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RV health and wellness: Don’t blow your engine

By Wayne Hulit
President, Cedar Mountain RVI

Many of us of a certain age may remember fathers and grandfathers reciting the lessons of the age old wisdom: change the engine oil in your car every 3,000 miles. The reason was simple logic. If the oil got too dirty, it could lead to increased engine wear or a catastrophic failure which they affectionately referred to as a “blown engine.”

Somewhere along the way, someone figured out that changing oil at 3,000 miles could extend the life of the family car until it became the family jalopy. But how much money was wasted in throwing perfectly good oil away over all those years because you didn’t know why you were doing it? It was customary, right?

What about the meticulous owner who never had a speck of dirt or scratch on the car? Never took the car over the speed limit. Religiously took it to the dealer who gladly changed the oil. How much good oil do you think was wasted because the owner didn’t know why the oil needed to be changed? Just because the oil appears dirty doesn’t mean it’s no good. Many of us are guilty of that.

Let’s look at the evidence. In some cases, evidence of increased engine wear is the cloud of white smoke billowing out of the exhaust pipe. Other evidence often is a loud “clunk” as a piston’s connecting rod smashes through the side of the engine block creating the “blown engine.”

We can be pretty sure this is an owner who doesn’t believe in gas station gossip. No wasted oil here. The result is costly. Either replace the engine, or buy a new car. Now imagine if that were a Class A Diesel Pusher. What would that damage cost? Maybe $30,000 for a new Cummins? Or how about a new Winnebago Via starting at $133,000? Or maybe the Winnebago Journey starting at $278,000.

But, let’s step back for a moment. It may not be well known that in the trucking industry, many of the trucks pulling 50 foot trailers back and forth across the country have 1,000,000 miles on the original engine. These same trucks have big 13 or 15 liter Cummins diesel engines in them. They’re not that different from what you find on a Newmar or Entegra RV, sitting on top of a Spartan chassis.

These trucks will run anywhere between 250,000 and 300,000 miles a year. Cummins recommendation for the ISX15L is an oil drain every 25,000 miles. That’s once a month and at $370 per change, or about $4,400 per vehicle. In the competitive world of trucking, every dollar counts. I think you get the idea. If not, it’s safe to say that’s not the way they do it.

Since the end of World War II, the science of oil analysis has made its way into industry. Starting with the railroad industry in 1946, then followed by the airline industry in 1956, it finally made its way into the trucking industry in 1960. In each case, these industries are looking for early signs of engine wear or possible catastrophic machine failure. Since then there is not a trucking company, or trucker, who doesn’t have the oil in their rig analysed multiple times a year. Why is that?

Because by using science and oil analysis, the health and wellness of a truck’s engine can be assessed, at minimum, to determine the optimum time to change oil. It can also pick up things like excess metals from piston ring wear, or fuel leaks from defective injectors, or too much silicone from dirt intake. No oil need be wasted. No dollars spent unnecessarily. No unnecessary wear through those million miles and no blown engines.

The cry of the trucking industry is “change your thinking, not your oil.” Because there is a point where the contaminants build up inside an engine and the oil’s ability to lubricate all the internal moving parts begins to break down. The truckers know that’s the optimum time to change the oil. And how do they know when that is? They don’t have lights on the dashboards to tell them when.

Truckers know what the oil interval recommendations are from the manufacturers. But because no two trucks experience the same operating conditions, and rarely conform to laboratory tests on which the manufacturers recommendations are based, truckers rely on oil analysis.

Regularly, they have the oil analyzed, sometimes as often as when they get the truck washed. And if the analysis reports that the oil still has life in it, despite the fact that it’s at the threshold of the 25,000 mile limit, they don’t change it. Sampling and analyzing the oil over the course of the year is how they get the most out of their oil and save money on the rig over that year.

RVIA Class C driving

Track the health and wellness of your RV

Oil analysis, known by other names such as fluid analysis, has been able to inform truckers what the optimum time is to change their oil and intervals between drains. It also can, over the life of the vehicle, track engine wear. It can track the amount of dirt drawn into the engine because of a worn out air cleaner. It can detect early signs of leaking head gaskets by the presence of antifreeze present in the oil.

Not everyone in the RV community has a trucking background. We all have the common experience of changing our automobile oil regularly because of the manufacturer’s recommendation. We are probably all guilty of spending too much money on oil changes, or waiting too long to change out the air filter. RVs, motorhomes in particular, are built on trucking technology.

Most RVs are not clocking 100,000 miles a year. But many belong to full timers who are putting in some hard miles in dusty terrain. You can be pretty sure that if you have dust accumulating on the bumpers of your RV, your air cleaner knows about it.

If your oil is black and has a mayonnaise-like consistency, you can be sure that the internals of your engine are not happy. Your crankshaft bearings, pistons, and cylinder walls do not have sufficient oil coating to keep them from wearing. You might already be seeing little white puffs of smoke when you start the engine.

As RVers – and car owners – we need to take a page out of the book from our truck driving brethren. We need to change our thinking, not our oil. We need to care more about the internal health and wellness of our RV. During a physical, the doctor draws our blood and analyzes it to get a deeper understanding of what’s going on internally with us.

A fluid analysis of your RV’s vital drivetrain systems is like a blood test for the engine, transmission, radiator, and generator. Fluid samples are taken from the RV’s five vitals and sent to a lab for analysis. A final report gives a picture on the health of the RV at that point in time.

Breakdowns on the road are more than costly. For full time RVers, they are inconvenient in the extreme. They represent not only loss of money and time, but loss of home and hearth.

By creating a wellness record of your RV’s vital drivetrain systems, owners can track the health of their RV, monitoring for early signs of wear and danger from viscosity deterioration, oxidization, and harmful contaminants.

Maintaining a record, over time, of fluid analyses can highlight trends and give early warning signs for the need to change air or oil filters; as well as determining the optimal time between oil change intervals; and help detect an impending major issue before it becomes a breakdown on the road. You can’t do this without real world data.

Getting a fluid analysis once a year, perhaps before you winterize it, will certainly give you one data point. But if your RV is up there in age, and particularly if you’re a full time RVer, you need to monitor its vitals more than once a year. So much can happen on that trip from St. Paul to Moab by way of Lazydays.

Rather than changing oil religiously once every 25,000 because the manufacturer recommends it, take advantage of the science and determine how much longer between drain intervals you can go. An $80 oil analysis is cheap insurance against a $15,000 overhaul. And saving $370 on an unnecessary oil change will easily fund that insurance. It’s a wise investment with a guaranteed payback.

In Part II, we’ll explore real world scenarios and how to use fluid analysis as a diagnostic tool to predict and prevent a major or minor failure before it happens.

Wayne Hulit is the president of Cedar Mountain RVI, a company that provides an important fluid analysis service to dealerships and RVers alike. Check our website for more information and download our whitepaper describing the importance of fluid analysis for your RV and listen to RV Daily Report’s Podcast 117 featuring Tom Johnson, president of JG Lubricant Lab, discussing the importance of fluid analysis for RVers.

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