Bills of up to £7,000 are being passed onto customers because of poor communication by car makers on oil checks and drivers not reading their handbooks.
Lex Vehicle Leasing has experienced an unprecedented increase in the number of car engines that have blown up due to running out of engine oil during 2002.
This year alone it has seen nearly 60 engines blow up, which at up to £7,000 a time to replace is causing concern not just for the Lex One Call Technical Services department, but for Lex customers who are having to foot the bill.
It’s not just older cars that are causing problems, but some as new as four months old, and Lex is warning fleet managers that unless they start educating their drivers about checking their oil more regularly they could face regular bills each year to fit cars with new engines.
The cause of these problems is two-fold according to Lex research:
As carmakers drive towards providing drivers with extra power and performance, combined with increased scheduled servicing there is a need to use high grade oils. As a result of the use of these high grade oils together with relaxed tolerances to reduce friction, engines are physically using more oil as the engine takes longer to “run in”.
NB. With typical oil consumption tolerances at 1,000 miles per litre of oil some cars can burn twice the engine oil capacity between services.
Lack of education by manufacturers that despite longer service intervals oil checks should be undertaken more frequently.
‘Some manufacturer handbooks now recommend checking engine oil every time a driver fills up with fuel (typically every 300 miles). But most drivers leave the book in the glovebox until they need it,’ explained Jamie Wiseman, Manager of Technical Services, an integral part of Lex One Call, the company’s one stop servicing and maintenance programme.
‘When an engine fails due to its low oil level, providing there are no defects other than caused by normal oil usage then a manufacturer will not help fund the replacement and we have to pass the hefty bill onto our customer, who is far from happy. Talking to other contract hire companies they are also experiencing these types of problems,’ he added.
Wiseman cites his own new BMW 318 company car as a good example as it used three litres of oil in just 3,000 miles. Fortunately the car’s low oil level indicator informed him that he needed to top up his oil.
He recently signed a cheque for £7,000 to replace an engine on a car that was just four months old and had only a few thousand miles on the clock.
To help fleets address this growing problem, Lex is calling for more car makers to fit engine oil level indicators to their cars as a dashboard light indicates when the oil level is low and so the driver knows they have to top the engine up. Many cars have oil pressure lights, which come on when the pressure is low, but as Wiseman explains it is normally too late and the engine is already damaged beyond repair.
‘If the oil pressure light comes on then it normally means the engine has already been seriously damaged,’ said Wiseman.
‘When an oil level indicator comes on in a car there is still a chance to top up the oil and rescue the situation. A component must only cost a few pence for car makers to fit to a car, but could end up saving an average fleet customer money and prevent the bad feeling caused when we pass on a bill to them for a few thousand pounds.
‘Engine failure rates in larger more expensive cars that normally have oil level indicators fitted as standard are few and far between as our maintenance stats have shown. But not every car on the company choice list is a Jaguar or Lexus, so car makers need to start seriously thinking about fitting these items to bread and butter cars,’ he added.
When an engine runs out of oil the metal components of the engine such as the pistons come into contact with other metal components causing friction, causing the engine to overheat. Metal fragments are then sent through the engine due to the increased metal on metal contact, and in a relatively short space of time the engine will expire and need replacing.
Engine replacement costs vary according to Wiseman but reconditioned units are an option in some cases. ‘On models that have been around for some time there is an option of buying a reconditioned engine which can cost upwards of £2,500. However, for new models that have only been around for a few months, reconditioned engines aren’t available and there is no option but to buy a new unit from the manufacturer.’
‘Prices start at around £4,000 but for some of the bigger cars that can easily rise up to the £10,000 level, which is a big bill for the customer to have to pay, sometimes only mid-way through a car’s contract,’ said Wiseman.