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Motor Oil 107

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Motor oil 107
Chapter Seven. What is the terminology from SAE and API.

Many think that the “W” in 10W-30 means “winter”.
From SAE J300 p.2:
"Two series of viscosity grades are defined in Table (1): (a) those containing the letter W and (b) those without. Single viscosity grade oils with the letter W are defined by maximum low temperature cranking and pumping viscosities and a minimum kinematic viscosity at 100C. Single grade oils without the letter W are based on a set of minimum and maximum kinematic viscosities at 100C and a minimum high shear rate viscosity at 150C. The shear rate will depend on the test method. Multigrade grade oils are defined by both of these criteria....
The W is just a designation of one type of testing vs another.

What is the viscosity of the various weight oils? The definitions are as follows:

From SAE J300, viscosities at 212 F...

20, range - 5.6 to 9.2
30, 9.3 - 12.4
40, 12.5 - 16.2
50, 16.3 - 21.8
60, 21.9 - 26.1

By a modified analysis the min. viscosity at 302 F...

20, 2.6
30, 2.9
40, 2.9 - 3.7
50, 3.7
60, 3.7

Note again that the difference between the 20W and 60 weight oils at 302 F is only about 1 (one). Whereas the difference in viscosity at 104 F is 120 units. The 20W has a viscosity of 40 and the 60W a viscosity of 160. The difference at startup is even higher, probably 250 or 300.

The American Petroleum Institute, API, and Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE, have rated engine oil performance over the years. We have seen the ratings go from SA, SB, SC, SD, SE, SF, SG, SH, SJ, SL with SM to follow. SI and SK were eliminated as they are used by other businesses. There are over 3 dozen tests that oil now must pass in order to make the next higher rating. The tests are defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM. Some tests have progressed to a zero tolerance level. For example there can be no sticking of any piston rings any more. I will compare the SL rated oil to the previous SJ oil in a few categories. For simplicity I will skip the units of measurement:

.......S J........S L......

.......30........20......maximum cam plus lifter wear
........9.........7.8.....sludge build up
........5.........8.9.....varnish rating (more is better)
.......60.......45.......high temperature deposits
.......17.......10.......high temperature volatility

Other categories include: Resistance to rust, resistance to foaming, resistance to oil consumption, homogeneity and miscibility, flow reduction with varying amounts of absorbed moisture, gelation index and others.

As one can see just going from the previous SJ to the current SL rating is a significant improvement. I cannot wait to get the upcoming SM oil into my cars.

Regarding cool whether gel formation, a small except from SAE j300 1999:
4. Because engine pumping, cranking and starting are all important at low temperatures the selection of an oil for winter operation should consider both the viscosity required for oil flow as well as cranking and starting, at the lowest expected ambient temperature.
Pumping viscosity is a measure of an oils ability to flow...during the initial stages of operation. Test in ASTM D 4684. ....samples are tested after a slow cool cycle. This cycle has predicted as failures several SAE 10W-30 and 10W-40 oils which are known to have suffered pumping failures in the field after short-term (2 days or less) cooling. These field failures are believed to be the result of the oil forming gel structures that result in excessive yield stress and viscosity of the engine oil...
A.2.1...After preliminary warming, the sample is subjected to a controlled temperature/time cycle over 5 1/2 to 7 days. The cycle reproduces ...instability or reversion which has occurred during storage of oils in moderately cold cyclic conditions. Recent work shows relevance to engine oil pumpability failure. Oils exhibiting pour reversion have solids resulting from wax gel formation, at temperatures significantly higher than their ASTM D 97 pour points.
Extracted, from ASTM D 4485-03 Standard Specification for Performance of Engine Oils, copyright ASTM International, 100 Barr Harbor Drive, Wets Conshohocken, PA 19428, USA.

My point is that tests are not just laboratory concoctions. They design tests to match real life conditions.

I use 5W-20 Pennzoil mineral based multigrade oil in my Expedition as it has many of the low temperature characteristics of higher weight synthetic oils. My '04 manual states that the SUV is delivered with a Ford semi-synthetic oil and although regular oil can be used they recommend a semi or full synthetic oil. For the differential gear oil they used 75W-140 in my ‘98 Expedition but now recommend 75W-90.

Please note that it makes no difference what oil you are using. The 0W-20 Mobil 1 that is SL rated meets the same criteria as that SL rated 10W-30 synthetic or mineral based Pennzoil. That SJ or in particular that SH oil some people are looking for (from their older automotive owners manual) is no where near as good as any SL oil of today. Always use the most currently available, highest rated motor oil, even in the oldest, most worn engine. You may require a thicker grade but just make sure it is SL rated.

The SH rating was used in oils starting 1993. The SJ rating started in 1997 while the SL became effective in 2001 oils. According to ASTM D 4485, SL rated oils are superior to previous oils and from:
X2.3.1 and 2: SL oil is for use in current and all earlier passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, vans, and light trucks. This SL rated oil can be used in engines requiring SJ and all earlier categories.

See: American Society for Testing and Materials-
........Society of Automotive Engineers-
........American Petroleum Institute-
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124 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I took this from FerrariChat. This is a good question:

Originally Posted by don_xvi

I looked at the abstract for the ASTM test, and it mentioned -10 to -40C. Are these the temperatures where this irreversible gelling should be expected to occur? I'm just thinking of the oil I've had in my garage for years, and that sitting in the car's sump right now

My answer was:

From ASTM: Oils exhibiting pour reversion have solids resulting from wax gel formation, at temperatures "significantly higher" than their ASTM D 97 pour points. (I put in the quotes).

I read Auto-care or Auto-something, some Q&A thing on the net, just the other day. I forget the specifics but they said oil stored more than 1 year in one situation was to be discarded. The other end said that under some other conditions It could go for 3 years. If you stick with my rule that you should change your oil at least every spring (with brand new oil (I have to add this now)), you will always be OK.


124 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I have received some actual test results from the newer ratings. Most oils, 30 weight and below will probably meet both the new SM and new GF-4 specifications. Some of the numbers are:

.......S L ..........S M /with GF-4

.......64................60........maximum cam plus lifter wear - high temperature wear
.....26.4...............26........bearing weight loss
......45.................35........high temperature deposits
......2.0................2.3.......fuel economy increase over baseline

The last specification is a 15 percent increase. I wonder if this translates to getting 23 instead of 20 MPG in your car. I need to investigate further. I do know from my readings that it is not a sudden occurrence. When you take out the older SL rated stuff and put the new oil in there (of the same viscosity grade) it may take a second oil change to get the full benefit.

Starting November 30, 2004 oil that meets the SM certification criteria may be labeled as such.

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