(Images: Engineering Explained/YouTube)

Old automotive lore tells us that a car’s oil should be changed every three months or 3,000 miles. That hasn’t been explicitly true for a long time, but I still find myself wary of claims that an engine’s lifeblood can last 20,000. But it turns out, there really is science behind that sticker on the bottle.

Our friend Jason Fenske at Engineering Explained has taken to his whiteboard after visiting one of Mobil 1’s laboratories to see how engine lubricant is made and tested to survive the impressive claims you might have seen in commercials.

The short story is- Mobil 1’s marketing department starts the process by coming up with a target (like, in this case, 20,000 miles) and takes that to the company’s engineers. Then scientists start experimenting with chemical formulas, putting them through small tests until they come up with something that might seem viable.

The next phase is more involved testing using actual engines in controlled environments. If that all goes well, the process is moved along to field testing where the oil is actually used in cars being run on roads.

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After the company’s engineers and marketeers are satisfied that the product will make money without coming up short on its performance claims, it’s bottled up and shipped to your local auto parts store.

The process is a little more nuanced of course, and for all the interesting details you can tune in to Fenske’s video which explains each step a lot more completely.

I’m still not sure if I’m ready to give up the factory recommended oil change interval on my old cars, but lubrication tech has clearly come a long way since my vehicles were new.