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It seems like all I write about lately is oil drain intervals. In the May issue of LubesnGreases, I discussed the impact of driving patterns on oil changes and engine cleanliness. In March it was Californias Check your Number program. Now comes this: Jiffy Lube International is the target of a class action lawsuit filed in California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. The suit, filed on May 8, accuses JLI of false and misleading advertising and unfair competitive practices in its recommended engine oil change intervals for passenger cars and light trucks. The suit is seeking not quite $5 million in recompense.

The lawsuit, filed by Daniel Horlick, asserts that by recommending oil change intervals of 3,000 miles or three months JLI has misled the class of consumers using JLI oil change facilities in California. The suit says JLI received unjust enrichment through making oil changes at intervals which were shorter than recommended by vehicle manufacturers.

Those are pretty serious charges and ones that merit discussion.

As weve mentioned before, the state of California is very concerned about the amount of used oil that is generated annually through oil changes. It sees 3,000 mile or three month intervals as excessively short, and recommends that drivers look at their vehicle owners manual to see what the manufacturer recommends, as opposed to the longtime JLI mantra of every 3,000 miles, just bring it in.

Interesting that in June 2011, JLI dropped this longstanding recommendation in favor of using original equipment manufacturer recommendations. Today, JLIs website advises that customers can select their oil change interval based on their owners manual recommendations and their particular driving patterns.

California also suggests that the whole 3,000-mile-or-three-month idea is a creation of the quick-lube industry and is without any historical background. However, most old hands know that this was the OEM recommendation for many years, and only began to change with the introduction of more technically advanced engine oils around 12 years ago.

In addition, oil life monitoring systems found on many newer vehicles pretty much take the set-interval idea out of the equation. Theres nothing like a yellow dashboard light that says Change Oil! to get your attention.

As for Mr. Horlick, he owns a 2002 Nissan Altima which he took to a JLI franchisee for an oil change on May 28, 2011. The practice of that outlet, as with most quick-lube stores, is to place a sticker on the windshield recommending the next visit be 3,000 miles or three months later. Horlick returned and had his oil changed again according to the recommendation. At that point, he said, he determined that his owners manual recommends a 7,500 mile interval, which represents Nissans Schedule 2 oil change interval.

Actually, the Schedule 1 maintenance interval for a 2002 Nissan is 3,750 miles which is a lot closer to 3,000 than 7,500. Nissans recommendation hasnt changed – at least not through the 2008 model year, because the Schedule 1 maintenance interval for my 2008 Nissan Quest is also 3,750 miles.

I checked with the service manager at my local Nissan dealership and he confirmed that there have been no changes to these recommendations. In fact, he said he couldnt remember when the oil change recommendations were anything else.

For those of you unfamiliar with Nissans Schedule 1 maintenance, here are the definitions pertaining to oil change intervals: 1) Repeated short trips of less than 5 miles in normal temperatures or less than 10 miles in freezing temperatures. 2) Stop-and-go traffic in hot weather or low speed driving for long distances. 3) Driving in dusty conditions or on rough, muddy or salt-spread roads. 4) Towing a trailer, or using a camper or car-top carrier.

This is very similar if not identical to the severe service that most other light-duty vehicle manufacturers have defined, with recommendations that are similar. The position of oil marketers, quick-lube outlets and many others is that this is the type of driving most do, most of the time.

For the record, Nissan Schedule 2 calls for 7,500 mile service intervals and covers highway driving in temperate conditions. The manuals further state that Schedule 2 should be used only by those who primarily operate their vehicles under conditions other than those listed in Schedule 1. Who among us drives that way?

In his suit, Horlick said that while older oils and engines may have required the shorter intervals, newer engines and improved oils have made the 3,000 mile/three month recommendation obsolete. He claims that as far back as 2006, auto manufacturers drain interval recommendations were 5,000 to 7,500 miles (which looks suspiciously like the Nissan Schedule 2 recommendations), and today are 10,000 to 15,000 miles.

Horlick has requested that his suit be granted class action status so it can represent all other motorists in California who have had oil changes at JLI franchises.

He also asked for a jury trial and for monetary damages up to a maximum $4,999,999. At $5 million the case would go to federal court rather than state court.

In addition to claiming damages, the suit also asks that JLI be enjoined from unlawful practices including the use of window stickers which are deceptive and misleading. As an old oil-marketer type, the end of the windshield sticker or door-jamb sticker would be the end of an era for me, and probably would be a detriment to most Do-It-For-Me vehicle maintainers. That sticker, annoying as it sometimes can be, is an important reminder to change the oil, usually at some point beyond the recommended interval, even with an onboard oil monitor.

National Oil & Lube News annual survey of quick-lube operators indicated that the average oil change interval for most vehicles is 4,500 miles. For vehicles equipped with oil life monitors, this climbs to about 4,900 miles. That seems to me to be a pretty good indication that 3,000 mile drain intervals are considered only a suggestion at best and not widely followed.

Also, a consumer survey by NPD Group finds that vehicle owners have shifted over the last five years on their views about 3,000 mile oil change intervals. In 2007, 59 percent of respondents believed that was correct, but by 2011 that group had dropped to 51 percent. So 3,000 miles is still the majority view – but only by a whisker.

When you put the NOLN survey next to the NPD survey, you can sense a disconnect between belief and practice. That boils down to the convenience factor as well as timing. I can testify that saying its time to change the oil is one thing, but getting around to it is often a difficult task. I was never thrilled with going to the quick-lube store and sitting even for a few minutes while my scheduled maintenance was carried out. Taking the car to the auto dealership is even worse!

Ive recently seen a number of opinions from quick-lube operators on Linkedin, the social network for business, regarding the best intervals for oil changes. A good many offered that OEM recommendations were the ones to follow. A few felt that 3,000 miles was still the correct position, while several suggested that using synthetic oils would protect the customers investment for the long haul and proposed intervals anywhere from 7,500 to 15,000 miles. If quick-lube operators are divided, how can the public not be confused?

At this writing, there has been little action on the Horlick lawsuit. Jiffy Lube International said it is aware of the lawsuit, but gave no other feedback. We are reviewing the filing and gathering facts, but have nothing more to add until we complete an initial assessment, the Houston-based company said in a statement. Jiffy Lube is a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell Oil and the worlds largest quick-lube chain, with more than 2,000 franchised service centers in North America.

Meanwhile, the Dallas-based Automotive Oil Change Association, which represents the fast-lube industry, also is evaluating the lawsuit. AOCAs position on the lawsuit against JLI is that when all the facts are considered, the 3,000 mile recommendation for the plaintiff was probably correct based on the year, make and model of his vehicle and the OEMs information on severe service, according to AOCA President Patricia Wirth.

So I guess it comes down to this: Is a 3,000 mile/three month oil change interval recommendation false and misleading, or is it a conservative recommendation designed to prolong engine life? And is a recommendation coercive or is it just a suggestion? Could the OEMs reject warranty claims if drivers change the oil at intervals greater than in their owners manuals? Will engines last longer if oil change intervals are kept at 3,000 miles?

As you can see, there are plenty of positions and many debatable questions. It looks like a lot of opportunities for testing and analysis. I call this an oil marketers dream!

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