'Magic' Oil Plug Comprised Mostly of Snake Oil

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 23, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

I write to you today about a mystery that has been bugging me for about 60 years. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I had never been farther west than Cleveland, Ohio. In 1957, I drove to summer school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, a journey of 1,550 miles. In those days, radio reception was poor beyond the Mississippi River. In Kansas, the only station played the Everly Brothers and an infomercial for a product that would obviate the need for oil changes for the life of the car. For $5, I couldn't resist.

I soon received a box with an ordinary oil drainage plug; soldered to the end was a tiny chain of three or four links of a whitish metal. The oil had been only slightly discolored on the long road trip from Buffalo, but soon became darker and darker due to a lot of driving on dirt roads, then prevalent in the Boulder area. It soon became almost coal-black, so I headed to a nearby garage for an oil change. The grease monkeys doubled over with laughter when I showed them the oil plug, which they dutifully installed. But the joke was on them: Even driving many miles on dirt roads, the oil remained clear. A year later, it was still clear. What was the composition of this drain plug and links? Thanks!

-- James

You found the Fountain of Youth, James. Ponce De LaSunoco spent years in search of that.

I have no idea what it was, but I'm sure it didn't work. There is no magic potion or magic links -- not even Jimmy Deans -- that obviates the need for oil changes.

There's a long history in this country of snake-oil products that separate otherwise-reasonable people from their money and don't do diddly. And most people who fall for these scams use the same logic you did: "Hey, it's only $5!" Although today it's more likely to be, "Hey, it's only $59.95!"

I don't know exactly why your oil was filthy during that first change and less filthy a year later. It could have to do with the tremendous amount of blow-by you created driving at high speeds across the country with all of your worldly belongings in the car.

Whereas once you were in Boulder, after that oil change, you mostly were driving slower on local roads, for much shorter trips, and without all your stuff weighing down the car. And it's not unusual for oil to get very dark very quickly once it starts to get dark from contamination.

Or maybe, like lots of other people who spend their money on this stuff, you see what you're hoping to see.

But whatever happened, I can assure you that those magic links had absolutely nothing to do with it. However, if you don't believe me, I'd be happy to solder together a new set of magic links for you for only $59.95. Let me know.


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