The Oil (Change) Cartel

I was reminding myself that I need to change the oil in my car today when it struck me what a pain in the ass it is – that is, how many millions of hours are wasted – taking cars in for an oil change. Is this really necessary? I don’t mean, “Is oil necessary in an engine?” I mean, “Can’t we come up with a more efficient process here?”

That got me wondering why we can’t make changing your oil as easy as filling your gas tank. The only reason changing your oil is such a pain in the ass is the car companies have been stuck on the “design” where you have to unscrew a bolt on the bottom of your engine to drain the oil, and your oil filter is tucked away in some ridiculously hard-to-reach pocket of your engine compartment.

So here’s a crazy idea. How about running a steel hose from the oil pan on the bottom of your engine up to a faucet-like outlet next to your gas cap. And how about running a steel return-line from there back to the your engine, and maybe even sticking the oil filter in-between those two lines, conveniently accessible from the same place you fill your gas tank?

If cars were built this way you could change your oil at the same time you’re filling your gas tank. The gas station provides (for a modest fee) an oil hose that attaches to the oil line and sucks out your old oil, then injects fresh oil into the return line. Your oil filter still does what it always does, except now changing (that is, recycling) your oil is so easy, the oil filter doesn’t need to be changed anywhere near as often. Instead, gas stations can recycle (filter) this reclaimed oil on-site, maybe even refine out the denatured molecules (using a solar-powered auto-refiner?), then sell the purified oil back to customers (mixed with whatever amount of new oil is needed to keep the mixture working well).

Is this really that hard to make happen?

Well, perhaps. I’ll bet I’m not the first to think of it. And I bet one of the loudest voices against it will be the oil-change businesses who will surely tell us about the great service we get from their “15-point inspection,” never mind the oil change….


C’mon, car manufacturers and gasoline super-chains. Since there’s no end in sight to fossil fuel engines, even if in mere hybrid vehicles, how about teaming up and taking a big step toward saving time and probably increasing the efficiency of those engines by keeping the oil a lot cleaner?

(Yes, I know electric motors don’t need oil changes. But fuel motors aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.)

For you Libertarians, the other big obstacle to doing this is simply getting the market to cooperate and coordinate to make such a no-brainer “innovation” happen. This is where “government” really shines. Gas stations haven’t invested in this technology before now because they know auto-makers have not put the feature into the market – so there are no customers for this service yet, even though there are billions of dollars of unconscious demand for it. But auto-makers haven’t invested in putting this “technology” into all their cars because they know that unless the “technology” is ubiquitous, consumers will not see paying the extra $50 in parts (plus mark-up, plus royalties on 20 different bull shit patented nozzle “designs”*) as an interesting selling point.

This is a Nash-Equilibrium – a failure to “innovate” that is induced by a market full of latent, thoughtless momentum – acting as a barrier to everything other than the status quo. Can anybody say government mandate?

Hey, I hate stupid government mandates just as much as your average Libertarian. However, it is possible for government mandates to be smart, too, when they are implemented by getting the private sector to agree to common standards, like,”Let’s all drive on the right side of the road,” and, “If you want to drive a motorized vehicle on public roads, put brake lights on your vehicle and make them red,” or just, “Hey, let’s get together and build public roads!” You know, complex, hard-to-rationalize standards like those.

* FYI, “designs” is in quotes because these are not innovative designs that should be allowed to be patented – just like the Apple iPhone’s “unique” rounded-corners… “Oh, my! However did they think of such a thing! Oh look – I can tell that person has an iPhone just by the way it looks [inside its protective case!]. Such exclusivity! I want others to see me with an iPhone, too!

Jesus Christ, Steve Jobs.

Spare us the obligation to grant stupid monopoly rents on such “designs” and “innovations” that simply force us to wade thru a wall of phone cases to try to find one that will fit our phone – and force retailers to stock cases for every one of the 500 patented phone shapes out there – such that the end result is that unless you buy an iPhone or perhaps the next best-selling phone, you will almost never see a case for sale for your phone. Ah, aren’t patent protections for design just the greatest thing since sliced bread? If only there’d been a patent on the innovation of slicing bread! Then we could pay a royalty to the innovator of that miracle of genius design, too!

<end rant>


About stormculture

In pursuit of reality.
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One Response to The Oil (Change) Cartel

  1. Pingback: Self-Aligning Vehicles | Stormculture’s Weblog

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