September 9, 2012

By Frank Talaber

Good ol’ Jed Clampett went hunting to feed his family and ended up striking Texas Tea, Black Gold,… and moved to Beverly Hills. Or so goes the story in the Beverly Hillbillies. Back then oil was oil and as long as it wasn’t black as tar everything was good. But as technology advanced, engines began to run hotter, with higher compressions and computers.

            Scientists began looking at alternatives, like synthetic oils. Much of this research began even further back in the thirties with a German scientist named Dr. Hermann Zorn. He searched for lubricants like natural oils but ones that didn’t gel or turn to gum under gasoline engine environments. His work led to the invention of over 3500 esters, including diesters, polyolesters and banana oil.

            Synthetic oils are ester-based substances, along with other additives, which far outclass any ordinary oils. This led eventually to SynLube in Vancouver in 1969. They sold their synthetic oils to the Lunokhod 1 Moon Rover and the US Moon Rovers but their market soon began to grow.

            So, you ask, are synthetics really better? Here are some facts on synthetic oils to dispel the old Ford Model T tales your grandparents would have you believe.

            1. Synthetics will void your warranty. Wrong. They meet and exceed industry API and ILSAC standards (we’ll talk more later about those silly acronyms and what scientists get up to on their national conventions).

            2. Once you switch to synthetic you can’t switch back to conventional oil. Wrong.  They are fully compatible, and provide superior engine protection.

            3. Synthetics are good only in new cars. Wrong again. They’re grr--e--e--at (as Tony the Tiger would say) in older cars. It’s that superior protection thing again.

            4. Synthetics need a break-in period first before switching your vehicle over. Oh buddy, we’ve fooled you again. Here comes the cattle prod for four wrong answers in a row. With modern engine designs, break-in periods are no longer required.

            Any disadvantages to using synthetic oils? Yes. This, believe it or not, is straight out of Wikipedia; Potential stress cracking of polyoxymethylene plastics when mixed with polyalphaolefin particles (just a word to the wise here, no matter how many times you spell this out, the red underlining is all over the place from Word’s SpellCheck). Actually, what that means is, don’t use synthetic oil as car wax, dishwashing liquid or, unless you want to look like Phyllis Diller, Kojak, or Ilea (from the first Star Trek Movie), a shampoo.  Oh, and synthetic oils are not recommended in rotary engines.           

So why buy synthetics for $9-$19 per bottle, you ask, when “I can get a great buy on a case of twelve jugs of oil at my local grocery store for $2.99”.

            You get what you pay for. Ever look closely at a container of oil? They all seem to have this funny starburst type stamp on them. Oil is rated by weight and by compositions needed to meet operating standards in various years of vehicles. Multi-grade oils were originally called All-Season oils. When you look at the can and read 5W30, that means in the winter the oil will pour out at the thickness of a 5 weight rated oil and in the summer with the thickness of a 30 weight rated oil. For many decades, there were just a few rated oils, mainly 5W30, 10W30, 20W50. Lately, with engine tolerances getting tighter and emission standards being raised, we’ve seen the advent of oils as radical as 0W60.

            Compositions were first rated, and for decades later, by the API (American Petroleum Institute). Every once in awhile the people there get together to and decide to establish new oil standards for cars and RVs (wow! riveting stuff of legends in the cutting edge field of hydrocarbons). The current standard is SN - good for cars from 2011. The last standard was SM established in 2004. The one before was SL, for vehicles from 2001. So, if that can you’re holding says something like SD, it’s good for pre-1971 vehicles. In other words, nearly pure oil and not much else. Yup, you definitely get what you pay for.

            But don’t get fooled by just the API ratings, there are others out there now. The newest ILSAC (International Standardization and Approval Committee) ratings are GF5 for 2010 vehicles and older. You would think these folks with the ‘wow-knock-your-socks-off’ name should have the market sewn up on oil ratings. Nope, here’s where it started to get crazy. Along comes the ACEA (European Automotive Manufacturers Association). Yeah? How does that make ACEA?

            Then VW came along establishing their own ratings for their vehicles. The current benchmark is 504.00 for gasoline and 507.00 for diesels. Mercedes-Benz then joined the fray with their own ratings - MB 229.1 to MB 229.51. Way too confusing to explain in less than 4000 words. And I’m not even going to mention JASO (Japanese Automotive Operating Standards Agency) or the other automobile companies joining the bandwagon en-masse.

            So if you own an RV, or are towing a vehicle with your RV, it would be wise to check with a certified shop to make sure the oil they use is meeting the various spec’s required by your vehicle. If you’re unsure, check your owner’s manual. As for the supermarket oil that’s a steal at $2.99 for a twenty-litre pail? When you consider the cost of your average engine job - between $4,000 and $8,000 - that works out to about $20-$40 dollars for that cheap basically crude oil in a can. Not a bargain after all.

            For more information give us a call at Gerry’s Automotive (cheap unsolicited plug here) 1-604-826-0519 for quotes on engine rates, towing and oil specs. So, until next time, (and as Jed would say) y’all come back now, y’hear?

September 9, 2012

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