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Sump, Dude?: Your Next Car Might Change Its Own Oil - Technologue

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2/16/2017 Motor Trend Staff
Aston-Martin-Vulcan-front-end.jpg Sump, Dude?: Your Next Car Might Change Its Own Oil - Technologue

As a kid, the first car repair I learned was how to change the oil and filter on the family's trusty '69 Chevy wagon and '70 Beetle. My sisters were also taught this skill, and at least one of them still regularly changes her car's oil. The Castrol division of petro giant BP wants to eliminate this learning curve, along with the associated tools, drop cloths, catch basins, rags, and Lava soap. Instead, it'll replace it all with a product called Nexcel.

Research

In short, Nexcel integrates an oil filter into a reservoir containing all the oil the vehicle should need for the duration of its oil-change interval. An oil change starts by initiating the procedure on the dash or via OBD port. Then all the engine oil gets pumped into the reservoir, you replace the sealed container of dirty oil and filter with a fresh one, and the oil gets pumped back into the engine. It all takes about 90 seconds, and the filter/reservoir units can be reused about five times and then recycled. Pretty convenient—but who really cares how long an oil change takes?

That wasn't Castrol's primary motivation. Rather, Nexcel aims to improve the lubrication of today's increasingly high-strung engines and to clean up the environment. These downsized and highly boosted engines really stress their lubricants, and up until now that lubricant is the one thing engineers haven't really had control over. After a vehicle leaves the showroom, folks like sis and me are free to economize or make mistakes regarding what brand and grade of oil and filter we select. The sealed Nexcel unit comes prefilled with the manufacturer's specified oil and filter, and a chip on the reservoir verifies this with an electronic handshake with the engine control computer before the engine will restart. When engineers can be assured their engine will get proper lubrication, tolerances can be made tighter and vital components will require less over-engineering. Nexcel also frees up filter-access packaging space below the engine, which can be valuable for close-coupled emissions plumbing. The system has also been verified to work under 1.8 g cornering/braking loads and to withstand 50 g crash forces without leaking.

Aston Martin Vulcan dry sump oil system© Motor Trend Staff Aston Martin Vulcan dry sump oil system

Environmental benefits extend beyond the reduction in driveway spills. Carbon dioxide consumption drops on short trips because the amount of oil the engine must heat up is reduced. Every extra quart of oil in an engine equals about 4 pounds of aluminum or twice as much cast iron that has to be warmed, and fitting a Nexcel allows most engines to circulate 2 fewer quarts of oil (level and quality monitors tell the unit when to meter spare oil from the reservoir into the sump so there's always enough), Nexcel chief engineer Oliver Taylor says, "Nexcel aims to improve the lubrication of engines and to clean up the environment."

Another environmental benefit is the ability to filter, clean, and re-refine used oil back to the same grade of lubricant because it always arrives utterly uncontaminated by oils of differing grades or feed stocks (synthetic or petro). Because oil collected at Jiffy Lube and Pep Boys invariably includes a mishmash of oils (perhaps mixed with some steering or brake fluid), 90 percent of it gets reused as heating oil, in asphalt, or in other lower-grade petroleum products. Castrol claims that if every car's spent oil could be reused as engine oil, more than 50 million barrels of virgin oil would be saved annually. Because most folks who change their oil perform their math by the quart, not the barrel, that represents 8.4 billion quarts of dead dinosaurs we won't need to suck out of the earth every year.

Parts cost is obviously higher than the dipstick, drain plug, filter mount, and filler cap that Nexcel replaces, but service-cost savings could partially offset this if the cost of a swappable cell can undercut that of an oil change. Nexcel is already in use on the track-only Aston Martin Vulcan dry-sump supercar, but Castrol is working with numerous manufacturers to develop systems that can be shared across multiple vehicles with wet- or dry-sump lubrication. When will regular cars adopt Nexcel? Taylor says the first mainstream road cars will get the technology around the 2020 model year, with mass-market implementation around 2025.

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