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Owners should always be wary of the potential pitfalls that occur when running low on oil.Getty Images/iStockphoto

My personal 2018 Volkswagen Sportwagen’s internal oil change minder comes on every 14-15,000 kilometres. I’ve only ever seen it once though and that was because I forgot to reset it at the previous oil change. When I visit Volkswagen’s website, it states that an oil service is due every 15,000 kilometres. Despite this, I change the oil every 10-12,000 kilometres, and yes, I’ve been called out on this on many occasions. For the record my car uses synthetic oil products only. Here’s my reasoning.

First, most of you reading this don’t get to witness things when they go wrong. Second, I’ve had years of phone calls from customers in a pickle, looking for guidance. Their engine has failed, they are at their local dealer being told that sludge and plugged oil passageways, otherwise known as owner abuse, has caused the failure. They are looking for oil change records and preparing themselves for a battle with their dealership. But even after supplying all their oil change records and proving maintenance was completed as per manufacturer guidelines, many are still being told they didn’t service their vehicle enough. How can dealer service staff imply they didn’t service their vehicle sufficiently when the owner was accurately following the manufacturer’s guidelines?

More Lou's Garage: Why do we need winter tires now, but we didn’t a few decades ago?

This always brings me to the question, am I being excessive in my intervals? I began asking every technician I know who owns a newer vehicle, with the similar high-mileage oil change interval. Every single one of them says like me, they service their vehicle earlier than recommended. I accept the fact that servicing our own vehicle is easier for us. We have access to a hoist and all the supplies are readily available and obviously we don’t have to wait for an appointment. That being said, their reasoning is that they are the ones disassembling your engine during a repair. They get to witness first-hand what engine internals look like after both normal and negligent servicing. Surprisingly, normal servicing can sometimes look as bad as a car that saw little service.

It is my belief that the most relevant issue for problems that occur under what we call normal servicing conditions is that consumers rarely check and top up their oil. Vehicles that have high-mileage intervals always have owner’s manual literature which states you must top up your oil between oil changes, but people rarely do. If there is no obnoxious red light on the dash warning them, it is a task easily forgotten. As a result, many of these engines are low of oil by the time 15,000 kilometres rolls around, sometimes by as much as one or two litres under normal operation. For example, if your vehicle takes 4.5 litres, it could easily be operating with 30 to 50 per cent less oil over the last few thousand kilometres. The remaining oil works much harder during this period. The full heat load suspended in the oil can’t be dissipated adequately when the level is low, therefore accelerated oil breakdown and contamination occurs to the remaining oil during this period.

In the upper mileage range as you approach your oil change interval is where rapid engine wear can occur and other problems manifest.

If you are one of the few who regularly checks and tops up your oil, let me offer you a round of applause. For the rest of you, it’s your car, you can do what you wish, but be wary of the potential pitfalls that occur when you are running low on oil.


Your automotive questions answered

Hi, Lou.

I just read an article you wrote about two years ago, and the situation remains the same. When I called Mercedes in Canada and the United States this week, no one could help me with the change to TPMS so I can register the Canadian Mercedes in U.S. Mercedes was willing to charge me US$400 for the compliance letter (with an exception of TPMS) and left the conversion to me in the after-market. What about other manufacturers? Are you hearing the same problem as well?

Curious, Julius

As I wrote earlier, there are two different tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) in use in the market; direct and indirect. The U.S. only allows the direct system on their vehicles in current production and on vehicles being imported. Unlike the U.S., in Canada TPMS sensors are not mandatory. Because TPMS is not mandatory in Canada, Canadian arms of auto manufacturers sometimes choose to use the cheaper indirect system or no system at all.

I still regularly receive emails from people trying to register Canadian vehicles in the U.S. and not being able to for this reason. You can try and install an aftermarket direct TPMS system in your vehicle and cross the border but its 50/50 at best that you will succeed. All manufacturers that use indirect TPMS systems in Canada have the same problem so it’s not strictly a Mercedes-Benz problem. The laws in the U.S. have not changed, so this will continue to be an issue for many Canadians trying to register a vehicle south of the border.


Hi Lou, you recently acted on a very worrying problem with our 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross that had a strong smell of fuel when starting. Initially Mitsubishi said there were “One or Two” other reports with the same issue in North America. (The other one was my next door neighbour who liked our car and bought one). We have hardly used the car for a year now, but your probe and solution finding a tech service bulletin and a subsequent visit to a dealer for the replacement parts you mentioned in your reply seems to have fixed it and I now feel safe with the car. Thank you very much Lou.

Glenn B.

You are most welcome Glenn. That is why I do this.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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