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Oil and air filter know-how

October 11, 2010
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While taking trips in the family roadster, many people passed the hours and hours of driving cross-country by playing games. I’m not referring to the handheld games of today such as Gameboy or Leapster. I’m referring to the games like I Spy or 20 Questions. Such games filled the void of getting from point A to point B with entertainment that actually taught kids how to problem solve. The game 20 Questions would inevitably begin with the following question: Is it bigger than a breadbox?

The same philosophy (or game of 20 Questions) can be related to the oil and air filter industry. However, instead of a breadbox, filter manufacturers are asking the question: Is it bigger than a micron?

A “micron” is another word for a micrometer, or one millionth of a meter. A micrometer is a unit of linear measure in the metric system used to measure distance from one point to another.

Unlike some of the better-known units of measurement like the inch, foot, centimeter or millimeter, the micron is another way to measure the width or diameter of objects on a much smaller scale.

How big is a micron?
So how big is a micron, or one millionth of a meter? The linear equivalent of one micron is .000039 inches. If that doesn’t completely answer your question, we can look at some examples. What are some comparative sizes?
  • Diameter of average human hair = 70 microns;
  • White blood cells = 25 microns;
  • Talcum powder = 10 microns; and
  • Red blood cells = 8 microns.
How do microns relate to oil filters?
So, what do microns have to do with oil filters? The media inside of an oil filter can be manufactured to capture large or small particles.

An oil filter that is rated as a “10 micron” filter has the capability to capture particles as small as 10 microns (or the equivalent of talcum powder) or larger.

Perhaps tidbits of knowledge about micron ratings and the actual size of particles being trapped might be good to relay to your customers. After all, a knowledgeable technician is more likely to be trusted by customers and more likely to get a favorable response to preventative maintenance suggestions.

A word of caution
Although a filter may be marked with a “10 micron” rating, a technician and his customers won’t know exactly what this means unless the technician also has a description of the test methods and standards used to determine the filter rating. This is where it gets tricky. The different test methods may not be comparable as their methodology varies greatly, along with the eventual results.

Two well-known media ratings are a nominal micron rating (50%) and an absolute micron rating (98.7%). A nominal rating usually means the filter’s media can capture a given percentage of particles of a stated size, according to the Filter Manufacturers Council.

An absolute micron rating can be determined by single-pass or multi-pass testing and is usually obtained by passing a test fluid containing particles of a known size through a small, flat sheet of filter media or a filter element.

An absolute rating is also expressed in the form of a percentage of the size of particles captured. If you really want to “wow” your customers, this information will certainly solidify your shop as an expert on oil filters. I’m sure your customers would agree.

It’s important to find a manufacturer of oil filters that adheres to the toughest standards in the filter industry. Filters made by manufacturers that institute the multi-pass testing procedure, or other stringent testing methods, should be used by lube shops like yours.

Clearing the air
Are the same testing procedures used to determine the micron rating of an “air” filter? The quick answer to that question is no. However, even though air filters are not assigned a micron rating (since that term is only used in liquid filtration), the life of an air filter can be measured in total grams fed or in hours of lab life and is determined by testing at a standard test dust concentration for the various types of air filters.

The end of the life testing is determined using the restriction method. When the predetermined restriction service point is reached, the test is stopped and the filter is weighed. The amount of test dust held by the filter is considered the capacity or life of the filter, according to the Filter Manufacturers Council.

Air filters can be easily accessed by the technician and viewed by the customer. This gives technicians and their customers a quick and easy, yet unofficial method of deciding if the air filter needs changed.

Rely on the experts
In order to be an expert, you should surround yourself with experts. Product knowledge is key in the automotive service business and this knowledge can be gained from solid relationships with your parts distributor, and even the manufacturer of the parts themselves.

Manufactuers are willing to work with shops of all sizes in order to educate them on the intricacies of oil and air filters. All you have to do is call.

It’s important to partner with manufacturers and suppliers of automotive equipment since the vehicles on the road today demand the best parts to keep them running at the optimum level.

Quality oil and air filters can certainly boost revenues, but above that the superior product knowledge displayed by the technician, or service manager can go a very long way in solidifying customer relationships.


Kirk Gustie is national sales manager for Service Champ, headquartered in Chalfont, PA.

Kirk can be contacted at (800) 221-0216 ext. 132 or by email at: kgustie@servicechamp.com.