The collusion between auto and oil goes beyond fuel; it permeates every corner of the machine, from the rubber wiper blades to the nylon safety belts. Much of the car is recyclable, a fact readily cited by manufacturers in environmental forums. How much is actually recycled depends widely on the waste stream. A fraction of the new car is built from post-consumer recycled product (though it is getting better). In short, today’s car is unsustainable.
Lubrication is but one aspect of the car’s oil dependence, but it’s one that we can’t easily forget, exactly because we’re reminded to “change the oil” every several thousand miles. The motoring public—with its poor retention of technical details—has been brow-beaten into an oil-change routine every three thousand miles. For new cars, this is excessive, but less frequent changes still entail oil consumption, something the hybrid owner may rue to accept.
The fabulous news is that oil changes need not require new oil. Well, it depends on how you define “new” exactly. As it turns out, when oil becomes “used” it is not actually the oil that degrades, but the additives and modifiers imbedded within. “Refining” oil is what distills it out of crude, but the process includes the additive package as well.
If you’ve ever encountered crude oil, you know how absolutely nasty it is. In fact it bears little resemblance to the motor oil we pour in the engine (except that it’s oily). Crude is exactly that—crude. It stinks something awful, it’s dirty, and it needs a lot of work to turn into all the things we use it for.
Enter re-refined oil. Presumably not long after it became illegal to pour used oil into a hole in the ground, the “waste” oil that drained out of engines was recaptured and hauled away by an oil “recycler”. From conversations with former collegues and shop owners, it appears the process was more “reuse” than recycle, where a stationary engine (or less sensitive machine) would inherit the lubricant and churn away none-the-wiser. Eventually these recyclers learned that the waste oil still had chemical value and could be re-refined (reincarnated, if you will) back to new oil. If you think about it, waste oil, however used, is cleaner than crude oil and retains the same molecular strength.
There is a longstanding prejudice about re-refined oil in the auto industry because of the original practice of simply reusing waste oil in other engines. “Recycling” meant running it through a sock and nothing more. But rerefined oil is different; I’m told that there is no test, no inspection under a microscope, no way to differentiate fresh, new oil that has come from a crude source versus rerefined oil from waste. For me, once this prejudice was dismissed, I was determined to get rerefined oil, locally and in bulk, for Luscious Garage, and in the grades used in most hybrid engines. This came true today with the help of Coast Oil and Golden Gate Petroleum. We now offer 100% rerefined oil that meets the ILSAC GF-4 standard (the highest standard for all manufacturers) in both 5W30 and 5W20 grades, in bulk, for our oil changes. We do not offer virgin alternatives except when the engine calls for a different grade (the Insight requires 0W20, for instance). Though it makes perfect sense, I should also clarify that this oil is no more expensive than the virgin-sourced variety.
Therefore, even though the engine continues to burn fossil fuel, its oil-based lubricants can be sustainable.
For more information, check out the clearinghouse on re-refined oil facts from California’s Integrated Waste Management Board: