Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2007   by Nestor Gula

Oil Report: New, Complex Blends of Oils Extend the Time Between Changes

Technicians will have to be more careful in matching oils to vehicles to ensure optimum performance, life expectancy

We’ve all done hundreds, if not thousands of oil changes. But has any customer inquired what oil you are putting in their car?

Oil and automotive lubricants are perhaps the least understood and the most ignored aspects of automotive maintenance. Along with the lack of knowledge by the average Canadian driver, there are also many misconceptions about oil. Take for example, “The cheapest insurance for your vehicle is frequent oil changes.” Frequent oil changes won’t hurt, but disposing of oil that is still good costs money and is not good for the environment. Another question, “Does using synthetic oil instead of mineral oil allow for longer oil change intervals or should you still change them at the manufacturers suggested interval?” This is like asking a college student, “What is art?” as there seem to be as many different answers as there are people asking the question.

What is certain, and what is becoming more important for technicians to know, is that as vehicles are becoming more efficient and cleaner running, many of those vehicles are starting to use oils that are longer lasting and can take a greater degree of engine punishment. This means that the traditional time between oil changes has increased in some cases. The question for technician’s becomes: how often should these new oils be changed, and should a technician simply follow the suggested changing intervals on the side of the box?

New formulations extending the useful life of oil, lubricants

“Oil formulations are a careful balance of a base fluid plus specially developed additives and they are fully tested in the laboratory and in the field to ensure their performance,” says Jim Arner, technical manager for Chevron Global Lubricants. “Engineers and chemists have developed improvements to the technologies over the years including improvements to base oil refining, developing new refining technologies that create very pure chemical compounds, new additive technologies, and of course there are all kinds of engine design changes. In addition, fuel suppliers have improved the fuel refining technologies and have reduced the levels of sulfur and other impurities that break down in the combustion chamber to form a variety of materials that attacked the engines and ultimately led to premature failure.”

There are some important components in long life lubricants, according to Joe Chan, director of sales at Motul Canada. “Extreme pressure additives like zinc dithiophosphates are used. Dispersants are additives which keep solid contaminates in suspension. Detergents neutralize the acids from moister contamination. Oxidation inhibitors prevent oxidation and chemical aggression.”

Chan says these oils cannot be based on any mineral oils as “they are completely created in a test tube.”

Arner agrees saying, “A standard oil can not be used for long drain applications. The additives package is different and the base stock needs to be of a high grade, a group III base stock won’t cut it.”

While in the past a service technician would simply exchange one 10W40 oil for another 10W40 oil, those days might soon be numbered.

“Many manufacturers are now creating oil standards that are specific for their engines,” Chan said. “Currently, while more the 60 per cent of our product line up is long drain capable, we also make OEM specific products for Volkswagen/Audi (V.W 506.01), Daimler Chrysler (MB 229.5) and BMW (BMW LL01) among others.”

The old oil nomenclature might be a thing of the past because of the new specific oils. With the advent of synthetic oils and new refining for mineral oils, one bottle of 10W40 can be significantly different than another — much more so than in the past.

“Every oil manufacturer has its own balance of base fluid and additive that in combination pass the industry standards for oil quality,” says Arner.

Arner adds each manufacturer’s formulation expertise comes into play to determine exactly how much of each is used. Synthetics do offer performance differences in severe applications such as extremely high heat, low temperature operation (engine starts below -35C), and for severe loading, such as towing trailers. Arner’s company manufactures synthetic oils under the Chevron and Texaco Havoline brands.

“Mineral oil refining technology has improved over the years such that the performance difference between synthetic and mineral has shrunk considerably,” he continues. “In the market place you will find some products that are full synthetics, some are semi-synthetics and others that are blended using conventional mineral oils. If they all claim API SM engine oil quality then they should all be expected to meet the engine manufacturer’s requirements. The pricing as you can imagine is much different as synthetics are more expensive to manufacturer.”

Matching oil to vehicle more crucial than ever

Matching the oil specified in the vehicle owner’s manual will be more crucial in the future than in the past.

“OEM’s write in their owners’ manuals the minimum standards for the oils to be used and it is important for vehicle owners to follow those recommendations,” says Arner. “The API Engine Oil Classification System identifies the categories of oil standards with API SM and API CJ-4 being the most current standards. These standards are back serviceable meaning that an API SM engine oil may be used in vehicles where and API SL or earlier oil was specified. You are not to use older oil when a more recent oil standard is recommended.”

Filters will also play a critical role. Chan says OEM filters should be used for the long interval oils as they are manufactured to the critical specifications and tolerances demanded by the manufacturers.

And the question of putting the new breed of synthetics into an older car? That should not create too many problems, although there are caveats.

“There is certainly no harm, since it is a higher quality product, although some Euro 4, nox trap equipped cars will need a specific product,” according to Chan.

“How long you can actually use an oil in an engine is a subject of great debate,” Arner adds.

“If you are referring to a 10-year old car, then you can use the new oils in this car. If you have a 50-year old street rod that you’ve polished and babied all these years, then again, Yes you can use a new oil, but you won’t ever use it for long drains because you’d rather be out there on Saturday morning doing an oil change since you know how and because you want to change it.

“If you have an 80-year old classic, then no you do not want to use a new generation oil. Engines in those days accumulated a lot of dirt around the rings and gaps and the use of a newer detergent containing oil would clean out all that dirt.”

Although much has changed in the oil that lubricates the auto engine, one thing hasn’t, and that is the ability for the oil to stay clean and it must stay in grade, says Chan, is still the most important mark of good oil. Good care and educating the customer about oil is important to the health of the vehicle and happiness of the customer.

“The most important feature is the technician’s confidence that he can pass on to the consumer, knowing the product in their shop is properly formulated, tested and approved to provide optimum reliability,” says Arner. “Unfortunately the best oil in the world will not be able to do its job if the owner doesn’t take care of their vehicle. This includes using the oil quality and viscosity grade recommended by the OEM, checking the fluid levels frequently and topping them up when needed, maintaining tire pressure, ensuring the hoses and clamps are in good condition, and performing the recommended maintenance on the vehicle at the time specified by the OEM. In other words, get out of that seat and open up the hood to look around instead of waiting for that light on the dashboard telling you it is too late.”


Chevron Global Lubricants

Motul Canada

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