a year spends £70,000 on fuel during their lifetime or ~£1500 to £2000 a year. Fuel is usually 40% of the overall running of a vehicle costs, and often unnoticed fuel injector faults or contaminated fuel can often increase fuel consumption (and hence fuel costs) by 12%, or an extra £210 every year. In contrast oil analysis highlights the best maintenance practices to keep your vehicle running more efficiently, so not only saving on that 12% when there are problems, but an additional 5 to 10% on the average vehicle. This equates to a ~£340 saving each year on fuel alone.

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Cost of oil drains – having worked in the oil industry for years I got so used to bulk contract rate prices for oils it was not until I took on a secret shopping for lube oil contract I realised how expensive oil really is when you just want to buy e.g. a 5L container for your car. There are obviously vast price differences between major brands, OEM brands and budget brands. Assuming you are using the oil your car manufacturer recommends which is usually their brand oil I found the typical price was around £35 and another £70 to £100 if you want to have the garage change it for you and get rid of the old oil. You can change it yourself but you still have to also arrange for the oil to be disposed of etc as there are regulations around waste oil meaning you can’t just pour it down the drain. Oil analysis helps you determine if your oil truly needs changing and some oils can even last several years if well maintained. So assuming your annual service includes an oil drain that is £115 you are pouring away with oil that may be perfectly fine, not to mention the environmental impact of the oil you just wasted. If it manages to extend the oil another year then this means you are saving ~£57 a year on oil drains.

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Resale value – lack of a full service history typically lowers a resale value by 15% – this rises to a 23% if you live in London. With an average selling price of a used small car being £7500 and the average person keeping a car for 5 to 7 years this equates to £1125 lower sale value, which works out at ~£187 a year when spread over the 6 years. A full history of oil samples typically gives stronger buyer confidence in that people who take samples tend to look after their vehicles more. Additionally, the lab data speaks for itself to help confirm there are no hidden problems lurking for the buyer, again keeping resale price closer to its maximum possible.

For those seeking to buy a used car privately it is often worthwhile asking if you can take an oil sample before buying – it does far more good than the usual tire kick check everyone seems to think is useful. You will be surprised how many cars close to failure are suddenly put up for sale, hence, if you are buying a car be wise and spend this little bit of extra money to give you peace of mind.

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Based on all of the above this equates to a saving of £510 / year for the average car owner even after deducting the cost of oil sampling.

If you take the total cost of annual oil sample, fuel sample and coolant sample as £74 (based on average of a few main labs I asked for prices for the 3 samples.)

In addition to cost savings there are a wealth of other benefits to fluid analysis. These include:

Service work – if your garage is not offering an oil sample when changing your oil they are missing a vital diagnostic tool to keep your engine running. If you are not confident in taking an oil sample, your garage will often take one for you if they are a reputable one.

Safety – you hear about a death trap car and hence you have legal requirements such as MOTs to ensure the vehicle passes a minimum requirement for safety and road worthiness. However, mechanical failure of an engine can leave your loved one stranded in an unsafe to stop location and be putting lives at risk. Hence why breakdown recovery firms often offer oil analysis as part of there policy covers, so don’t forget to ask if yours does. Equally, have a friend who recently passed their test then an excellent gift is a fluid sample kit and also helps them become more familiar with vehicle safety checks such as checking coolant and oil levels when sampling.