GM's Oil Life System Can Extend Motor Oil Use

January 6, 2011

Thirty one million owners of General Motors vehicles have the company’s Oil Life System in their cars. This is bad news for Jiffy Lube and Valvoline Instant Oil Change stores. It may even endanger the 3000-mile oil change that has become an automotive mantra. This was covered at All Car Advice in the post The 3,000 Oil Change Debate.

But what about OLS and its ability to prompt owners to change their oil? The fact is that the car company’s system does not monitor motor oil quality directly. OLS records data from the operating events that occur in the car’s engine, which are things like oil temperature and the probability of contaminates entering the motor oil. The system then uses an algorithm to predict oil degradation and give the driver the reading “15% Oil Life Remaining” on the instrument panel.

General Motors literature suggests that the optimum driving conditions would be “mild highway driving in a warm climate” and states that the change interval for such a vehicle would be as high as 12,000 miles. However a cluster of short-trip driving in a cold climate would bring the suggested change interval down to the typical 3,000-mile range.

This system of changing no oil before its time takes into account the advancements in engine and motor oil technology without risking harm to the engine. If you still have doubts GM backs it up with their five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. In addition, the company estimates that if all the GM owners who have this system abandoned the 3,000-mile regime and changed their oil only when the OLS prompted them to, 100 million gallons of oil would be saved annually.

But the system is not a silver bullet and must deal with the vagaries of the busy driver. It does not sense oil level and will not know if an oil pressure switch has begun to leak. So the oil level must be checked periodically. And if the system is ignored or not reset at the time of an oil change, it is useless. If you tend to procrastinate, GM would like the oil to be changed within 600 miles of the alert.

Starting with the 1998 model year, this system was one of the first efforts to empower vehicle owners in the maintenance of their cars through the use of technology. It might even be considered a precursor of systems like Tire Pressure Monitoring and other tech-driven maintenance features.     

[General Motors]

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