When it comes to oil and engines, Hillsborough County government's big trucks are camels. They can run for months or even years without an oil change.
The county is among few in the state to use a special system that continually recycles the oil in its solid waste transfer trucks and fire engines.
Alas, it's not practical for the family car, but the 110 trucks fitted with the systems have saved about 1,600 gallons of oil and 610 hours of labor — or roughly $81,000 — in the three years the county has been using it, said Ross Meslin, service manager for Hillsborough County Fleet Maintenance.
The county paid between $700 and $800 per truck to install big filtering tanks to the trucks' engines, as part of the oil bypass filtration system, Meslin said.
Now the city of Tampa is testing the technology on two of its garbage trucks, said Connie White-Arnold, fleet operations superintendant. Although the oil tests show positive results, she said, the department is still trying to determine the cost savings.
Miami-Dade County's fleet was equipped with the technology a decade ago. Today, about 2,600 of that county's vehicles have the systems, and some go years between oil changes, saving nearly $2 million per year in oil and labor costs.
Sharon Subadan introduced the oil-scrimping measures for both county fleets. Currently a deputy Hillsborough County administrator, Subadan started the Hillsborough program in 2008 when she served as fleet manager.
She first researched the technology in the late 1990s as service manager of Miami-Dade's fleet.
"We used a tremendous amount of oil and generated a tremendous amount of waste oil,'' she said.
She focused on the onboard bypass filtering systems, used mainly in huge engines, such as those that power ships and offshore drilling rigs.
"A fundamental principle of oil is it generally does not go bad,'' she said. "It gets contaminated and loses its additives.''
She brought in a Boynton Beach company, Puradyn Filter Technologies, to equip part of Miami-Dade's fleet for a pilot program. Puradyn touts its product as not only a super cleaner that evaporates water and removes harmful particles, but also replaces the original additives in the oil. The company recommends that the filters, which cost about $45, be changed every 30,000 miles.
"It was extremely successful,'' Subadan said. "Vehicles were running continuously on clean oil. We reduced labor hours and oil changes.''
Puradyn is one of several companies that manufacture the devices. Competitors include Global Marine Consulting of Bradenton and Refined Global Solutions of Salt Lake City.
Many, however, remain leery of the innovation, which takes eight to 12 months before the system pays for itself in saved oil and labor, said Joe Vittoria, CEO of Puradyn.
"We've learned that trucking companies are hard to convince,'' Vittoria said.
Ronald Kleintop, current Miami-Dade service manager for heavy equipment, is a believer.
"It's a big labor saver, a big money saver,'' he said.
With the technology, the need for an oil change varies from vehicle to vehicle. Some need a change every 16 to 17 months while others can go four or five years, he said.
Kleintop, who succeeded Subadan, was skeptical at first, and he finds that many of his counterparts in other communities remain so. He has talked about it on three occasions in front of hundreds of fleet service managers at conventions, he said, and he never gets more than a few followup inquiries. They seem to dismiss it out of hand, he said.
The Texas department of transportation as well as Dallas, Chesapeake, Va., and the Department of Energy are among other government entities that use Puradyn filters, along with private firms Occidental Petroleum and Hare Express, according to the company.
Puradyn's filters have a patented, slow-release method of replacing essential additives, which makes the oil like new. The additives are encapsulated in what looks like a lemon drop in the filter, as Kleintop described it. They are released as the warm, clean oil flows over it.
In the beginning, before he knew how well it worked, Kleintop had his technicians change the oil once a year in each vehicle. He eventually abandoned that practice as unnecessary. Now, he said, they wait until the routine oil analysis tells them it's time — even if it's not for five years.