As the Oil Drains…

As the Oil Drains…

Can you increase profits and asset utilization by extending PMI, oil drain, and grease intervals?

Let’s examine the facts.

Fortunately for all sectors, public & private, the oil companies have invested a significant portion of their profits into R&D. This is due much in part by the independents driving the competition (pun intended) within the industry. This article will highlight the prevalent opportunities and pitfalls pertaining to the potential savings with extending PMI, oil drain, and grease intervals. Each one of these duty cycles must be vigilantly analyzed in regards to the operational demands placed on the equipment over the span of respective maintenance interval.

When freight levels drop, margins get as thin as hot oil and the quandary to cut expenses reaches the maintenance processes, several quintessential mistakes often occur. Extending the oil drain, grease, and PMI internals without increasing the quality of the oil and lubricants is the first that commonly takes place. The primary misconception is that grease is grease and oil is oil. Even with the oil rating and certification process in place in order to meet governmental emission standards there are significant differences in the blend packages and they have in fact drastically improved in the past few years. In short, it they hadn’t auto manufacturers would nothave extended oil drains (change) intervals on cars and light duty trucks from the staple of 3,000 miles, which held for many years, to 7,500 miles.

The oil’s primary purpose is lubrication, however it has several other functions such as a detergent to remove contaminants in order to extend its life as well as the life of the engine. The last function is to move the contaminants to the filter and they also have improved due to the Gulf War. Furthermore, higher quality fuel will provide better combustion thus emitting fewer contaminants passed the rings into the oil. What becomes obvious at this point is the better the engine is operating the longer the oil will perform as designed. One side note, anytime an engine overheats for whatever reason it’s imperative the oil be changed due to damage the extreme heat imparts on the blend package. As the oil drains the technician should check the magnetic drain plug for metal particles, check the oil condition as well as looking and feeling the oil for contamination such as moisture, anti-freeze, and smelling for a burnt or other unusual odors. These steps should also be followed when pulling the dipstick. It should also be noted that oil samples should be pulled midway through the draining processes to obtain the most accurate reading. In some larger fleets an on-site oil analysis machine can be a cost effective tool in preventing catastrophicengine failures and the ROI is returned in very short order.

Grease has two (2) primary components, the oil and they thickener. While the primary objective of the oil is to lubricate, the thickener is designed to absorb shock. The manufacturers use a multitude of ingredients for use in a variety of applications as well as grades. From this we can easily ascertain that grease is not just grease. Does your duty cycle require airing up the tires or lubricating certain components between oil drains, or can you hit the fifth wheel at the fuel island? In case you’re wondering, yes they do make grease especially designed for fifth wheels in heavy drop & hook operations and for yard hostlers. Insufficient grease on fifth wheels will cause premature wear on front tires, steering components, and a preponderance of other issues. It must also be noted that kingpins and spring shackles (If designed to be lubricated.) cannot be properly lubricated without elevating the unit to release the load on these components.

This is where the rigorous PMI process comes into the equation. An inspection of this nature will reduce breakdowns, maintenance and labor costs as well as improve driver morale. Without it breakdown frequency will increase and this will perpetuate on-road repairs that are 66% higher than accurately scheduled maintenance. In short, pay me now or pay three (3) times more later.

The technological advancements as well as aftertreatment systems have perpetuated the need for schedule maintenance on turbos, SCR, DPF, EGR systems and the associated componentry. Without an effective inspection processes that zeros in on the inherent problems, the early signs of these component failures will be missed which will lead to reduced performance, fuel mileage, and even catastrophic engine failures.

Here are a few advantages of improved PMI, oil, and lubricants:

  • Increased asset utilization, driver productivity, morale, and organizational profitability.
  • Reduce heat, which decreases wear
  • Longer asset lifecycle
  • Higher boiling & lower freeze points
  • Reduced contamination getting by the rings during the combustion process.
  • Thermal stability
  • Reduced hazardous wastes
  • Better combustion – except when poor fuel quality is used.
  • Greater corrosion prevention
  • Less wax build up
  • Higher resistance to oxidation causes by high temperatures.
  • Every dollar $$ saved goes straight to the profit line.


The final factor in the equation is the driver. It has been proven the operator can have as much as 35% impact on fuel economy, consequently that same impact plays a factor in the combustion process as well as maintenance cost. For example extending the drain interval on an asset operated by a problematic operator who consistently demonstrates poor fuel economy on a properly operating unit, has a high breakdown frequency, and is inept at performing a proper pretrip inspection is a prescription for disaster. However, this can be overcome with a maintenance system that encompasses variable PMI scheduling.

Yes, you can extend your drains and increase profitably. Even with all these challenges and it can be achieved with a step–by-step PMI, accurate data, and properly scheduled maintenance intervals, which will lead to greater asset utilization, driver morale and retention. However, this all must be coordinated through operations in order to move the commodity profitably.

As we know due to the volatility of the industry a maintenance plan the proactively manages the assets is just as important as a business plan to proactively manage variable costs. Like the oil pan, I’ll put a plug in it now.

MCB Fleet Management Consultingassists private, public, corporate, and governmental fleets in the development of fleet management, procurement, leadership, and safety processes.