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Reader: Thanks for the good article on extended oil drain intervals ("Willie's Workbench," June '07). I am a mechanical engineer by day and wanna-be gearhead by night, so this area is fascinating to me. I have a '96 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 with a 12-valve Cummins turbodiesel, and the truck currently has 279,500 miles on it. After a break-in period of 15,000 miles or so, I switched to Mobil Delvac 1 synthetic 5W-40 for diesel engines, and began sending a sample of the oil to U.S. Oil in Combined Locks, Wisconsin. I did this on the advice of a mentor/buddy who runs and maintains a fleet of tour buses in the Chicago area. They use oil sample analysis for predictive maintenance. I made a point of sending an oil sample, taken from a drain valve in the pan with the engine hot, every 5,000 miles, and at the same time installing a new Fleetguard filter filled with a quart of new oil.
For $12, U.S. Oil sends me a report from their analysis, which I believe uses mass spectroscopy to measure the levels of various metals, contaminants, and components of the oil itself. The main categories that concerned me and my Cummins engine were the iron, chrome, copper, and aluminum wear metals, in addition to the silicone, fuel, and water levels. The wear metals indicate which engine components are wearing or damaged (iron = cylinder liners, chrome = rings, copper = bearings, aluminum = pistons). U.S. Oil has compiled a database of results from many engines, and they give warnings or other comments based on the levels of those items in the sample analysis. For example, if the silicone levels are high, I would probably check or change my air filter; if the fuel or coolant levels are high, I would check for a blown head gasket; and so forth. I never saw the iron content go over 50 ppm, at which point U.S. Oil indicated it might be time to change the oil. I routinely drove for a calendar year on a single oil change, or between 25,000 and 35,000 miles per year.
Given that my engine has never been apart, except for fuel pump upgrades (currently dyno'd at 350 rear-wheel hp and 890 lb-ft), the program to which I adhered certainly kept my engine in good working condition. I have tried various oils, including Mobil, Lucas, and now Amsoil, all of which yielded similar results and fuel economy. I can't say that I saved any money versus using mineral oil and changing it every 3,000 or 5,000 miles, but on the other hand, I have never had any failed parts.
New Albany, IN
Reader: I am the mechanic for Skamania County's (Washington) fleet of vehicles, which includes our Sheriff's Department pursuit vehicles, as well as the Road Department's snow plow pickups. I am in charge of the maintenance and repairs of about 120 vehicles, all with gas engines. The debate about when to change the oil is always controversial, so my answer is to go with 3,000 miles as most manufacturers recommend. This does two things. First, it covers me, but for liability issues, if anything should go wrong it would be documented that I serviced them at the correct intervals. Secondly, it's my feeling that with a fleet of vehicles such as ours-especially police pursuit vehicles-changing the oil is only one part of inspecting the vehicle at regular intervals to make sure everything is in top condition, e.g., the tire tread, brakes, lights, and so on. So to me, it is more a matter of seeing them on a frequent basis to make sure nothing else is failing.
As a note, in my 12 years working here, we have only lost one engine in a fleet of 120 vehicles-pretty impressive considering how many miles get put on them in so many years with so many different drivers and conditions.
Editor: Willie's essay on oil-change intervals sparked more reader responses than any other story that's appeared in Four Wheeler in the past five years. Sometimes, it's the small things that make the biggest impact on folks. We forwarded all of your messages to Willie, and while he likely can't reply to every one, we're sure he'll be checking in again one day with more on this always-timely subject.
And we're definitely believers in oil analysis. Our own Jimmy Nylund had the oil in his brand-new Silverado pickup (with only 1,300 miles on it) analyzed for the September '06 issue, and found that it was nearly as contaminated-more so, in some instances-as the used oil that he runs in his high-mileage Jeep-based tractor. Thanks to all for writing in.
Reader: Your review of the new 54-inch TSL Bogger (June '07) contained a mistake in the specs. You stated that the tire turns 104 times per mile. That is off by a factor of four, for some reason.
The circumference of a circle = f d, and given a static loaded radius of 24.25 inches (according to the mag), this yields a 152-inch circumference. Divided by 12, this yields 12.7 feet. Now, 5,280 12.7 = 415.75 rotations per mile, not an amazing-sounding 104. For the tire to only turn 104 times it would have to be a 194-inch-tall tire-and I seriously doubt it's that big at 55 mph.
Editor: Well, you're off a wee bit too (the actual overall diameter of the TSL is a smidge over 51 inches, not the 48.5 you used to arrive at a 152-inch diameter), but heck, you're obviously a lot closer than we were. The guilty party has been remanded to his junior-high geometry class for a refresher course . . . and thanks for keeping us on our toes.
Reader: Being a subscriber to your magazine, I saw the start of your Project RangeRunner. I thought, "Wow, long travel and four-wheel drive." Well, I sold my 4x2 Tahoe and bought an '04 4x4 Ranger. All I knew is that the Dixon suspension kit had to be purchased from them in California, and I live in Las Vegas.
Another part of this was the fiberglass fenders. I visited Glassworks' site and saw that there was a Las Vegas dealer that sells the fenders, Woolworth Motorsports, so I gave them a call. I asked them if they had heard of the Dixon Racing long-travel kit for Rangers, and they replied with, "Yeah, we have three Rangers here at the shop with the kit on them." I got a price, and then went down to their shop to check out the kit installed on their shop truck. It was the coolest thing I ever saw! We worked out a price and the parts got ordered. I found out that you can't just go pick this up-you have to wait. The kit finally came in, and my life was changed forever
I have the front end done, with Fox Shox remote-reservoir coilovers, and I had them weld in the bumpstop cans so I can easily add those in the future. I went with Mickey Thompson Classic Locks and 33-inch BFG Mud-Terrains.
After getting a taste of it now, I am saving for the rear to get done. I started a new Web site to help promote the sport, and have been going to all the races from SNORE, BITD, and so on, and I am waiting for the Las Vegas CORR race this year. I wanted to tell you how your project changed my life and thank you. It has been a lot of fun so far.
Adem Martin del Campo
Reader: About Sean Holman's "Be Prepared" (June '07): I wheel a lot in Arizona with my '06 Rubicon and I carry three additional mandatory items:
1. A portable handheld spotlight that has a long power cord. Ever tried to air up or repair something when it is darker than a well-digger's butt?
2. A cheap small tarp to lay on when you have to work on a vehicle.
3. Emergency flares. I once ran into a badly injured person in the Bradshaw Mountains and had to call in air rescue to take him out. Saw the chopper a ways off and popped a flare.
Reader: Your list of "must haves" was quite good, but I have three critical additions that I've used many times:
1. Hose to transfer fluids (I carry 10 feet of 1/2-inch tubing).
2. Tow straps (snatch 'ems).
3. Toilet paper!
Editor: Well, for the article we assumed that tow straps, flashlights, flares, and the like were obvious no-brainers, so we didn't bother including them on our list of "overlooked" items ... but we still can't believe we forgot that last one.
Reader: OK guys, I get it. I know the FJ Cruiser is out now and that it's a capable 'wheeler, and that the super-awesome best automaker from Japan makes it, and I don't need to be reminded of it every other page. Those stiff-paged Cruiser ads are driving me nuts! I know you gotta sell ad space, but come on-it's like I'm being slapped in the face every time I turn the page. Otherwise, great mag-keep up the good work.
Editor: You're not the only reader who's written in about those FJ Cruiser ads. But hey, we are in the business to make a buck, and we're not exactly inclined to turn down a company like Toyota, especially when they're willing to cover the extra costs of printing and binding that an ad like this requires. We weren't too crazy about those ads, either, in terms of aesthetics, but hey, the folks at Toyota help pay our salaries too. (And hey, at least they're not advertising male enhancement pills.) Thanks for your patience either way, and for writing in.
Reader: I am not a hard-core 4x4 fanatic. The only wheeling I do is work-related, but I do like to keep up on the latest parts and product reviews. The question I had is, have you seen anything more retarded than 20-plus-inch wheels with low-profile rubber on a lifted 4x4? Why is this even a fad? Why does the aftermarket even contemplate such a thing? Doesn't anyone know that wheel damage or worse can be the only outcome if the truck is used for anything even remotely close to the image that the lifted truck is trying to project? I am also tired of automakers offering the best trim package that is only available with 18- or 20-inch wheels. The aftermarket tire selection is limited, and any mud buildup results in extreme wheel shake and a visit to the car wash in the $25 range. I have scratched or bent more than one set of factory 18s just trying to get to work (off-pavement, northern Canada).
Rocky Mountain House AB
Editor: Why are lifted trucks running low-profiles and 20s (or bigger) a fad? Good question. Why were Pet Rocks a fad? (Remember those?) Probably because, in their owners' minds, they look different from everyone else's rig, and that desire to be "unique" is one that's driven a lot of 4x4 buildups over the years. Eventually, so many guys will end up building the same "unique" vehicle that the novelty will wear off and the fad will subside. As far as we're concerned, they're good for a hoot-and occasionally, you find one that's pretty well built in terms of suspension, axles, drivetrain, and the like-but otherwise, with rare exceptions, we'll leave 'em to the boulevard crowd.
Reader: Oh ye gurus of the awesome four-wheelin' world, why is it that the Detroit Electrac locker/limited-slip unit is never mentioned in any ads or articles, in either Four Wheeler or the other comparable magazines? The Eaton E-locker is there. So are the Auburns-and of course, the other Detroits, ARB, Ox, and others-but nary a word about the Electrac. Is it that bad? I hope not, because the Auburn wasn't available for the Dana 44s on my '72 Scout II, and the sales rep pointed me to the Electrac. How about a couple words of wisdom on them? Please?
Editor: The Electrac has been replaced in the Eaton lineup by the Detroit ELocker, which operates as an open diff when "unlocked" and as a full-on locking diff when engaged. We've heard stories that the older Electrac, which functioned as a limited-slip/locker, had some premature wear and reliability issues, particularly with tires larger than 35s. You can still find some Electracs via mail order or retail, but we think you'd be better off going with the newer, stronger model. Andif your Scout's D44 is a 30-spline unit running 3.92:1 gears, there's a locker for your application available.