Developing Engine Oils is Essentially Invisible to the Motor Vehicle Owners, but Absolutely Critical to Vehicle Engine Life

The engine oil lubricant industry and the infrastructure to support the effort to reliably market quality engine oils is largely invisible to the average driver of a pickup truck, passenger car, delivery truck, bus, freight hauler, etc.

14 November 2012

The engine oil lubricant industry and the infrastructure to support the effort to reliably market quality engine oils is largely invisible to the average driver of a pickup truck, passenger car, delivery truck, bus, freight hauler, etc.  However, if you step back and think about all of the different size engines and vehicles, all of the possible driving conditions (e.g. weather, load, speed, drive-cycle) and all of the various driving styles, then one might begin to make a realization: Producing a product that reliably protects the engine from breaking down – while at the same time squeezing a little extra fuel mileage out of a vehicle – requires a tremendous effort by many including the auto/engine manufacturers, oil marketers, oil additive companies, trade organizations (ASTM, SAE, API) and test laboratories.

So, what performance features does an engine oil need in order for an engine to stay "happy"?  The list of performance attributes is long, and a wide variety of engine tests are needed to stress the formulation in the following areas:  Oxidation stability (oil thickening), sludge, high temperature camshaft/lifter wear, low temperature camshaft wear, piston carbon deposits, cylinder liner wear, ring wear, oil consumption, soot induced oil thickening, filter plugging, corrosive bearing weight loss, etc.  In addition, several bench performance tests are required including elastomer compatibility, low temperature flow, foaming, volatility, etc.

New tests are needed every five to ten years in response to the following:  1) the need to respond to evolving new technologies such as Gasoline Direct Injected Turbocharged Engines; and 2) to replace engine hardware that is becoming obsolete.  The industry is already heavily engaged in the huge specification and test development effort for the next round of engine lubricant quality requirements slated for release in 2015/2016.

So, the next time you start your engine, know that it took a team of engineers, scientists, technicians and third-party testing companies to produce a product that was approved to market to meet stringent quality requirements.

What other questions do you have about engines? Share your comments or questions below and one of our experts will get back to you.

John Glaser, General Manager of Intertek’s San Antonio operations, focuses on providing dynamometer based testing for lubricants and fuels, engine emissions and performance development testing for on-highway and off-road. John also performs analytical testing for fuels and lubricants and vehicle component testing in the fuel systems industry.