Is your engine in good shape? Pay attention now, or pay the price later

6

By Kate Doherty
I grew up listening to the ’70s and ’80s Fram oil filter ads with varying messages around the tag line, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” These ads started by reminding vehicle owners of the importance of changing the oil filter when changing the oil in their vehicle’s engine. For diesel engines, this task should be listed in the first chapter of a maintenance manual.

Proper and timely maintenance and testing analysis is essential to understanding what shape your engine is in. When you own an aircraft, whether piston- or turbine-driven, where proper engine functioning is critical, crankcase oil and filter testing is a routine task. My spouse averaged testing our plane’s oil and filter no later than every 25 hours. To non-pilots, that doesn’t sound like a lot of wear and tear. In our case, 25 hours was achieved in less than one month translating to approximately 6,500 miles.

Don’t make the silent mistake of not changing the oil

It’s easy to avoid that annoying, inconvenient oil change, trying to squeeze in more miles and see how far you can go. But that’s the silent mistake many of us innocently make. Brian Robinson, co-owner of Lakeshore Custom RV in Iuka, Mississippi, and an active NHRA race car driver, has the following advice. “An engine needs sufficient, clean oil and fuel to operate at its peak performance. Low or contaminated oil negatively affects an engine’s internal moving parts. This can result in costly repairs that possibly could have been avoided. Routine oil and filter changes can help prevent these problems. In addition, it can increase the life of your engine, improve efficiency, and add to the longevity of your powertrain. The importance of regular maintenance cannot be overstated.”

Lakeshore Custom RV
Brian in his early racing years sponsored by Tiffin Motorhomes

A health checkup for your engine

Testing the oil and oil filter offers material evidence as to what part, if any, in your engine might be unknowingly deteriorating. This material evidence is commonly referred to as the residual” – which may present itself in the oil. Furthermore, oil testing analysis indicates what type of metal and the amount of metal that might be present. It also indicates where the metal shavings/residue are derived from (e.g., the crankshaft, camshaft, pistons, connecting rods, etc.). These are all important components to a smooth-running engine.

This oil filter was cut open at 7,500 miles at Lakeshore Custom RV.

Save a few bucks when you change the oil

To save a few bucks, purchase the oil filters ahead of time at places like O’Reilly Auto Parts, NAPA, online, or other automotive stores. That way you aren’t paying the marked-up profit over cost which is added to the labor and oil usage invoice. If we had plenty of storage room, some of us would take advantage of oil sales from big box stores. But that’s not practical for us full-timers. Many diesel truck repair/maintenance facilities charge far less labor costs for a diesel engine oil change than RV repair facilities. Mitch Lamm, owner of Magnolia Diesel in Columbus, MS, echoes the same sentiment. He says, “Long haulers who regularly test their oil stay ahead of potential problems.”

Last year we had an injector replaced at Magnolia Diesel and were impressed with their efficiency. We were only off the road for a few hours. After inspecting the injector replacement by one of their service techs, owner Mitch Lamm stated, “Truckers make money on the road, not in my shop.” They take the NASCAR approach to repair – quick!

Brian Robinson pictured with his son Dylan and their NHRA superclass dragster recently in Huntsville, Alabama.

Avoiding future engine problems

The same type of testing analysis is available for gasoline and diesel engines. This will provide you, the owner, a look into the future as to what may be transpiring within. Think of it like a “blood test” for your engine.

Don’t forget: No use is abuse!

In an aircraft, this sentiment is one of the first things a pilot looks for when buying or leasing a plane. Pilots don’t like “hangar queens.” Hangar queens are planes that fly low time hours, sitting idle without running the lifeblood of its engine – the oil. The same sentiment rings true for diesel engines as they like to run. Some diesels don’t really break in until well beyond what a typical RVer drives in ten years.

If your coach has sat idle for several months due to travel restrictions, it’s a smart idea to change the oil filter and oil before venturing out. Remember, oil has an expiration date as well. Oil has a specific viscosity that erodes over time. Six months or approximately 7,500 miles is a good rule-of-thumb standard for changing oil in any reciprocating engine. What’s cheaper: changing the oil and oil filter or replacing an engine or major repair?

Yikes! What a mess!

One year ago, we were driving our diesel pusher north in Virginia at 60 mph on cruise control. We were about an hour out from our destination. Without warning, all six main bearings seized, causing a catastrophic failure, destroying the engine block, turbocharger and compressor. Six large holes were created when the bearings and rods blew out spewing 21 quarts of oil and many chunks of the engine block and internal parts all over the highway and the front of our brand-new Jeep.

Less than one month old, our Jeep Wrangler experienced its first spa oil bath. Oh, did I mention that we had just had the engine and generator serviced at Freightliner in Gaffney, SC, earlier that morning? Perhaps if we had been doing the same preventive measures on our coach as we regularly did on our airplane, this may have been avoided. A tough lesson to learn after spending our hard-earned greenbacks to the tune of $35,000! Ouch!

Time to become a soothsayer…

There are simple products available to help you test your oil and other fluids. O’Reilly Auto Parts has a test kit at their store or online for as little as $18.99. Use the kit and return the parts to the store or mail it in for a qualified lab analysis report. Amsoil also has an oil analyzing testing kit for $34, including freight. Both O’Reilly and Amsoil will return the test results to you in a couple of days. In addition, they are available to discuss the results with you.

How does one test the oil?

We use a JEGS oil filter cutting tool we purchased years ago. When the oil filter is removed, my spouse cuts the bottom off with the JEGS cutter. This cutter handles various size filters easily, from the airplane to the car to the RV. Next, he collects the oil and runs a rare earth magnet through it to see what, if any, magnetized metals are present. He also visually inspects for metal shavings, even running some between his fingers to feel for “residual.” Since our engine replacement, so far none are present. If he were to visually see metal shavings in the pan oil or filter itself, we would send it out through one of the testing sites available. That way we can see all the way to the future.

Good experiences deserve repeating

Because of Brian, with his automotive experience, and his partner, Nathan, who had worked in every department in the making of a Tiffin motorhome, we’ve visited Lakeshore several times over the past two years for upgrades inside and outside our coach. If you’re traveling east or west and may need to change your oil, want to upgrade, customize, or repair something in your coach, 5th wheel or bumper trailer, need chassis or generator servicing, there are plenty of things to see around Iuka, Mississippi, while your rig is being serviced.

Lakeshore Custom RV works on many brands – from American Coach to Winnebago, Class A, B or C. Lakeshore has hookups for your rig while getting serviced. You can drive a few miles just over the border into Tennessee and visit the Shiloh Battlefield and Military Museum. The museum demonstrates how the soldiers dressed at the time of the Civil War as well as a cap and ball rifle demonstration. Fish, boat, or camp on Lake Pickwick in JP Coleman State Park just down the road from Lakeshore.

Dylan is watching his dad race his Cutlass at Holly Springs Motorsports, Holly Springs, Mississippi, in May 2020.

You can visit their website for more information. We’ll be seeing them this year again for more customization.

Related:

Be prepared for RV breakdowns – physically and mentally

##RVT993

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Tom R
15 days ago

How did you come up with your “rule of thumb” of 6 months for oil change interval on all reciprocating engines? I had the oil in my Sprinter engine analyzed by Blackstone Labs at 1 year and 2 years of use, total miles on oil around 7000, they say it’s fine, run it for another 3000 miles. All the numbers they come up with are well within the limits. Your thoughts?

Also, why did you not give any details on why your motorhome engine had the sudden seizure? As aircraft owners I would think you would understand the importance of knowing this information.

Bradley Anderson
15 days ago

Here is an interesting video on oil analysis of 1 year old, low hours/mileage versus new oil.
Will Annual Oil Change Damage Your Car? Let’s find out! – YouTube

Bob
16 days ago

I learned the hard way: I thought I was doing all the preventative maintenance. When my motorhome was 15 years old I had the coolant system flushed and replaced all the hoses. But, I overlooked the thermostat. On the next trip it overheated while climbing a mountain in hot weather. The thermostat had failed. This was bad enough but I thought it only cost me a half day in a shop. On the next leg of the trip the plastic radiator fan shroud disintegrated. This required a tow and one week in a shop to replace the fan and shroud. I still considered myself lucky since the radiator was not damaged. One and a half years later after a coast to coast trip, we had a transmission fluid leak that was very difficult to find, but made a huge mess. Another day in the shop, only to find that the transmission cooler line on the radiator was loose. This line was removed during the fan shroud replacement. This one oversight was costly in time, money and inconvenience!

Denny Kincade
16 days ago

The most likely cause of a very sudden failure like the one described above would be the large loss of engine oil due to a drain plug not tightened properly and falling out or an oil filter not properly tightened and coming off. I am not saying that not performing certain preventive measures could not have contributed to the failure. It just seems that the sudden failure shortly after the engine was serviced is a little suspect. I would have suggested having a third party do a failure analysis to determine the cause.

Glen Cowgill
16 days ago

As recommended by Cummins, the motor home gets it’s annual in January every year with no where near the mileage. The cars right now are on about the same schedule with no where the number of miles. I barely put 7,000 miles on my 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee but it did get towed about 3500 miles in 2019. Hope 2021 sees more miles on all the vehicles. Maintenance keeps them going.

ROBERT PALESCH
16 days ago

New Vehicles (Diesels) have great Maintenance monitoring systems (Air Filter, Oil life, Fuel filters). There should be no more excuses that the Maintenance isn’t getting done!