Answers From The Oil Expert Part # 2 Hello all, As a follow on from our last post on questions and answers from John Rowland we now have part 2 for those that crave more “oily knowledge”. As before some of these topics have been covered but we feel worth the read. Some oil companies have run advertising campaigns that imply their products have special, unique qualities. Can these adverts be taken seriously? Yes and no! Generally adverts in magazines are honest, with marketing-speak terms such as ‘Magnatec’ and ‘Electrosyntec’ really being code words for esters, which are particularly beneficial in performance engine oils. No manufacturer has any unique ‘secret’, so it’s all down to providing the best possible blend for the job at the right price, and making it clear that you get what you pay for. I personally think that the importance of shear stability or ‘stay in grade’ is not stressed enough when quality is talked about. What is dodgy though is claiming that a mineral based oil with a few percent of modified mineral (‘hydrocracked’) synthetic is the DB’s and suitable for racing, etc. when it clearly isn’t. Also, there is endless semantic manoeuvring and lawyer-speak around The Magic Word ’synthetic’. For instance, a ‘synthetic’ oil is invariably semi-synthetic (’Ah! We didn’t say it was all synthetic did we?), and, if low priced, invariably the modified mineral type synthetic. It is a sad fact that you get what you pay for, but even so, stick to the reputable UK/European brands, and remember that shipping an oil half way around the world doesn’t automatically make it better than one made in your home town. As for TV advertising…well, does anybody believe it? Due to its huge cost, a TV advertising campaign can significantly raise the cost of specialist items such as oil. Everybody assumes it’s just a few pence per gallon, but it can be pounds per gallon.) Please can you explain the grading system? What is meant by the weight of an oil? What does 10W/40 mean for example? Weight means viscosity, or resistance to flow. Water and paraffin flow very easily, so they are low or light viscosity. Golden syrup or 140 gear oil do not come out of the can so easily, so they are high or heavy viscosity. Especially with oils, temperature is very, very important. An oil which looks ‘heavy’ at 20C will be very ‘light’ at 100C. People sometimes say, ‘I drained the oil when the engine was hot and it ran out like water…’ so I say, ‘Good! It’s supposed to be like that!’ The American Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) ratings cover cold starts and ‘up and running’ viscosities. There are two sets of standards, the ‘Winter’ (W) ratings, and the 100C standard ratings. (‘W’ does not, repeat not, mean ‘weight’!) So a 10W/40 oil has to pass a 10W cold viscosity test at -25C, and a SAE 40 test at 100C. In an oil lab there will be a refrigerated viscosity measuring device for the ‘W’ tests and another at 100C for the standard SAE tests. There are 6 ‘W’ ratings from the difficult 0W at -35C to the dead easy 25W at -10C, occasionally used in India for example! The whole point of these Winter ratings is to assist cold starts, to get the oil circulating quickly, and to avoid power and fuel wasting drag as the engine warms up. Once it is warmed up, the 100C ratings count. There are 5 of these, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 although why anybody bothers with 60 in the 21st Century is a mystery to me! Sorry folks, but I’ve got to get technical. Viscosity is measured in standard units called ‘Centistokes’, names after a Victorian engineer, Sir George Stokes, who used to time ball bearings as they sank through oil. SAE 30 for example is from 9.3 to 12.5 Centistokes, and SAE 40 follows on at 12.5 to 16.3, although most SAE 40 oils are in the middle at about 14. Now this is something most don’t realise: engines do not know what grade of oil they’re running on. They’re not clever enough! So an engine filled with 10W/40 will be running on a viscosity of 14 at 100C, but with a sump temperature of 90C its seeing a viscosity of 18, so as far as the engine is concerned it’s running on SAE 50. Likewise, at 110C, it’s down to 11 Centistokes so it ‘thinks’ it’s on a SAE 30! (Which is preferable.) The lesson is, do not use power and fuel-wasting thick oils in cool climates. A decent 10W/40 or even thinner is perfectly OK unless you’re running a classic with wide clearances and a slow oil pump.