Our planet’s odometer is saying it is time for an oil change

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr Creative Commons (bit.ly/22yOVIV)

By Anna Kulow

As car owners, we secretly dread the moment when the odometer reading matches the number on the sticker in the upper corner of our windshield. Every 5,000 miles or so, we must take an hour out of our busy lives to get an oil change. Most of us trust the mechanic performing the task to choose the best oil for our vehicle. But is that always the best choice for our planet?

According to the California Department of Health Services, over 40 percent of pollution in American waterways is from used motor oil. Rivers and streams transport nearly 500 million gallons of used motor oil into our oceans, making it the greatest source of petroleum pollution in the marine environment.

However, motor oil is essential to making a car run smoothly because it prevents the moving metal parts of the engine from actually coming in contact with each other. Instead, they glide along a thin coating of oil, preventing wear and tear. Oil also circulates through the engine, cooling certain parts, such as your transmission. Finally, oil acts to trap particulates and other impurities to keep your engine clean.

The most important characteristic of motor oil is its viscosity, which is its resistance to flow. Oil has a higher viscosity than, say, water or alcohol. Moving an object through oil is a lot more difficult than moving the same object through water. Therefore, the vast majority of motor oils are made from a heavy, thick petroleum-based stock derived from crude oil with additives to improve certain properties. When motor oil leaks from vehicles or is improperly disposed of, it is not only the petroleum oil being washed into our waterways, but also host of chemical additives.

One of the critical additives in motor oil are called viscosity index improvers (VIIs). When an —> Read More