Automotive Engine Oils: How To Read The Label.
Welcome to the first edition of OILY Academy!
We will be focusing on how to read and understand the label of an automotive engine lubricant.
Most of us know the market trends on the different viscosity grades, some of us even read the equipment manual to select the correct lubricant for the application. Whatever the case may be, it is important to know what the information on the product label tells us about the lubricant inside the bottle.
There are four important things to learn from the label of engine oil:
What is the viscosity classification of the lubricant?
What is the performance level of the lubricant?
Is the lubricant approved by any OEM’s?
Exhaust After Treatment Compatibility.
The most important thing to look at when choosing a lubricant is viscosity.
For this reason, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed the original SAE J300 viscosity grading system for engine oils back in 1911. This system makes it easy for the general public to choose a lubricant with the correct viscosity. There are two categories of engine oils with regard to viscosity. There are mono-grade oils, also known as summer oils and they are only suitable for work in higher ambient temperatures. These mono-grade oils are most efficient once the equipment reaches its optimal operating temperature. Today most engine oils on the market are multi-grade oils which means the lubricant can operate in both high and low temperatures. The SAE has therefore devised two separate viscosity measurements, one for high temperature (100 ﾟC) which indicates high operating temperatures and the other for temperatures as low as - 40 ﾟC, which simulates cold start temperatures. The cold temperature viscosity grade will be indicated with the letter “W” for example 0w, 5W, 10W, 15W or 20W. The cold temperature viscosity grade will be followed by the high-temperature viscosity grade 20, 30, 40 or 50 as seen on the API stamp below. The most popular multi-grade viscosity classifications are SAE 15W-40, 5W-30 and many others.
There are quite a few performance classification standards, ASCEA, ILSAC, and most commonly found API (American Petroleum Institute). All these organisations took the task of setting performance standards for engine oils. API divided their engine oil classification into two categories.
One measures the performance standard for petrol or gasoline engines and the other one is for diesel engine classifications. The API classification that starts with the letter “S” is for petrol engine specifications where the “S” stands for spark ignition. The API classification that starts with the letter “C” is for diesel engine specifications where the “C” stands for compression ignition. As shown on the API stamp below most engine oils today have both a petrol and diesel engine classification.
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) will allow lubricant manufacturers to test their products on the equipment and upon the success, they will issue the lubricant with an OEM approval. These tests are extremely expensive and are a good indication of how serious a lubricant manufacturer is in terms of quality.
It is important to know that many lubricants manufacturers will claim they meet or exceed the OEM specification, but this does not mean the product is approved by the OEM. Therefore, it is important to read the label very carefully, especially when the equipment is still within its warranty period. OEM’s have their specification codes, so make sure the specification required in the owner’s manual appears on the label, or at least in the product technical datasheet.
Exhaust After Treatment
With global warming breathing down our necks, equipment manufacturers have to adhere to current emissions standards. Therefore, many new-age vehicles are equipped with exhaust after-treatment systems that treat the gases produced by the engine to make them more environmentally friendly. These systems are extremely sensitive to some of the additives in engine oils, so they require specially formulated oils. This information will be presented on the products label, so make sure the product is compatible with the after-treatment system on the equipment. Some common abbreviations of these systems are EGR (exhaust gas recirculation), DPF (diesel particulate filters), DOC (diesel oxidation catalyst), SCR (selective catalytic reduction) and many more.
Always refer to the owner’s manual to determine what oil you should use and ALWAYS READ THE LABEL ON THE OIL YOU BUY.
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Written by Henco Booysen