Are Chinese Drain Intervals Too Short?

Five years ago, Shanghai-based editor Dai Jialing bought his first car, a Buick Regal. Since then, the cars internal monitoring system has reminded him to change its engine oil every 5,000 kilometers. What Dai didnt know is that Buick recommends an interval of 8,000 km to 11,000 km for the same model in the United States.

The stark difference between oil change interval recommendations in China and Western countries was observed by German oil testing company Oelcheck, which recently did a series of tests in China and reported its findings.

According to the report, presented by Andrew Zeng in January at the OilDoc Conference and Exhibition in Rosenheim, Germany, global automakers typically suggest that Chinese customers change engine oil every 5,000 km to 10,000 km, compared to 30,000 km in Europe, because China has a natural condition of poor road conditions and air pollution while Western countries do not. But are such short intervals in China really necessary?

Oelcheck tested a Hyundai Sonata with a 1.8 liter dual-fuel engine using a Chinese brand of engine oil called Taxi Baby. While Hyundai suggests an oil change every 5,000 km, tests showed the engine oil was neither heavily worn nor contaminated even after 14,000 km in Guangzhou, a major city in southern China. The only observable change in the oil was its viscosity, which dropped slightly, from 11.21 mm2/s to 10.46 mm2/s at 100 Celsius. However, for a SAE 5W-30 oil, the change in viscosity that was observed was absolutely acceptable, according to the report. In Europe, Hyundai suggests oil changes every 30,000 km for its Sonata models.

A similar discrepancy is evident among heavy-duty trucks. For the report, the firm tested a truck made by Swedens Scania, which suggests an oil change every 25,000 km in China, compared with up to 90,000 km in Europe, depending on oil type and operating conditions. However, after running 36,000 km between Shanghai and Guangzhou, the diesel engine oil showed minimal contamination.

Nonetheless, Chinese car owners still prefer following car makers suggestions, believing frequent oil changes are good for the engine. Their motivation and willingness to pay for frequent oil changes is attributed to their belief that a car is expensive family property that deserves to be taken care of, Zeng said.

Hyundai, Scania and Chinese automaker GAC, which was also cited in Zengs presentation, all failed to respond to questions from Lube Report Asia for this article. Shanghai-based SAIC, one of Chinas four largest state-owned automakers, has a passenger car model, the MG3, that it sells in China and the United Kingdom. While the company recommends oil changes every 5,000 km in China, it expands the interval to 15,000 km in the U.K. Why? Because the air pollution and road conditions are just bad in China, said a SAIC sales manager who declined to be named.

For lubricant marketers, shorter drain intervals are good news because they mean higher sales volumes. The Oelcheck report concluded that engine oil suppliers adjusted formulations in view of oil change practices, reducing the amount of additives but keeping the same product names in China.

Like many Chinese car owners, Dai goes to a dealers store, known as 4S store (sales, services, spare part, survey) in China, for maintenance services, including oil changes.

But some experienced car owners dont fall for automakers marketing tricks. They choose to take their cars to less expensive, smaller service vendors instead of 4S stores. Such vendors typically advise car owners to change their oil after about 10,000 km.

Shi Xiaofeng is one such car owners. Working at China Custom in Shanghai, he has owned a Ford for 8 years. He said he discovered the vast difference in oil change interval recommendations between China and other countries from reading Chinese online forums years ago.

I think only new car owners and women will follow car makers suggestions and go to 4S stores, because it's simply an easy and safe option," Shi said.

Dai, the web editor agreed, adding, I go to 4S stores because my wife insists.