At the moment the 2002 Ford Taurus that I use everyday for regular daily driving has Castrol GTX. In the next day or two I will be using Pennzoil Platinum and a Pennzoil filter. If, at this moment, you are thinking better get ready for some sludge. You cannot be more wrong.
I will admit that the folks who sign my paycheck get their money from Pennzoil. I have been waving the Pennzoil Standard a lot lately. Mostly, I have been going by the buzzwords and the indoctrination and the usual learning-the-job routine to arm myself against the naysayers. I have been saying nothing but good about the brand and its product, but I have never been sufficiently educated either... until today.
Over the past few weeks, I had been getting a lot of feedback (and some groans) when I suggest to folks about reconsidering the "curse of the yellow bottle". I did the very same groaning during my initial interview. I was basing it on what I have heard from fellow motorheads. In fact, ask most old-school mechanics about the worst oil and the worst parts store and they would probably name Pennzoil and AutoZone. The current program was with both of them and I explained to my employers that it would be an arduous task getting folks to change their minds after several decades of bad publicity.
And that is exactly where all the issues stem- publicity.
I took it upon myself to educate myself a little more. I started with a broad search and avoided anything that could be connected to any oil company. I mostly stuck with third party sites. Some even specialized in just oil. I never knew such sites existed. There was always a concern about Big Oil giving their two cents so I kept a look out for any data that appeared made up and since we live in the age of Facebook and Wikipedia I had to double and triple check all the facts against multiple sources.
The two most common negative themes I found regarding Pennzoil have been about paraffin and sludge. The story, as I had been told, goes something like this:
The paraffin wax is in the crude oil. Some tales even go on to say it is added to the crude. This builds up in the engine. It collects impurities, holds on to it and it all hides in the unspeakable, unfashionable nether regions of the engine. That is sludge and it lurks there whispering evil things to the important components of your engine leading it to do evil things. Then your engine gets too depressed and it explodes in a Hellish fury taking out everything within a three mile radius.
Okay, so I embellished it a little, but some of the stories I have been hearing are almost as absurd.
Yet some of that is partly true.
First off, at the beginning- not the dinosaur beginning, but at the beginning when humans started realizing how important that black stuff can be- from that beginning most all of the nation's crude oil came from Pennsylvania. The oil from this region contained paraffin. Do not start yelling Ah-hah! at the computer screen yet. Paraffin is an oil. Paraffin wax is actually an oil. Wax is an oil. The candles in your Dale Earnhart shrine are also oil. It is just coagulated oil. It is not some foreign non-oil element.
Secondly, what I have discovered in my reading is that the regular conventional oils with the paraffin had a remarkable ability to actually reduce sludge build up! It was Big Oil Companies that began advertising campaigns that claimed the Pennsylvanian crude and its paraffin created sludge. The absurd aspect of this is that the manufacturing process for the Pennsylvanian oils had removed most of the paraffins in a process they masked by cleverly hiding it in a subversive and highly technical term called "de-waxing".
Then there's the sludge. It's the thick, gooey crap that damages your engine. It does terrible things like sell drugs to children, creates pyramid schemes and bankroll terrorist organizations. Sludge is commonly caused by poor maintenance. So those so called experts who claim their engines were destroyed by sludge did not take care of their engines and should not be considered experts.
Here's a fun fact: Oil is supposed to collect impurities! It grabs the harmful crap that enters the engine and traps- in white coat parlance, suspends- the contaminants and keeps them from important parts of the engine. The whole idea fails when those contaminants are left in the engine over a long period of time. They get cooked from the heat, the collect more and they grow to foul blobs of engine death and destruction. This is why it is vitally important to do your oil changes regularly as suggested by the manufacturer to remove the yucky stuff. Don't blame the oil for poor regular car care.
Ever hear anyone say that the oil that comes out of the drain plug should look like it did when it came out or should be free of grit? They are not correct. That grit and discoloration is the very reason why you need to change the oil. The oil grabs the gunk, holds on to it, you remove the oil. It makes perfect sense!
Let's fast forward to modern times; as we should because all the myths and legends were created well before catalytic converters, unleaded fuels, computers, the modern interstate system, Rock n' Roll and even Justin Bieber; (I apologize. Bieber and Rock n' Roll should never be used in the same sentence) past the days idea of oil companies sucking crude out of the ground and plopping it into bottles and giving it a snazzy, colorful label and a snappy jingle for the radio. Pennzoil- and indeed all other oils- have improved motor oil so much in the last century. They have been so vastly improved, the oil industry must remain competitive to remain in business. They are consistently trying to outdo each other and we only benefit from it.
Pennzoil's new stuff that I've been going on about is made from crude, but of natural gas; a process involving a room full of pixies sprinkling their magic dust over a gas stove and making oil. I don't know all the details. Don't ask me. My employers do not wish to waste time, money or resources teaching me how it works or wasting time, money and resources having me teaching it to everyone else. Trust me. Natural gas to oil. No paraffins from dinosaurs.
Of course, all oils must pass a stringent series of tests for certification. That little star on the back of the bottle says they have played by the rules, did all their homework, chores and even washed behind their ears. It is okay to use any brand of oil if it carries that seal. More men in lab coats have deemed it safe and suitable. Pennzoil has that seal. You only have to make sure the viscosity, weights and such fit your car. RTFM. (Don't ask me about diesel or rotary engines. That was not part of my search.)
A few years ago there was an independent test involving 60 New York taxi cabs. The rebuilt all the engines. They ran them with different brands of oil; some conventional, some synthetic. They ran them for ten months. They changed the oil every 7,500 miles. These were hard, brutal miles as anyone would know if they've ever ridden in a New York cab. None of them performed any better than the other. They all did well.
They found, in the same study, that all the detergents, additives, emulsifiers, chemicals, vitamins and high fructose corn syrup did well and offered no damaging effects.
I will change the oil this weekend. I will run Pennzoil Platinum. The engine will not explode, it will not leak any more than it had before, it will not gain more sludge, it will lubricate, coat, soothe and relieve. It will make the Taurus's engine run as well as if I had any other synthetic oil.
Let's not bang on about the bedtime stories grandpa told warning you of the dangers of paraffin, sludge, yellow bottles or Pennsylvania. Use any reputable brand of oil. Do regular oil changes. Follow the manufacturer's suggestions. Take care of your car. Do some reading for yourself about oil. You'll see.