Copyright (C) 2004 by Steve Litt. All rights
Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for
use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to
copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise
free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided
User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.
Volume 8 Issue
| Back Issues | Linux Productivity Magazine ]
Change your oil every 3000 miles! -- Common wisdom
By Steve Litt
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
If you truly believe that all the time, please don't work on airplanes
or in a nuclear facility.
I learned of preventive maintenance late in the game. After all, as a
stereo repairman, why bother? If a stereo goes bad after a number of
years, you replace it.
Having given courses in nuclear environments, I've come to understand
how different things are in a safety critical situation. When safety is
a major issue, you can't perform step 5 of the Universal
Troubleshooting Process, Do the
General Maintenance. Performing general maintenance, otherwise
known as corrective maintenance, would mask the root cause, limiting
your ability to prevent future occurrence.
And of course there's the fact that a blown stereo could cause
postponement of a party, whereas a blown nuclear reactor could create a
20 year environmental nightmare.
What do you do if you can't afford even a single failure? Certainly
good design is imperative, but as the old saying goes, "stuff happens".
That's where preventive maintenance comes in. The two primary causes
for "stuff" happening are:
Problems caused by user error can be minimized by good design, good
training, and good communications. But how do you prevent problems
caused by normal wear and tear? Simply replace or refurbish the
component before it's significantly worn. Preventive maintenance.
- User error
- Normal wear and tear
This issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine is devoted to
preventive maintenance -- its necessity, its costs, and extent to which
it is done. So kick back, relax,
and remember -- if you're a Troubleshooter, this is your magazine.
Justification of Preventive Maintenance
By Steve Litt
If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
As a stereo owner, that's pretty much my motto. Why replace the panel
lights every couple years, when they might last for ten. If one burns
out, big deal, I live with it til something else burns out, and then I
repair the whole kitten kaboodle.
It's a little different with my car. If a fanbelt or hose breaks while
driving, I have maybe a minute or so to shut it down, or else a gasket
busting overheat will result. Imagine if the fanbelt broke on a crowded
but fast 2 lane under construction interestate, with no shoulder. Such a
thought is an excellent motivation to replace belts and hoses at
regular intervals, whether or not they appear worn or defective.
Speaking of cars, we all know what happens if we don't change our oil
every 3000 miles, our coolant every 24,000 miles, or our transmission
fluid every 20,000 - 35,000 miles. Some preventive maintenance prevents
wear on other parts, and is therefore essential. If you wait until your
oil and tranny fluid are black, and your coolant is rusty, your car
might become economically unfeasable to maintain after 60,000 miles. On
the other hand, if you change these coolants at recommended intervals,
perform other required maintenance, and drive in a sane manner, you
could get 150,000 miles or more without an engine or tranny rebuild. If
you have better things to do with your money than buying a new car
every 5 years, maintenance is a must.
Most car malfunctions aren't fatal. Many airplane malfunctions are. If
your car blows a head gasket it's costly and inconvenient. If your
single engine airplane's engine dies and can't restart, unless you find
a good place to land and use a lot of skill doing so, you're dead.
Imagine the fun if your airplane's landing gear won't go down, or if
you get a gasoline leak near the engine. You would likely be dead, and
your family would be set back by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Which is nothing compared to the economic cost if a large passenger
airplane loses its wing mid-flight. Lawsuits from such mishaps settle
in the millions, and the loss of business cost more millions.
But what's one airplane in comparsion to a nuclear accident? My reading
indicates combining the cost of the destroyed nuclear plant, the cost
of defueling it, and the cost of lawsuits exceeded a billion dollars. I
saw a figure at http://www.tompaine.com/feature2.cfm/ID/4687
pinning the cost of Chernobyl at $350 million.
Naturally, plane crashes and nuclear mishaps cost much more than the
company pays. The costs are born by the government and by individuals
harmed. In addition, there's just no way to place a dollar figure on
the true costs of injury and death.
Making the Justification
In justifying the cost of preventive maintenance you must balance the
cost of preventive maintenance against the cost of damage likely to
occur in its absense, factoring in the likelihood of such damage. For
instance, if you use regular organic oil and go 40,000 miles between
oil changes, it's almost a certainty your engine will blow up before
100,000 miles -- likely significantly before 100,000. You could change
your oil every day, but that would cost you $6,000.00 per year --
clearly an excessive price to pay for allowing your engine to last an
extra 100,000 miles, given that a rebuilt engine costs around $6000.00
installed, and will likely last much more than a year.
It turns out that by changing the oil at 3,000 mile intervals, the
likelihood of your engine dying from engine wear becomes tiny, at least
for the first 150,000 miles. At 12,000 miles per year, this level of
preventive maintenance costs you $80.00 per year, or about $1100.00
during the 150,000 mile life of your car.
Contrast the preceding with a home stereo. The typical home stereo
costs less than $300.00. Without preventive maintenance it will
typically last at least 4 years, unless it's abused. Given that
preventive maintenance would cost $50.00, it makes every sense to adopt
a if it ain't broke, don't fix it
On the other end of the spectrum is an airplane. Given the huge losses
created by a single failure, adequate funds must be allocated toward
preventive maintenance to reduce the likelihood of wear induced failure
way below factors like pilot error, unforseen disasterous weather, and
terrorism. And naturally, those factors must also be reduced.
The Diagnostic Cost
There's a cost beyond the damages enumerated in this article: The
diagnostic cost. Troubleshooting can be an expensive activity,
especially if the symptom is intermittent. When you properly institute
a program of preventive maintenance, you cut way down on problems that
must be diagnosed.
When determining the degree of preventive maintenance to perform, you
must weigh total cost of such preventive maintenance against the likely
cost (economic and other) of problems which will arise without it,
factoring in the likelihood of such problems. If the cost of such
problems are minimal, such as in the case of a home stereo system,
often the best policy is if it ain't
broke, don't fix it!
If the likelihood is so tiny as to make the costs of expected problems
minimal and acceptable, no further preventive maintenance is called
for. For instance, reducing the oilchange interval from 3000 miles to
1000 miles wouldn't significantly increase engine life, and even if it
did, by 150,000 miles, the average car is ready for the glue factory.
I'd like to tell you that preventive maintenance is a must when human
life is involved, but do you keep records of when you check your car's
brake fluid, when you check the brake pads? How often do you check your
brake's hydrolic lines for signs of wear?
When the risks get into multiple lives, such as airplanes, nuclear
facilities and chemical plants, preventive maintenance programs are
created and executed.
The bottom line is this. For everything you own, especially if "you" is
a business, you should have a preventive maintenance plan. It needn't
be detailed or costly, but the fact that you're on top of things will
save you money, and possibly lives.
Types of Preventive
By Steve Litt
Replacing parts before they go bad, and replacing fluids after a
specific lifetime are only two types of preventive maintenance.
One cost effective preventive maintenance technique is inspection.
Consider the ball joints on your car. Replacing them before they could
possibly go bad is costly, but you want to make sure they never break
on you, or death could result. By inspecting them frequently, they can
be replaced at the first sign of wear.
By Steve Litt
Without the right kind of paperwork, preventive maintenance won't
happen. Whether at work or play, our lives are too full to remember
preventive maintenance without reminders. Companies often have policies
on preventive maintenance, including schedules for each type of
mainenance, for each machine.
Each day somebody must look at the records to find what maintenance
needs to be done in the next few days, and order any necessary parts.
All scheduled maintenance must be done on time.
In this computerized age, it would be simple to create a preventive
maintenance database, complete with an application to create parts
orders for upcoming maintenance, and maintenance instructions for
On a less professional level, in your personal life you might choose to
keep records on each of your cars, recording every oil change, every
transmission fluid change, every differential oil change, every belt
and hose change, every new alternator, water pump, or shock absorber.
Every battery change, and every time the battery becomes discharged.
Every new set of tires, every tire rotation, every balancing, and every
Also included would be a list of suggested intervals for all of these
things. Perhaps you could computerize these things, with one file per
car. By looking at these files maybe once a month, you could keep on
top of your car's maintenance.
This same technique could be used for maintaning your body. Quick --
when was your last tetenus shot? Thirty years ago the same doctor would
care for you year in and year out, so he or she would take charge of
your "preventive maintenance". Today, when every job change, rule
change, and negociation brings a change of doctor, and the typical
person goes to a general practitioner (primary physician) and one or
more specialists, with insufficient communication between them all.
It's your job to keep track of shots, tests, diagnoses, and everything
We all want to perform preventive maintenance, but success depends on
Letters to the Editor
All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and
be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions,
corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in
magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in
(bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be
the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot
your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.
How to Submit an Article
We anticipate two to five articles per issue, with issues coming out
We look for articles that pertain to the Troubleshooting Process, or
on tools, equipment or systems with a Troubleshooting slant. This can
done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary
A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a
but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must
overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words
Any article submitted to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine must
licensed with the Open Publication License, which you can view at
At your option you may elect the option to prohibit substantive
However, in order to publish your article in Troubleshooting
Magazine, you must decline the option to prohibit commercial use,
Troubleshooting Professional Magazine is a commercial publication.
Obviously, you must be the copyright holder and must be legally able
so license the article. We do not currently pay for articles.
Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for
or brevity, within the scope of the Open Publication License. If you
to prohibit substantive modifications, we may elect to place editors
outside of your material, or reject the submission, or send it back for
Any published article will include a two sentence description of the
a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired.
request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine
to the author's website, providing that website meets the
criteria for links and that the
website first links to Troubleshooters.Com. Authors: please understand
can't place hyperlinks inside articles. If we did, only the first
would be read, and we can't place every article first.
Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with
line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should
as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):
Copyright (c) 2001 by <your name>. This
may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth
the Open Publication License, version Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999
at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04.txt/ (wordwrapped for
at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04_wrapped.txt). The latest
is presently available at http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/).
Open Publication License Option A [ is | is not]
so this document [may | may not] be modified. Option B is not elected,
this material may be published for commercial purposes.
After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a
sentence description of the author.
Why not Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 OR LATER
The Open Publication License recommends using the word "or later" to
the version of the license. That is unacceptable for Troubleshooting
Magazine because we do not know the provisions of that newer version,
it makes no sense to commit to it. We all hope later versions will be
but there's always a chance that leadership will change. We cannot take
chance that the disclaimer of warranty will be dropped in a later
All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
(R) is a registered trademark of Steve Litt.
URLs Mentioned in this Issue