MOTOR Magazine

A MOTOR Magazine Newsletter
August 23, 2016

Contributed by Bob Chabot
Changing Engine Oil Specs

Lubricants enable new engine hardware technology

Change is a constant in the automobile industry. Each year, new vehicle models are introduced, many with new technologies that require understanding. That applies to lubricants as well, which is why the American Petroleum Institute (API) strives to ensure its revised or new oil standards keep pace with the changing times. Here's the latest update on CK-4, FA-4, GF-6 and dexos:1 lubricant specifications.

The API says two new PC-11 diesel oil products are scheduled for introduction in 2017 that improve on the current single CJ-4 specification. Since it could be confusing to determine which of the new oils — FA-4 or CK-4 oil — is correct for a specific diesel engine, the API has developed new Service Symbol Donuts to make it easy to clearly identify and differentiate between them. (Image — API)

CK-4 and FA-4: Two Diesel Oil Specifications With Distinct Differences
Diesel engines have continually evolved, delivering improved fuel efficiency along with increased power output. There have been a great deal of changes to engine hardware — not least of which were new types of injection systems, combustion temperatures and pressures, along with different metallurgy within the engines and new coatings.

Yet it has been nearly a decade since the last API diesel engine oil category for North America was revised and introduced. In addition, new emission legislation is now scheduled for diesel-powered commercial transport vehicles for 2017 that will require reduced carbon dioxide emissions along with even greater fuel economy.

To meet the increased need for improved performance levels for lubricants, new specifications, originally known as Proposed Category 11 (PC-11), have been in development. The quest for improved diesel oils began with a request from the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) in June 2011, when the trade group requested a new category for diesel engines that would see the creation of two oil specs that were separate and distinct.

The API then formed a team to develop the new oil category, intended to replace the older CJ-4 spec (which was introduced in 2006), with two diesel oil performance specifications that were finalized in early 2016, renamed CK-4 and FA-4, and scheduled for introduction and licensing by December 1, 2016:

  • FA-4 is recommended for 2016-2017 and newer diesel engines — It replaces the former standard — (which provides greater fuel efficiency benefits). In contrast to CK-4 oil, FA-4 is intended to offer improved fuel economy, high-temperature and high shear performance, oxidation stability, and aeration control, but at a lower viscosity.
  • CK-4 is intended to be the new oil for older diesel engines — It preserves and meets historical heavy-duty oil criteria. CK-4 is backward-compatible, and is suitable for use in commercial trucks, light duty pickups and passenger cars, as well as off-road vehicles, such as farm and construction equipment. CK-4 oils will provide similar benefits as FA-4, but in a higher viscosity formulation.

"For operators, the new diesel oils will be an upgrade to those that they've grown accustomed to using," explained Kevin Ferrick, the API's senior manager for engine oil licensing. "The new upgrade is really overdue, but these improved performance oils will better protect engines on the road today. It will come down to owners and service providers learning and confirming the oil recommended for a particular engine."

"If someone is running an older engine today, there is no guidance yet for the OEM to say to use FA-4, but over time some may or may not determine that it could be used," Ferrick explained. "In the interim, err on the side of caution: Engines currently using CJ-4 should transition to CK-4."

Look for two different ILSAC GF-6 specs to be introduced in 2018: A GF-6A spec (an upgrade from GF-5 for older engines using higher viscosity oils); and a GF-6B spec (for news engines using light viscosity oils, such as 0W-16). The spider diagram above compares difference performance requirements for the older GF-5 spec and newer GF-6A spec. Note that the other new standard, GF6-B, will meet or GF-6A performance metrics. In addition, GF-6B is intended for lower viscosity oils, which are more fuel efficient. Unlike GF-6A, GF-6B will not be backwards compatible (Image — ILSAC)

Gasoline Engine ILSAC GF-6 Expected to be Introduced in Early 2018
Gasoline oil specifications are about to be updated as well, with the current International Lubricant Specification Advisory Committee (ILSAC) GF-5 spec being replaced by GF-6. The primary driver for a new specification is the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standard put into effect by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2012.

CAFE calls for a fleet-wide average of 54.5 mpg by 2025 in the United States, which requires approximately a 5 percent annual improvement in fuel economy in all new passenger vehicles. This will involve a comprehensive improvement in overall engine design, the proliferation of more efficient technologies (e.g. stop-start, 48V electrical architectures) and improved lubricants.

"GF-6 will include advanced lubrication technology for enhanced efficiency and engine protection, but reaching these goals has its challenges. ILSAC has delayed the development and deployment of GF-6 due to snags in engine test development, in particular because six new engine test designs have not been completed yet. But shops need to know GF-6 is on the horizon and scheduled for introduction sometime in the second quarter of 2018."

y 2025 in the United States, which requires approximately a 5 percent annual improvement in fuel economy in all new passenger vehicles. This will involve a comprehensive improvement in overall engine design, the proliferation of more efficient technologies (e.g. stop-start, 48V electrical architectures) and improved lubricants.

The new GF-6 specification upgrade was also created to reflect the needs of new engine technology, including gasoline direct injection (GDI) as well as turbocharged GDI (TGDI) engines, while also providing improvement in lubricant performance, engine protection in harsher operating conditions and higher fuel economy. "This is important because it has been estimated that by 2020, 39 percent of passenger cars produced globally will run on GDI/TGDI engines," Ferrick advised. "This requires higher performance engine oils compared to what GF-5 currently offers today."

Bottom Line? The days of everyone using the same viscosity grade are going by the wayside. Expect OEMs to be much more explicit in their engine oil recommendations when GF-6 is introduced. In addition, just as the older diesel oil spec evolved into two newer specs, expect to see two gasoline viscosity-based oil standards — one for newer engines and another for older engines.

Watch the video to see Angela Willis, Engine Oil Group Supervisor for General Motors, introduce the next generation dexos 1: 2015 specification at Fuel and Lube Week. Although the video quality is poor, her comments provide a detailed description of the new spec, as well as GM's approach to engine lubricants.

According to Willis, first generation dexos 1 featured 11 engine chemistry and physical tests. The next generation dexos 1 spec requires 15 engine tests, five of which are new and developed by the automaker. "General Motors has been on a long journey with the dexos global oil specification process. The next generation of dexos-approved oils will serve as enablers to increased fuel economy performance, while retaining the well-known oxidation and anti-wear performance." (Video — Fuel + Lube)

Next Generation GM dexos 1: 2015 Specification To Arrive by 2017
Originally introduced in calendar year 2010 for vehicle model year 2011 cars and trucks, the first generation General Motors (GM) oil specification was known as dexos:1 2010 Spec. It was created to provide a global standard for GM vehicles, ensure that the oil meets the demands of modern and evermore-complex engines, meet stricter emission regulations and provide improved fuel economy. Current dexos1:2010 licenses will expire by December 31, 2016.

"As regulations call for greater fuel economy and lower emissions, the industry will move forward with oils that are much more specific to the changing engines of today and tomorrow," shared Eric Johnson, GM's industry liaison for engine oil and fuels "To that end, a next generation dexos spec — dexos:1 2015 Spec — was introduced at the end of 2015. It's currently going through the final testing and approval process before being licensed to lubricant producers, such as Phillips 66, Chevron and other lubricant formulators and manufacturers, before being deployed into the service and repair market by 2017."

"GM has developed its own tests to meet or exceed industry standards, and make sure the dexos 1: 2015 spec can better protect today's turbocharged vehicles. It also continues to improve other industry tests over time. Both have contributed to delaying introduction of the next generation dexos spec into the marketplace. One significant change from a formulating standpoint is in the pre-ignition test and how it can better protect turbocharged vehicles, which has been a continuing industry concern."

Johnson described several of the GM tests to vet dexos 1: 2015. These include the:

  • NOACK Volatility Test (also known as ASTM D-5800) — which determines the evaporation loss of lubricants during high-temperature service. GM's spec limit for this test is a more stringent 13 percent, compared to the industry limit of 15 percent.
  • Sequence IIIG Test — which can further evaluate automotive engine oils for certain high-temperature performance characteristics like oil thickening, oil consumption and engine wear.
  • Oxidation and Deposit (GMOD) Test — which is under development and will replace the above-mentioned Sequence IIIG test.
  • Stochastic Pre-Ignition (SPI) Test — which evaluates the lubricant's ability to prevent low-speed or stochastic pre-ignition.
  • Aeration Test — which evaluates a lubricant's ability to resist aeration during varying durations of engine operation.
  • Turbocharger Deposit Test — which evaluates the lubricant's resistance to coking and buildup during extreme temperature operation.

"General Motors wants to be proactive as it develops the next generation dexos 1: 2015 specification, so it is as close to market-ready when ILSAC finalizes GF-6," explained Angela Willis, GM's Engine Oil Group Supervisor for General Motors. "In addition, GM wants to ensure the spec meets or exceeds certain performance criteria within the GF-6 standard."

"The next generation dexos 1:2015 specification will challenge lubricant formulators and manufacturers," she added. "They will need to optimize additive chemistry for all viscosity grades to ensure the best fuel economy and balance for other performance criteria within the specification, such as robustness, low speed pre-ignition and turbo deposits. The new spec will also enable GM to certify vehicles across the globe as stricter, but slightly different, fuel economy and emissions guidelines are implemented."

Expect engines and related technologies to continue to advance, even though they are made in different plants and go to different regions. Lubricants must also advance to ensure consumers have the best oils available for these new engine architectures. Finally, shops will need to get better-informed, as well as stock their shelves with, or have speedy access to, the correct oils that match and address these inbound engine technologies and oil specifications.

[Editor's note: Read MOTOR Magazine's August 2016 issue for the latest diagnostic and automotive service insights.]

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