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used motor oil

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Dear Doctor Rude,

Where can I go to recycle my used motor oil?

Well-Lubed in Lubbock

Dear Lubbock,

For some reason, many people think that they should take their used motor oil to an auto shop or specialty auto lube drive-through, imagining that such a place would have a use for the icky stuff. This is patently not true, since motor oil, once used, is full of minute metal shavings, soot particles, and contaminants that make it utterly unsuitable for any type of machine lubrication--and the same contaminants make it unsafe for use as heating oil. You'd think that an auto shop would be the last place that would want even *more* old oil; they want to get rid of it as much as you do, but they have a lot more of it to worry about already.

Instead, you should take your used motor oil to a nearby movie theater--that's what the lube shops and auto repair places do, and if you bring enough of it in at one time, they'll usually even pay you for it or at least give you a couple of free passes good for anything except special engagements. Most movie theater chains maintain a few regional used oil reprocessing sites in any large city and it's not at all uncommon for a large theater to have its own reprocessing machine in a room behind the concession area.

These reprocessing machines are really just a fairly large-sized vat with a heater and several taps at various heights along the wall of the vat. The used oil is heated, allowing it to settle depending on its density and then the desired fraction can be tapped off using the tap at the appropriate level.

The topmost tap is usually used for the light grease that's put on popcorn to make it seem buttery. Sometimes butter-flavored salt is added on serving to further enhance the effect. Towards the bottom, the thicker, darker colored sections are used for nacho sauce and then from the bottommost tap comes a very dark and thick goo containing almost all of the metal shavings and soot particles. This is usually diluted with tapwater to make "coffee" and used to add color to watered-down carbonated beverages, but in trendier theaters it is often served straight as "espresso."

I hope this makes life easier for you next time you change your oil.

Doctor Rude

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