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CLICK & CLACK : More Miles to the Oil Change

Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page G02

QDear Tom and Ray:

Here is an odd thing: My brother, who lives in Germany, was shocked when I told him that here in the United States we change oil in a car about every 3,000 miles or three months. In Germany, he says, no one changes oil more than once a year, if even that. I double-checked with my dad, and it seems true. If it is, why are Americans changing oil so much more? -- Anne

A RAY: There actually are reasons why motor oil is changed less often in Germany. First of all, they drive fewer miles per year then we do. We in the United States average about 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year. Germans average about 10,000 miles a year.

TOM: Synthetic oil is also more popular there. And synthetic motor oil needs to be changed only every 10,000 miles, which works out to about once a year for the average German driver.

RAY: Finally, changing the oil is more expensive in Germany, which discourages people from doing it more often than necessary. Here in the States, an oil change for a four- or six-cylinder engine runs about $25 or $35. In Germany, the same service with synthetic oil is easily twice that much. A single quart of synthetic oil itself costs about 10 bucks.

TOM: The Europeans are trying to stretch the interval even further. Manufacturers are reportedly trying to achieve a 30,000-mile oil-change interval with synthetic oil. So that may mean changing the oil once every three years over there!

RAY: Over here, we use mostly traditional, petroleum-based motor oil. And most manufacturers now recommend changing the oil every 7,500 miles. We recommend doing it every 5,000 miles, because we tend to be more cautious about protecting the engine. Very few people recommend changing the oil every 3,000 miles. It's just not necessary, and the environmental cost is too high.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was shocked and disgusted by Tom's suggestion that to avoid being trapped underwater in a car, people buy a new "Scubaru." I do not blame Ray for formally disowning him. Humor aside, there is a much better and cheaper way to survive. As a retired firefighter/paramedic and underwater rescue diver, I would like to suggest purchasing a spring-loaded center punch, a k a power punch. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself trapped in a vehicle underwater, you need only to hold the point of the punch against the window, and push to load the spring. Presto -- no more window. This method works equally well on the side and rear windows of a car, but not as well on the windshield because it's a different kind of safety glass. The punch can be taped to the inside of a console, or anywhere it will be easy to find in an emergency. -- Bob

RAY: Thanks for a good suggestion, Bob. We had mentioned that there are emergency hammers designed for this purpose, and flashlights that have glass-breaking points on the bottom. But a power punch is another great suggestion.

TOM: We don't want to scare people, but if you do live in an area prone to flash floods, it's not a bad idea to keep this sort of tool in the glove box, or even somewhere handier, like in a sun-visor pocket.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.

©2005 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman

© 2005 The Washington Post Company