Whatever happened to …

… oil cans? and metal spouts?

As I went to cut the lawn the other day, I did a ritual. I pulled out the dipstick on the lawn mower to check the oil. I was good to go, but had I been down a bit, I could go to the shelf in the garage and unscrew the cap on a plastic litre of Pennzoil and top it up.

Checking oil in the car is equally as important.

But, the procedures are certainly different today. Years ago, we didn’t have the self-serve stations that we have today. You’d pull in and a typical instruction to the attendant would be

Fill ‘er up and check the oil

And, unlike today, there were often times when you’d need to add oil. The attendant would go over to a stack of metal cans and grab you a quart. But, there were no screw tops. It was just a can and the attendent would have to puncture the top with a metal spout after lifting the hood on your car and pouring. I remember the car manual warning against overfilling but, for all the times I had to add oil, I don’t ever recall being told that I didn’t need that full quart.

For a Sunday, your thoughts…

  • do you remember a time when oil came in quart cans instead of plastic litres?
  • did you / do you have a preference in oil brands?
  • have you ever used a metal can with a metal spout yourself?
  • how do you determine when it’s time to change your oil?
    • from the sticker left on your windshield
    • according to manufacturer’s recommendations
    • when the computer on your dashboard says it’s time
    • when the engine starts smoking
    • other?

How about sharing your thoughts via comment below?

5 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Good morning, Doug!

    I definitely remember the quart cans (metal top and bottom, with the sides of the cylinder made out of boxboard). I remember the spout as well, with its built-in puncture tool and external gripping edge. I don’t believe I ever owned a spout —- I think I probably used a can opener or a screwdriver that I would have kept in the car.

    For the last year of high school and my first couple year of Uni I had a 1965 Dodge Dart that got me from point A to point B. That vehicle needed a quart of oil on a regular basis. The oil didn’t leak out and drip underneath the car, and there wasn’t the telltale smoke from the tailpipe to indicate that the car was burning oil, so I don’t know where the oil was going, but it was going somewhere. Maybe it was spreading along the chassis and oiling all the little moving bits and joints to keep the car rolling and to prevent it from squeaking? I don’t know. I do know that in the summer before my first year away at UofT I travelled the breadth of northern Ontario visiting 63 communities in 24 days, and I purposefully purchased a case of 24 cans before I left so that I could put in a can a day to keep the car happy. That worked, and I returned home at the end of the trip none the worse for wear. However it was later that year on a trip to Welland, Ontario that the car gave a great convulsion and made an incredibly loud noise and then proceeded to lose power. As I begin to steer to the rightmost lane of the QEW, a great cloud of smoke started to appear from under the hood, and by the time I exited the car, there was a huge puddle of oil on the ground beneath the engine. The tow truck operator arrived, he lifted the hood, looked for a few seconds and then said, “Yup that’s what I’m looking for,” and then reached inside and pulled out a roughly 2 inch wide chunk of the engine block. We towed the car to a wrecking yard and I exchanged the pink slip for 25 bucks. I put the chunk of engine block in an envelope, noting the date and details of the car’s passing. I’m certain I still have it in my box of memorabilia.

    These days, I go by the sticker in the top left corner of my windshield, and the dealership uses their preferred brand of synthetic oil (I’ve never really questioned if synthetic oil is made out of oil, and if not, what it’s made of) and my subsequent cars have always managed to get me from point A to point B. It seems that my eldest can recognize and name cars approaching on the opposite side of the 401 at night by their headlights alone, whereas I have the great skill of differentiating cars from trucks by their basic shape. Beyond that, my interest is minimal. I imagine I would like to drive a Tesla …


  2. Doug, I also remember the cans, but don’t remember using them. As for when it’s time to change my oil, I use the sticker, but also the recommended times from talking to my mechanic. The car tells me too, but it gives me a little longer than I feel good about. I wonder if my desire to keep the car for many, many years weighs into this decision. Curious to hear other people’s stories.



  3. I learned how to use the metal cans when I waist driver’s ed! My dad and my teacher made sure I knew how to go about checking the oil. However, the first car I ever bought myself (after years of driving a car provided by my employer) I checked the engine one day and managed to not put the cap back on properly. A few days later I found oil on the driveway and discovered the missing cap. I went to a parts store and bought a new one, but it didn’t fit. I decided it didn’t matter. Then one day I was driving down the highway and found out it did indeed matter. Thankfully my car had enough momentum to roll off the highway, down the nearest exit, and into a parking lot where I could call a tow truck. I donated that car to the Kidney Foundation because the tax credit was worth more than that car at that point. (This was in the US…not sure if charities take car donations here!) Since then I’ve let the car or the sticker tell me when to go let someone who knows what they are doing take car of the oil.


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