In the city, most things are in close proximity, whether it’s the
grocery store, cleaners, restaurants or even a gas station or oil change
facility. Get out into the country, though, and no matter what you want
you are going to have to drive a bit to get there.
Similarly, practices are a bit different in the wide open spaces and
especially when it comes to the decision about what to do with the used
engine oil in your shop.
Let’s start with some facts. The EPA estimates that improper dumping of
the used oil from a single oil change can disrupt operations at water
treatment facilities and contaminate a million gallons of fresh water.
That’s enough water for 50 people for a year. That’s in the city.
In the country, oil dumped on the ground can permeate the soil and
contaminate ground water resources. I’ve heard some people say that it’s
great for fence lines. Some think that putting it into a sealed
container and putting it in the trash is OK. However, landfills can
leach into ground water as well. Lets put out a few ground rules to the
used oil handling process:
Store your used motor oil in a clean plastic container with a lid.
Most oil can be purchased today in 4-6 quart containers that you can
pour your drain oil into.
Avoid any containers that once contained bleach, cleaners or other
chemicals, and never even think of mixing motor oil with any of these
Do not mix used motor oil with brake or transmission fluid and/or coolant.
Your oil filter has oil in it, too. Punch a hole in it and let it drain for 12-24 hours before disposing.
Find an oil recycling center near you. That can be your local parts store, quick lube etc. You can go to www.earth911.com to find one nearest to you
Over 240 million gallons of used oil are improperly disposed of nationally each year, equivalent to 24 Exxon Valdez spills.
The big question of course, is “Okay, I’m recycling my oil what
happens to it?” It’s impossible these days to talk about used oil
without addressing the rerefined and recycled topic. There are a number
of economic, environmental and technical reasons why rerefined oil is
slowly gaining a share of the lubricating oil market in the United
States. Rerefined lubricating products are often competitively priced,
meet demands of environmentally concerned consumers and achieve the same
quality standards as new oil manufactured from crude. Federal, state
and local governments, the U.S. Postal Service and many private
companies are using rerefined lubricants in a range of vehicles from
passenger cars to heavy equipment vehicles.
Lubricating oils made from rerefined base stocks must undergo the same
testing and meet the same standards as those from new base stock in
order to receive the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) certification
mark of approval. Vehicle and engine manufacturers such as Ford,
Chrysler, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, and Detroit Diesel have issued
warranty statements that allow the use of rerefined oil as long as it
meets API standards.
According to the National Recycling Coalition’s “Buy Recycled Business Alliance,” (www.nrc-recycle.org)
if all Americans collected used oil for rerefining, it would keep 35
million cars running smoothly for a year, reduce dependence on foreign
oil, provide jobs for Americans and reduce our trade deficit by $150
The Mohawk rerefining process is the only process to date that produces
lubricants which meet American Petroleum Institute standards. This
process is used by three rerefining companies in the U.S. and Canada.
The Mohawk process employs five steps including pre-treatment,
distillation of water and light hydrocarbons, distillation of diesel
fuel, distillation of asphalt flux and hydrofinishing.
Perhaps obviously, the process is more complicated than we have room for
here but I recommend that you Google/Bing the process. There are some
great animated links on the Web worth seeing. Safety-Kleen is the
largest producer of rerefined oil in the US, to the tune of some 3,400
gallons per day.
Rerefined oil has to meet the same standards as virgin oil if the
manufacturer is licensed by the American Petroleum Institute and
displays the API donut symbol or the ILSAC starburst symbol. Rerefined
oil products are subject to the same stringent refining, compounding,
and performance standards that apply to virgin oil products. All API
licensed oils, whether from rerefined or crude base stocks, must pass
the same cold start and pumpability tests, rust and corrosion tests,
engine wear tests, high temperature thickening tests, deposit tests and
Lubricating oils contain base stock and up to 20 percent additives to
inhibit oxidation and degradation, improve viscosity, prevent foaming
and provide fire retardation. Blenders use the rerefined base stock just
as they do virgin base stock, with the same additive packages, when
they prepare lubricating oils to meet specifications. Some common
lubricating oils in the consumer market contain rerefined oil whether or
not the label identifies it. Sixty-five percent of a gallon of used oil
becomes a rerefined base stock. The remainder is used as an asphalt
extender or as supplementary fuel.
What then are the down sides/concerns to rerefined oils? Variation in
used oil feedstock quality and levels of contamination can lead to
“batch to batch” inconsistency among re-refined base oils. Some
re-refined oils are not as “pure” as virgin base oils, and their use
could impact product quality. This in turn could impact fuel efficiency,
as one of the best ways to ensure energy efficiency in automotive and
industrial fuel use is to use high quality lubricants that improve fuel
Remember, the base oil stocks need to meet the recommendations of API
and ILSAC. It is the additive packages in each particular blend of oil
that has the most impact on how an oil interacts with an engine.
Whether the environmental impact of re-refining is less than that of
burning processed used oil as fuel or producing virgin base oil is the
subject of considerable research and debate. At this point, no widely
agreed-upon long term methodology for measuring this impact has been
If you’re interested in reading more about rerefining used oil, you can
download the “Used Oil Re-Refining Study to Address Energy Policy Act of
2005 Section 1838” from Engine Builder’s Web site
(www.enginebuildermag.com). A ponderous title, to be sure, but it offers
some interesting analysis of the impact used motor oil has on our
environment and economics.
It is apparent that rerefined oils as a whole are meeting standards at a
much higher level than that of recycled coolants that I talked about in my article, “Recycled Coolant It Can Be A Big Deal.” So let’s see if we can’t get improperly disposed of
waste oil down to the equivalent of only one tanker spill in the very
near future. Who knows what impact that could have on our water, our
lives and future generations.
For more information about motor oil, another interesting website you might want to check out is www.motoroilmatters.org.
I leave you with this last bit of information: Ford, GM, Chrysler,
Mercedes-Benz and Detroit Diesel are just a few of the OE manufacturers
that support the use of rerefined oils and say their use will have no
impact at all on warranty, provided that they meet the recommended API,
SAE or their own standard of qualifications.
Roy Berndt has decades of machine shop experience.
He is the EDS Data Acquisition Contractor for the Production Engine
Remanufacturers Association (PERA), and Program Manager for PROFormance
Powertrain Products, a PER in Springfield, MO. You can reach Roy at [email protected].