New Meaning to "Oil Consumer"

Phil Ramsey

Welcome to the column “From Under the Hood”. Within this discussion (both yours and mine), I hope to have a commentary on various topics from under the hoods of our cars. The modern automobile is the second biggest expense in our lives. With an average of two per family in daily use, their expenses may exceed the cost of home ownership, home insurance, depreciation and repair. The diagnosis, maintenance and repair of automobiles are cost-effective expenditures. However, answering the questions of when and why to spend is equally as critical to the cost-minded car owner. In this column you will hear me preach prevention to no end. Prevention can minimize or eliminate two expensive factors: diagnosis and repair. And the biggest payoff of prevention is delayed replacement. So, welcome to “From Under the Hood”. It will be worth the time spent.

The first of any new editorial column should accomplish at least three things with readers: establish credentials, inspire curiosity and stimulate you enough to come back for a second look. Let me do a little of each.

As far as credentials, the fact that I studied Chemical Engineering should be mentioned. But to put things in perspective, I worked as an engineer only three years before returning to my roots 32 years ago. Yes, I know that is a long time to be out of engineering. One of my daughters followed my academic pursuits, graduating cum laude in Chemical Engineering several years later. I never really felt out-of-date as she progressed in her university studies. I could still keep up with her textbooks, until she showed me her new HP calculator and I showed her my Pickett aluminum slide rule and she laughed. So I am a little dated in engineering practices.

I returned to the auto repair business in the late 1960s. I have been here ever since, and in that time, I’ve seen it all change. Gone in the last two decades are the distributors, carburetors, points and a hundred other devices. However, the average car lasts much longer than in the past and gets better mileage. I feel the two biggest factors contributing to improved mileage are unleaded gasoline and fuel injection. When I owned an auto machine shop years ago, a great source of revenue for me was replacing carbon-coated and burned valves. I cannot remember the last time I pulled off a set of heads that were “carboned-up”.

Even oil has changed. I was in on the beginning of one of the biggest changes: multigrade (or multiweight as it is often called) oil. I know that multigrade oil has been around longer than 34 years, but I was there in its beginning. Before you begin to view me as a sort of know-it-all, let me tell you a true story.

My father owned a couple of Gulf Oil gas stations as I was growing up. My summers and other school vacations were occupied by gasoline, oil changes and tire repairs. During one famous week in our family history, my father took me to a marketing pep rally (this is before I knew the word seminar). It was at this meeting when I heard about a new miracle product, Gulfpride Multi-G. It was thin when you cranked up the car and thickened as the motor warmed. To prove how much care and cost Gulf Oil had invested in this new product, it was pointed out that this new oil was nearly transparent. Inferior competitors were dark in color and “not nearly as well-refined as Multi-G”. It was compared to the cooking oils I had seen in my mother’s kitchen. “It was so well-refined it was good enough to drink,” declared one sales rep.

The fateful Saturday arrived and I was unleashed on my father’s unsuspecting customers. My head was spinning from my first seminar. My thoughts were consumed with hidden knowledge the general public was unaware of (and would be ever grateful for me sharing this knowledge with them). I was also tempted by the reward for the most conversions of old to new.

The time for my third conversion of that day was about to begin. A young engineer for Gulf Oil - the company with many large offshore production fields near my hometown - listened to my sales pitch. He seemed amused at my enthusiasm and made me recite the whole list of reasons for him to change from single weight oil to Multi-G. “Do you really believe this stuff is so good that you would drink it?” he asked me.

Charged with ambition, I took up the challenge. I emptied a glass of tea on the pavement, then filled the glass halfway with Multi-G and drank it. I got the conversion sale. The guy yelled to my father, “do you know what your son just did?” Suddenly everyone in the busy station seemed concerned for me and I thought, “did that sales rep exaggerate anything to me?” (I now know they sometimes do). A quick call to the local doctor put a smile back on my father’s face. “It’s all going to work out OK,” he declared. He said I would need the afternoon off, to work out the error of my ways.

It took that afternoon and missing Sunday school and church the following day to realize what I’d done. I write this off as the folly of youth, for we all have similar stories in which we learned lessons the hard way.

Hopefully we can concentrate on the next 35 years of my career and I can share my experiences with you. At the same time, I welcome you to share your questions and solutions with me. I hope my many years of experience with oil and related subjects, both internal and external, can help and entertain you in the months to come.

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