2012 Ford Explorer XLT EcoBoost: Oil Change Interval
October 14, 2011
As you can plainly see here, there's an intelligent oil life monitor (IOLM) keeping tabs on things behind the scenes in our 2012 Ford Explorer XLT. All Explorers have one, whether it has the EcoBoost turbo four like ours or the V6.
The IOLM uses stuff the ECU is monitoring anyway -- things like temperature, rpm, engine load, throttle opening -- to determine how aggressively the vehicle was driven, how much time it spent idling and what sort of temperatures it endured along the way. From these it calculates how hard the oil was worked and adjusts the oil change interval accordingly.
Ford says you might get as much as 10,000 miles out of your oil, and most people will fall into the 7,500 to 10,000-mile bracket. Work it hard, such as you might living someplace mountainous and cold like Aspen, or someplace mountainous and hot like Death Valley, and the interval could fall to 3,000 miles.
For oil changes, at least, you don't have to figure out if your driving constitutes normal service or severe service. Ford's intelligent oil life monitor is essentially doing that for you in real time.
But even though an oil life monitor has your back, you still need to decide if your driving is "normal" or "severe" for other maintenance items such as transmission fluid, air filters and other service items. Once again, Ford is very clear on this issue.
First off, note the use of the words "primarily" and "occasionally". If you're Jay Kavanagh and you tow a LeMons racecar to the track with a Raptor once a month, for example, that's occasional use and you don't have to follow the extra maintenance laid out in this special operating condition.
Note also that the oil change interval refers you back to the oil life monitor, indicating that whatever punishment you dish out in the process of towing will be accounted for in the oil life monitor calculations. Apart from the usual engine load increases the ECU will detect, Ford's integrated trailer wiring tells the ECU when a trailer is connected -- it shows up on the dash is accounted for in things like the stability control program and fuel economy history calculations.
According to Ford mere city traffic or stop-and-go LA freeway driving is not severe service. To rise to that level you must drive in impacted city traffic for a living like the UPS guy or sit parked with the engine idling for extended periods like a police car or a taxi.
Once again the oil life monitor takes these things into account, so even if this were a cab or a brown truck the oil life monitor would adjust accordingly.
Dirt-road driving is the one thing the engine computer and intelligent oil life monitor cannot account for -- there is no such thing as a dust sensor in the intake air box. In this one case the oil change interval should be dropped to 5,000 miles, but only if dirt road driving is something you do a lot of on a daily basis. Refer back to what the manual said earlier about "primarily" and "occasionaly." An unpaved driveway does not qualify unless you've got a longer driveway than I can imagine (and I can imagine quite a bit.)
If, after all that, you still don't trust the oil life monitor and want to use a shorter interval because, dang it, that's what you're comfortable with, you can do one of two things: 1) Keep tabs on the odometer the old-fashioned way and change it when your interval of choice comes up or; 2) Set your Explorer's oil life monitor to something LESS than 100% when you change your oil. That way, you'll still get the benefit of the oil life monitor as it tracks the severity of your driving, but you'll have control over the maximum interval.
Nominally, 100% life allows up to a 10,000-mile interval, but our Explorer allows you to set that to 90% all the way down to 30%, which effectively allows you to specify a maximum interval of between 9,000 and 3,000 miles. Of course you'll still get called in early if you drive hard, but that's just icing on the preventative cake, right?
As for us, we're going to follow the oil life monitor's recommendation and change our oil when it tells us to -- with one exception. Track testing isn't exactly the kindest treatment an engine can undergo, and it isn't something a normal customer would ever do. So we're instituting a new internal policy of changing a long-term test car's oil and filter shortly after our initial track test is complete. We'll send oil samples in for analysis at the same time, too, to see how she's wearing in.
After that initial change we'll reset the oil life monitor to 100% (if the car in question has one) and revert to the manufacturer's recommendation. In the Explorer's case, that means we'll change the oil whenever the OLM tells us it's time.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,829 miles