Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Well oiled recycling

October 11, 2010

Let’s face it: The words “oil” and the “environment” are anything but congruent these days. Every morning there are new pictures from the BP oil spill showing animals and coastlines literally tarred and ruined.

Yes, oil is getting a bad rap and the environment is getting a bad hand — but that doesn’t mean quick lube operators don’t have an opportunity to capitalize on these headlines and photos. As the oil recycling trend catches on across the United States, fast lube stores have the chance to show their customers how they keep oil out of landfills and use it to create energy.

According to Garrett McKinnon, editor of National Oil & Lube News, a 2009 survey by the magazine showed that 31 percent of quick lube operators are reusing leftover oil to reheat their facility or water for carwashes. And while that number isn’t exactly staggering, it’s still almost one out of three operators. “Not a major growth, but it is a trend to some extent,” said McKinnon.

Recycling oil from coast to coast
Oil recycling is environmental coup and a PR success story. Need proof? Just type in the words car+wash+oil+change+recycle and hundreds of thousands of hits come up on Google.

For example, In and Out Oil Change, which also has a carwash and detail center, and is based in Woodland Hills, CA, is taking advantage of growing interest in the environment by stating their oil recycling policy on their website. “We’re proud to recycle 100 percent of all oil fluids that we recover as part of our everyday vehicle services including used motor oils, synthetic motor oils, transmission fluids and power steering fluids,” they wrote, adding, “Did you know … that the oil from one oil change if improperly disposed and not recycled can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water.”

Across the country in Connecticut, Platinum Car Wash & Oil also recycles all of its oil. It is also being done in Atlanta at the Prestige Car Care Center which stated it will also recycle any used oil and oil filters brought in by customers for free.

And, the same is happening at Pit Stop U.S.A., the home of the “10-minute oil change,” with locations based in Eugene and Springfield, OR.

How it’s done
When it comes right down to it, recycling oil is simple. The oil that is drained out during an oil change or the amount left over in used oil filters can all be reused to heat a building or water for a carwash using an oil burner, according to McKinnon.

Used oil filters still contain up to 4 ounces of oil, even after they’ve been crushed, according to Pit Stop U.S.A., which has also been recycling used oil for years. It’s easy and safe to do, too, said Scott Hill, who’s been working at the Springfield location for 22 years. “It’s not dangerous at all. It’s just something we have always done here.”

Pit Stop uses a three-step process, revealed on their website at to drain the oil. First, each filter is cut open, then the components are separated and drained on a rack. The drained oil is then collected and recycled along with the rest of the oil that has been collected.

The filter cores and the outer metal casings are washed with a non-toxic detergent in separate containers. A wheel, being slowly turned inside the washer, picks up the oil from the waste water, which is then drained into a container and recycled. This oil gets recycled, too.

The filter cores are also dried and sent out and used as an industrial fuel. And metal casings are crushed here and then sent to a recycling facility.

Making sense, saving cents
Ron Slone, president of Hoffman Development Corp., a company which operates carwash and Jiffy Lube locations in and around Albany, NY, said reusing used oil just makes sense. They recycle the oil onsite using burners.

“There is just no question about it,” he said. “We’ve been very happy with the results. I will admit that to do it takes a significant investment, but one that’s well worth it in terms of saving money in the long run and in saving the environment.”

Slone said that they used the reused oil to heat the concrete, the employee areas and the water for the carwashes.

“Anyone thinking of doing this should do it,” he advised. “There’s a respectable return on investment. You are being handed a great opportunity and it’s easy to do.”

To fee or not to fee?
Lube centers can add an “environmental charge” ranging from $1 to $2 which covers the cost of the towel disposal, management and recycling of the used oil and oil filters and other environmental management issues.

“Years ago, I added a $1 charge to my facility’s oil change price, calling it an ‘environmental fee,’” said Scotti Lee, former owner of a fast lube business and a key contributor to the Automotive Oil Change Association. “The $1 went toward the purchase of an oil crusher, drain equipment, and paying our employees to move and crush the filters. We also paid to have used oil, used oil filters and shop towels managed and transported along with other miscellaneous environmental regulatory-related costs.”

“Eventually, I got rid of the environmental fee. Adding a fee is up to you as it really depends on where you are located, how much you recycle and the state of the recycling markets. Go over your environmental fees to come up with a fair price or you could be engaging in consumer fraud.”