Smile, you’re on Castrol camera!

Oil manufacturer Castrol has used traffic cameras to advise drivers about the right oil for their cars in a groundbreaking new initiative over two weeks in London.

Castrol’s campaign encouraged drivers to travel past specially installed cameras safely in order to get ‘flashed’. Rather than identifying cars driving over the speed limit or which haven’t paid the congestion charge, the cameras helped drivers by spot-checking cars, and flashed a personalised engine maintenance message to the driver on a nearby billboard. The cameras, positioned by the side of the road picked up passing cars’ registrations and matched them to the make and model of car via the DVLA database. A message to the driver with the correct oil recommendation for their car’s engine was flashed on digital billboards further down the road.

oil 2

Motoring expert Quentin Willson says; “I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to use the right oil for your car, and I love the idea of reaching motorists whilst they are actually driving their cars. Nearly half* of Britain’s drivers are currently driving around with the wrong grade or specification of oil in their car but by using the right oil it can help to protect the health of the engine and may also save on maintenance costs. This new initiative means that for once drivers may actually be pleased about being caught on camera.”

The initiative was the first time in the UK that personalised messages have been communicated on advertising billboards. The process of registering the number plate to the message appearing on the billboard took less than two seconds, and due to data protection no registration plate data was stored.


Failing to put oil in a car’s engine or using the incorrect oil grade or specification for your make and model of car could have detrimental effects on the engine, resulting in large repair bills which can cost motorists anything up to £5,000. To keep a car’s engine healthy it needs regular topping up of oil.

The oil information service is part of a campaign by Castrol to help educate drivers on the importance of using the right oil for their car. The ‘Right Oil Right Car’ campaign highlights the effects of using the wrong oil and raises awareness among motorists of where to get advice on the right oil to use. Furthermore, Castrol also has a user-friendly text service available which tells people what the correct oil is for their car by simply texting OIL 83080 (UK and NI) or 57778 (ROI). Follow the prompt to ‘insert the car’s registration number’ and details of the correct oil, along with a picture text of the actual product, is sent direct to the mobile phone. Texts are charged at the standard network rate. A WAP enabled phone is required to be able to use this service. The same technology is also available via Castrol’s website so drivers can also obtain recommendations online.

* GFK & OATS research in 2007 #

This is an edited Newspress release from 22nd September 2009. The original is copyright of BP press office.


Out of all the press releases that I receive, this one (which has been edited for tense as the campaign has fortunately ended) stood out as an anomaly. Apart from road safety signage, are we now to expect a flurry of roadside displays dictating to us whether we should inflate our tyres or change lightbulbs? We’ve had a national engine oil week to raise more awareness as well as information in the car’s handbook so further totalitarian intrusions may be beneficial to the ignorant car owner but this will only serve our dependence on state methods that check DVLA records without our admission. It’s also interesting to note that an increasing number of manufacturers stipulate use of synthetic oil like the grade shown in the photograph. Of course, the lower the grade, the less viscous it is which results in increasing oil consumption and therefore more money into the swollen coffers of BP, who own Castrol. Self-perpetuating, like the scrappage scheme!

October 2009

Sotiris Vassiliou


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