Motor Oil 101
Here's a write up I found that was geared towards talking to the simple minded...such as me. I am edumacated now! There are several lessons... stay tuned!
About the author:
Dr. Haas is a physician and surgeon. He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in biochemistry with honors. He studied motor oils since high school where he did independent studies on this topic. He studied the properties of viscosity.
When he was a general surgery resident in Chapel Hill he studied the flow mechanics of human blood. Today he continues his research by discussion of oil products with chemists in the field and chemists from the oil manufacturers.
He has personal racing experience in Formula Super Vee. He is his own Lamborghini and Ferrari as well as Mercedes mechanic.
Chapter One - Motor Oil 101
I think it is time to go over passenger car automotive engine oils in detail. I will be writing several articles to be published soon so I will try to get some of it out here. I feel this is a very general topic for all car owners on this board.
This is a very difficult topic to comprehend. Everybody including good mechanics think they are experts in this field but few understand engine oils. Most of what I hear is the opposite of the truth. It is however easy to see how people get mixed up as there is always some truth to the misconception.
Please forgive me if I am too wordy or even verbose at times. I will be redundant for certain. This will be in areas that people have to hear things over and over again to get it right. Some will never be able to understand these concepts unfortunately. I base my thoughts on those whom I have been listening to in various automotive chat rooms and discussion with mechanics. I will try to minimize technical terms and be somewhat vague rather than exact. I will round and average numbers to make the point simple rather than mathematically exact. Thickness has the same meaning as viscosity. Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid (liquid or gas) to flow. Fluids with high viscosity, such as molasses, flow more slowly than those with low viscosity, such as water. Again, I am trying to explain general principals as I know them.
The greatest confusion is because of the way motor oils are labeled. It is an old system and is confusing to many people. I know the person is confused when they say that a 0W-30 oil is too thin for their engine because the old manual says to use 10W-30. This is wrong.
More confusion occurs because people think in terms of the oil thinning when it gets hot. They think this thinning with heat is the problem with motor oil. It would be more correct to think that oil thickens when it cools to room temperature and THIS is the problem. In fact this is the problem. It is said that 90 percent of engine wear occurs at startup. If we are interested in engine longevity then we should concentrate our attention at reducing engine wear at startup.
Oils are chosen by the manufacturer to give the right thickness at the normal operating temperature of the engine. I will say this average oil temperature is 212 F, the boiling point of water. On the track that temperature is up to 302F. It is important to realize that these are two different operating environments and require different oils.
I will discuss driving around town first. Everything I say will be based on these conditions. At a later time I will discuss track conditions. Everything I say will be as accurate as possible without looking everything up and footnoting. I am trying to be general not ultra specific.
One thing that is no longer important is the ambient temperature. Older automotive owner manuals often recommended one oil for the summer and another for the winter. This is still necessary for air cooled engines but is no longer a consideration in pressurized water cooled engines. These engine blocks are kept at around 212 F all year round. The oil is around the same temperature as well. This allows for a single weight oil all year round. Again, this is not the same as on the track where the coolant temperature is slightly higher and the oil temperature is much higher.
Please forget those numbers on the oil can. They really should be letters as AW-M, BW-N or CW-P. The fact that we are dealing with a system of numbers on the can makes people think that they represent the viscosity of the oil inside the can. The problem is that the viscosity of oil varies with its temperature. A “30” weight oil has a viscosity of 3 at 302 F ( 150 C ) and thickens to 10 at 212 F ( 100 C ). It further thickens to a viscosity of 100 at 104 F ( 40 C ) and is too thick to measure at the freezing point of 32 F ( 0 C ).
30 weight oil:
Temperature ( F )....Thickness
32..........................250 (rough estimate)
The automotive designers usually call for their engines to run at 212 F oil and water temperature with an oil thickness of 10. This is the viscosity of the oil, not the weight as labeled on the oil can. I want to stay away from those numbers as they are confusing. We are talking about oil thickness, not oil can labeling. This will be discussed later. Forget the numbers on that oil can for now. We are only discussing the thickness of the oil that the engine requires during normal operating conditions.
The engine is designed to run at 212 F at all external temperatures from Alaska to Florida. You can get in your car in Florida in September and drive zig-zag to Alaska arriving in November. The best thing for your engine would be that it was never turned off, you simply kept driving day and night. The oil thickness would be uniform, it would always be 10. In a perfect world the oil thickness would be 10 at all times and all temperatures.
If the thickness of oil was 10 when you got in your car in the morning and 10 while driving it would be perfect. You would not have to warm up your engine. You could just get in the car and step on the gas. There would be little wear and tear on you engine, almost none. Unfortunately the world is not perfect.
The night before when you drove home from work the car was up the the correct operating temperature and the oil was the correct thickness, 10. Over night the engine cooled to room temperature and the oil thickened. It is 75 F in the morning now (I do live in Florida). The oil thickness is now around 150. It is too thick to lubricate an engine designed to run with an oil having a thickness of 10.
It is time to introduce the concept of lubrication. Most believe that pressure = lubrication. This is false. Flow = lubrication. If pressure was the thing that somehow lubricated your engine then we would all be using 90 weight oil. Lubrication is used to separate moving parts, to keep them from touching. There is a one to one relationship between flow and separation. If you double the flow you will double the separation pressure in a bearing. The pressure at the bearing entrance is irrelevant.
In fact the relationship between pressure and flow is in opposition. If you change your oil to a thicker formula the pressure will go up. It goes up because the resistance to flow is greater and in fact the flow must go down in order for the pressure to go up. They are inversely related. Conversely if you choose a thinner oil then the pressure will go down. This can only occur if the flow has increased.
It seems then that we should all be using the thinnest oil money can buy. This is partly true. Let me use my 575 Ferrari Maranello as an example. I drive this car around town. The manual of this car states the target pressure is 75 PSI at 6,000 RPM. The gold standard is that all engines should have a pressure of 10 PSI for every 1,000 RPM of operation, not more, not less. After all, you do need some pressure to move that oil along, but only enough pressure, not more. More pressure is not better, it can only result from the impedance of oil flow. Remember that oil flow is the only thing that does the lubricating.
Note that Ferrari is not saying what thickness of oil to use. That can only be determined by experimentation. My engine oil temperature is running around 185 F as I drive around town on a hot Florida summer day. I have found that the thinnest oil I can buy that is API / SAE certified is Mobil 1’s thinnest oil. Even with this oil I get 80 PSI at 2,000 RPM. It is too thick for my application yet it is the thinnest oil money can buy. If I was on a hot Florida track in mid-summer the oil temperature would probably get up to 302 F. I will guess that the pressure would only be 40 PSI at 6,000 RPM. The oil I am using would not meet the requirement of 75 PSI at 6,000 RPM from Ferrari. I would have to choose a thicker oil for this racing situation. The oil I use now would be too thin at that very high temperature. (This is only partly true. Higher RPM running engines use thinner and thinner oils to get more and more flow. I will discuss this later).
High flow does more than lubricate. It is one of the things used to cool the hottest parts of your engine, the pistons, valve areas and bearings. This cooling effect is as important as lubrication in your engine. If your engine is running hot use a thinner oil. The flow will increase and so will the cooling. This is even more important in the racing condition.
Let us go back to the Ferrari manual. My older 550 Maranello only specified 5W-40 Shell Helix Ultra as the oil to use in all conditions. This car was designed for racing. As it turns out Ferrari now recognizes that not every owner races their cars. The newer 575 manual now states to use 0W-40 for around town situations even though Shell does not make this oil in the Helix Ultra formulation at this writing. They also recommend the 5W-40 by Shell if you insist on the Shell product. It is also the recommended oil for most racing conditions.
Ferrari recommends Helix Ultra Racing 10W-60 “for hot climate conditions racing type driving on tracks”. Note that they now realize the difference between the daily urban driver like me and the very different racing situation. These are widely different circumstances. I want to emphasize that they only want you to use this oil while racing in “hot climate conditions”. If you are racing in Watkins Glen up north use the 5W-40. If you are racing in Sebring in the middle of the Florida summer use the 10W-60. Around town in any climate, use the 0W-40.
It is time to dispel the notion that 0W-30 oil is too thin when our manual calls for 10W-30. A 0W-30 is always the better choice, always. The 0W-30 is not thinner. It is the same thickness as the 10W-30 at operating temperatures. The difference is when you turn your engine off for the night. Both oils thicken over the evening and night. They both had a thickness, a viscosity of 10 when you got home and turned your engine off. That was the perfect thickness for engine operation.
As cooling occurs and you wake up ready to go back to work the next day the oils have gotten too thick for your engine to lubricate properly. It is 75 F outside this morning. One oil thickened to a viscosity of say 90. The other thickened to a viscosity of 40. Both are too thick in the morning at startup. But 40 is better than 90. Your engine wants the oil to have a thickness of 10 to work properly. You are better off starting with the viscosity of 40 than the honey - like oil with a viscosity of 90.
I repeat: More confusion occurs because people think in terms of the oil thinning when it gets hot. They think this thinning with heat is the problem with motor oil. It would be more correct to think that oil thickens when it cools to room temperature and THIS is the problem. In fact this is the problem.
This is the end of lesson number one.
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Chapter two. It gets more difficult.
We left off discussing that a 0W-30 weight oil is not thinner than a 10W-30 oil. They both have the same thickness at operating temperature. The 0W-30 simply does not get as thick on cooling as the 10W-30. Both are still way to thick to lubricate an engine at startup.
I have heard several people say that Porsche specifically prohibits a 0W-XX engine oil, that it is too thin. Now here is the partial truth I spoke of earlier. We will discuss multigrade oils. Earlier we said that a straight 30 weight oil has a thickness of 10 at the normal operating temperature of your engine. The multigrade oils 0W-30 and 10W-30 also have a thickness of 10 at 212 F.
The difference is at 75 F, your startup temperature in the morning.
Oil type... Thickness at 75 F...Thickness at 212 F
Straight 30...... 250......................10
Straight 10........30....................... 6
Now you can see that the difference between the desired thickness your engine requires ( = 10 ) is closest to the 0W-30 oil at startup. It is still too thick for normal operation. But it does not have far to go before it warms up and thins to the correct viscosity. Remember that most engine wear occurs at startup when the oil is too thick to lubricate properly. It cannot flow and therefore cannot lubricate. Most of the thick oil at startup actually goes through the bypass valve back to the engine oil sump and not into your engine oil ways. This is especially true when you really step on that gas pedal. You really need more lubrication and you actually get less.
Note that a straight 10 weight oil is also too thick for your engine at startup. It has a thickness of 30. Yet at operating temperatures it is too thin having a thickness of 6. It needs to be around 10. The oil companies have added viscosity index improvers or VI to oils to solve this dilemma. They take a mineral based oil and add VI improvers so that it does not thin as as much when it gets hotter. Now instead of only having a thickness of 6 when hot it has a thickness of 10, just as we need.
The penalty is the startup thickness also goes up to 100. This is better than being up at 250 as a straight 30 weight oil though. Oil with a startup thickness of 100 that becomes the appropriate thickness of 10 when fully warmed up is called a 10W-30 weight motor oil. This is NOT as thick as a straight 30 weight oil at startup and it is NOT as thin as a straight 10 weight oil at full operating temperature.
The downside of a mineral based multigrade oil is that this VI additive wears out over time and you end up with the original straight 10 weight oil. It will go back to being too thin when hot. It will have a thickness of 6 instead of 10. This may be why Porsche (according to some people) does not want a 0W-30 but rather a 10W-30. If the VI wears out the 0W-30 will ultimately be thinner, a straight 0 weight oil. When the VI is used up in the 10W-30 oil it too is thinner. It goes back to a straight 10 weight oil. They are both still too thick at startup, both of them. The straight 0 weight oil, a 5 weight oil and a 10 weight oil are all too thick at startup.
This is just theory however. With normal oil change intervals the VI improver will not wear out and so the problem does not really exist. In fact, oils do thin a little with use. This is partly from dilution with blow by gasoline and partly from VI improvers being used up. What is more interesting is that with further use motor oils actually thicken and this is much worse than the minimal thinning that may have occurred earlier.
Synthetic oils are a whole different story. There is no VI improver added so there is nothing to wear out. The actual oil molecules never wear out. You could almost use the same oil forever. The problem is that there are other additives and they do get used up. I suppose if there was a good way to keep oil clean you could just add a can of additives every 6 months and just change the filter, never changing the oil.
When the additives wear out in a synthetic oil it still has the same viscosity. It will not thin as a mineral oil. The fear that some say Porsche has that oils thin when the VI runs out is not applicable to these synthetic oils. These oils will always have the correct thickness when hot and will still be too thick at startup as with all oils of all types, regardless of the API / SAE viscosity rating.
Automotive engine manufacturers know these principals of motor oils. They know there is thinning or thickening that will occur. They take these things into account when they write that owners manual. Mineral oil change recommendations will generally include shorter time intervals than those of synthetic oils.
The reality is that motor oils do not need to be changed because they thin with use. It is the eventual thickening that limits the time you may keep oil in your engine. The limit is both time itself (with no motor use) and/or mileage use.
End of part two.
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Part Three. You have a synthetic mind.
Let us compare mineral and synthetic oils. I will not talk about chemical but rather functional differences. We discussed before how mineral oils are too thick at startup yet too thin when hot. The viscosity was corrected with the hot engine by adding VI improvers.
A 10W-30 multigrade mineral based oil is made from a 10 weight oil and has VI improvers added to thicken the product in a 212 F engine. It acts as a 30 weight oil when hot. It acts more as a 10 weight oil at startup. I remind you that a 10 or 5 or 2 weight oil is still too thick to provide lubrication at startup. They are all too thick at startup. There is currently no engine oil thin enough to operate correctly at startup. They all cause excessive wear at startup. Again, we are discussing the needs of my single hypothetical engine for around town driving.
Oil type.. Thickness at 75 F ..Thickness at 212 F
Straight 0...........12.....................3 est.
A 10W-30 synthetic oil is based on a 30 weight oil. This is unlike the counterpart mineral oil based on a 10 weight oil. There is no VI improver needed. The oil is already correct for the normal operating temperature of 212 F. It has a thickness of 10 while you drive to work. It will never thin yet has the same long term problem as the mineral based oil. They both thicken with extended age.
Synthetic oils are derived in the laboratory. They are pure, usually nearly clear. I describe mineral based motor oils as a distilled, concentrated product. The impurities need to be removed from the raw petroleum. These oils are therefore less clean and contain many impurities. Again, the problem is really more of theory than practice but the difference does exist.
People repeatedly say that synthetic oils are more stable in a hot engine. I hear that they lubricate better. The answer is yes and no. Oil molecules do not break down, just the additives. Generally, the synthetic oils do not have VI improvers so have less to lose.
There are some properties of synthetic oils that actually result is less wear than with mineral oils. These help increase your gas mileage as well. Due to a reduction of internal friction of the synthetic oil your engine will run a bit cooler. Wear increases as temperature increases, all other things being constant.
A main advantage that the synthetic has over the mineral based oil is the ability to lubricate at startup. Both types of oil have the same specifications at 104 F, 212 F and 302 F. It is the startup viscosity characteristics that separate these oils. Synthetic oils do not thicken as much on cooling. They have better fluidity as the temperature drops.
A synthetic oil that is labeled as 10W-30 is less honey like as a mineral based 10W-30 motor oil at startup. They both have a thickness of 10 at normal operating temperatures. At 75 F the synthetic is not as thick. At 32 F the difference between the two is even greater. At 0 F the mineral oil is useless yet the synthetic works fairly well. Just keep the RPM to a minimum.
At temperatures below zero you will not be able to start your car with mineral oils while the synthetic oils may be used to -40 or - 50 F. Oils are so thick that the normal method of viscosity measurement is not possible. Instead we measure if the oil can even be pumped or poured. Again, we are only discussing a single category of oil, the multigrade 10W-30 API / SAE grade.
I took an except from the web about Mobil 1 oils. They compared a 5W-30 synthetic Mobil 1 oil to a mineral based 10W-30 and a 10W-40 in ice cold conditions. The engine turned over at 152 RPM with the synthetic 5W-30 Mobil 1. The 10W-30 and 10W-40 mineral oils turned over at 45 and 32 RPM respectively. Neither of those engines started.
Motor oil becomes permanently thicker with exposure to northerly winter type weather. This is more of a problem to mineral based oils. Waxes form. This is why it is a bad idea to even store a bottle of oil in a cold garage. It goes bad on the garage self just because it is exposed to the cold.
To recap, synthetic oils have similar characteristics as mineral oils at operating temperatures. The synthetic oil will however be less honey - like at startup even though it has the same API / SAE rating. Yet the synthetic 10W-30 weight oil is based on a heavier 30 weight oil while the mineral based 10W-30 oil is based on a thinner 10 weight oil. They are both similar at operating temperatures yet the 30 weight based synthetic is actually less thick at startup and much less honey - like at low temperatures. This is the opposite of what common sense dictates.
This is worth repeating: The synthetic 10W-30 weight oil is based on a heavier 30 weight oil while the mineral based 10W-30 oil is based on a thinner 10 weight oil. They are both similar at operating temperatures yet the 30 weight based synthetic is actually less thick at startup and much less honey - like at low temperatures. This is the opposite of what common sense dictates.
As one can see this is no easy topic. Are you with me?
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Part Four. It is not what we thought.
Now let us finish talking about the differences of mineral verses synthetic oils. I will compare the same weigh or grade of oils showing that the operating viscosities are the same whereas the startup viscosities vary:
Oil type...Thickness at 75 F... at 212 F...at 302 F
0W-30..........There are none in this range......
Oil type...Thickness at 75 F... at 212 F...at 302 F
Since the synthetic oil thickens less on shutdown your startup will be easier and so will the stress on your engine. This is perhaps the best thing the synthetic class has over the mineral based oils.
People sometimes use a thicker oil to minimize gasket leaks. This seems obvious to me. Repair the gasket. Do not destroy your engine with an oil that is too thick for proper function.
Some people have said they use thicker oils because they only use their cars every 2, 3 or 4 weeks. They are afraid that thin oils will fall off the engine parts and result in a lack of lubrication at startup. Think about your lawn mower over the winter. I gets gummed up solid. The oil and fuel thicken over time resulting in engine failure. Anyway, oil on the surface of parts does not lubricate. It is the FLOW of oil between parts that lubricates. Thick, old, waxy oil can only be bad.
I have seen several car owner manuals that are now stating that oils do not need to be changed but every 7,500 miles or more. The same manual also states OR every 12 months, whichever occurs first. My feeling is that you can probably go 5,000 miles on the average (in a sports car) but you must change your oil in the spring time at a minimum, particularly up north. Oils form waxes in icy cold weather. There is a permanent thickening of the oil.
Some automotive manufacturers are backing down on oil change intervals to 5,000 miles or less and some advocate changing the oil at least every 6 months as well. I think this is because of the tendency for oils to thicken in very hot engines (not ambient conditions, just hot engines). Also because of thickening from the cold of winter and from sludge build up that cannot be filtered out.
I truly believe that oil is much better being too thin than too thick. Over the years we have been going to thinner and thinner oils despite hotter engines with turbos and the like. The tendency is that people figure they need a 40 weight oils but then use a 50 instead. Better thinking is that if you think you need a 40, use a 30 weight oil instead. I firmly believe this based on all I know about oils.
As it turns out synthetic oils do cling to parts better as they have higher film strength than mineral oils. Synthetics are thinner overall. They have greater slipperiness. Yet they stick better to engine parts. Again, this concept is the opposite of normal thinking.
The thickness of moving oil is measured in centiStokes or cS. Most engines want the oil viscosity to be around 10 cS at normal operating temperature. The really thick multigrade oils have a viscosity of 20 cS at operating temperature. One is not twice as thick as the other, it is only 10 cS thicker.
As we increase the heat from 212 F to 302 F the most commonly recommended oil thins from 10 cS to 3 cS. The thicker oil drops from 20 cS to 4 cS. Note that in a very hot engine the difference between the two oils is now only 1 - 2 cS. In other words they have about the same thickness. There is little advantage to a thicker based oil as a 20W-50 at very high temperatures. No, the 4 cS oil is not twice as thick as the 2 or 3 cS oil. This difference is almost insignificant.
There is a huge advantage of using the thinner, 10W-30 at startup where 90 percent of the engine wear occurs. At 75 F the thicker oil has a viscosity in the range of 250 cS while the thinner oil has a viscosity of 100 cS. The thicker stuff is 150 cS thicker. This is a very big difference. I am using the 20W-50 as my thicker oil example here.
People are always asking about adding things as Slick 50 into the oil tank. Do not do this. The oil companies and engine manufacturers work together very hard to give you the product you need. Engines are running hotter, longer with more BHP from less CID. Smaller, more efficient engines are getting us more MPG and yet better acceleration. These engines last longer and are more reliable.
Part of that reason is the nature of the lubricants. There is a lot of competition to get us the best working motor oil. Independent additives cannot make the oil better and in many cases makes things worse. There have been engine failures as a result of adding some of these aftermarket additives to motor oil.
Motor oil that is labeled for RACING ONLY is not usable for every day driving. Often these have more additives that are toxic to your catalytic converters and the environment. These oils generally do not have detergents. These are very important for your engine unless you plan on taking it apart every few weeks and cleaning every single surface. The oils do not meet the API / SAE requirements for ratings as SJ, SL or now SM.
You do not need to use the exact oil type and brand that your car manual tells you to use. Oils are pretty general. They are not that different. Ferrari is married to Shell. If you call them up and ask to use Valvoline instead they will tell you that they have not tested that brand in their cars. They only tested the engine with Shell oils. They cannot comment on the performance of other oils in their engines. This is a fair statement. The reality is that the Shell and Valvoline oils of the same specification (viscosity, API and SAE ratings, synthetic or not) are very similar. ( I do have my bullet proof vest on ).
People often say that their old 1980 car manual says to use a specific Brand-X motor oil. They keep trying to locate these older oils. First, just about any oil brand that meets the original specifications will do. Second, all oils are much, much better now. They are all much better. One could say that synthetic oils are better than mineral oils but is is hard to say that one brand is that much better than any other. Personally, I do stick to the big names. It does not mean that small motor oil companies are not as good. They could be better for all I know.
Using an oil that is less thick at startup has other benefits. Let us compare a synthetic 10W-30 to a mineral based 10W-30. Both give you a viscosity of 10 cS at normal engine operating temperatures. They both thin to 3 cS at high temperatures. At 75 F tomorrow morning the story will be different. The startup viscosity of the synthetic will be 50 whereas the mineral based 10W-30 will be 75. Again, both are too thick at startup but the synthetic will cause less startup time period wear and tear. You will get a little better gas mileage too.
The synthetic lubricated engine will turn over easier. This has the effect of using less power from your starter motor. It will last longer. Your battery has less of a current draw. This will also last longer. The battery was discharged less during the start so the alternator will rob less power from your engine to recharge. The alternator lasts longer and you get a little better gas economy. The only downside of synthetic lubricants is the cost. They cost 2 or 3 times as much as mineral based oils. Never-the-less I use plain Pennzoil multigrade mineral based 5W-20 in my Ford Expedition. This oil is thin enough at startup to have many of the attributes I just mentioned.
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Part Five. Let’s use top gear:
Let’s go racing. I will discuss driving in traffic jams in the Florida summer as well as racing in Sebring though there is no commonality. People lump these two driving situations together but there is no overlap.
On the race track one usually uses all the BHP their engine can give them. You briefly step on the brakes for the corner then put the pedal to the metal the rest of the time. Your oil will get up to 302 F, but your cooling system is around 212 F. The engine produces tremendous heat but can only pass it off so fast to the cooling system. There is a lot of air moving past the cooling radiator so the antifreeze / coolant is able to get rid of the extra heat from this part of the system with relative ease.
The temperature of oil on your gauge is not as hot as it really gets. This temperature is an average with oil from different parts of the motor. Some parts are hotter than others. It is said that some of the oil gets as hot as 400 or 500 F in these racing situations.
In an earlier section I said that thicker oils are usually needed in racing situations but not necessarily. Remember that a major function of oil is to cool the inside of your engine. In ASTM D 4485 3.1.4: “Terminology: Engine oil- a liquid that reduces friction and wear between moving parts within an engine, and also serves as a coolant.” Since the oil with a viscosity of 10 cS at 212 F thins to a viscosity of 3 cS at 302 F we will get more flow. The pressure will go down some as well. This is OK as long as we have a minimum of pressure to move the oil.
This increased flow will result in increased cooling by the oil. This is a good thing. You would probably want more oil flow in these situations and you get it. The hotter oil thins and this increases flow. The higher flow works harder to separate the engine parts that are under very high stress. It all works out for the better. Higher revving engines need thinner oils. You do not necessarily need to go to a thicker oil while racing. Only experimentation will tell.
The best way to figure out what viscosity of oil you need is to drive the car in the conditions you will use. Then use the oil viscosity that gives you 10 PSI per 1,000 RPM under those circumstances. For some reason very few people are able to get this simple principal correct. I cannot explain further.
These same rules apply to engines of any age, loose or tight. Just because your engine is old does not mean it needs a thicker oil. It will need a thicker oil only if it is overly worn, whether new or old. Yet the same principals of 10 PSI per 1,000 RPM still apply. In all cases you need to try different weight oils and see what happens. Then choose the correct viscosity.
I am using 0W-20 in my Ferrari 575 Maranello right now. It has over 5,000 miles on the clock. There will be a day (my estimate is 50,000 miles) when I will have to go to a 0W-30. In the future I will have to increase the viscosity to a 0W-40, then a 0W-50, maybe. I will use whatever it takes to give me 75 PSI at 6,000 RPM during the lifetime of my engine. This formula works in all situations.
Some people have tried this and occasionally get a somewhat low oil pressure while at idle. This is fine. There is no stress on parts at idle, the smallest oil flow will do the trick. It is at higher RPM where more BHP is produced. This is where we need the flow. Remember that Ferrari uses 75 PSI at 6,000 RPM as the place to test your oil viscosity needs. If your oil gives this value under your driving conditions then your lubrication system has been maximized. Period.
Do not go 5,000 miles with the same oil if you are racing your car. You should change the oil every 1 or 2,000 miles. If you drive your car around town then you need to change the oil for that situation. Use racing oil on the track and urban oil around town. The best situation as described by Ferrari is to use the 0W-40 around town and the 10W-60 “racing oil” on the track. It has to be that “hot” track though. A compromise situation would be to use the 5W-40 for both but this may not be optimal. Certainly, if you are just an urban driver as me use the 0W-40 or even a thinner oil as I do in my Maranello. Again, I use the 0W-20.
FYI. The Formula 1 cars that run at 15,000 RPM and higher use straight 5 and 10 weight oils.
Now let me discuss what people think is a similar situation to racing. That is hot summer traffic jam driving. Your car should be able to handle this. If you have problems then you have a problem with your car, most likely in need of a cooling system overhaul.
When you drive that car down the road mid-winter in upstate New York or mid-summer in Florida the engine and oil temperatures will be around 212 F. But your Florida vacation is suddenly altered by a hurricane. You have to get out of Tampa, but so do a million other people. It is now 95 F and you are in a snarl. Everyone thinks they need a thicker oil for this situation. This is false.
Your engine is not producing much heat at low RPM and low BHP output. The production of heat is relatively slow. It can easily be transmitted to your cooling system. The problem is that your cooling system has trouble getting rid of the heat. The oil and the coolant will slowly rise in temperature. They both rise together. The increase is no big deal for your oil. It goes to 220, then 230 F. The problem is that the cooling system can only handle heat up to 230 F. After that you overheat the cooling system and the car must be shut off. The oil never got that hot, It was just that the water got a little hotter than its system design.
You now see that overheating in traffic is a cooling system problem and not an oil system problem. Do not change to a thicker oil based on your traffic situation.
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Part Six. A personal recommendation. (Updated in 2007)
These are the motor oils I recommend. This is based on information that I just happened to collect. I have not gotten the specifications of all oils out there. My opinion on these oils is based on viscosities. By this I mean less honey like at start up temperatures and appropriate for the required viscosity at operating temperature. I broke it down to several classes, 1-Fully Synthetic, 1.2-Race Track, 2-Semi-Synthetic, 3-Mineral (dinosaur) oils. The asterisk is my preferred from each group of very similar products. And these are usually easier to find in my experience. Remember, all oils are too thick at start up. There is no such thing as an oil that is too thin below 100 F. The thinnest motor oil made is still too thick at start up temperatures.
It seems that many engines work best with a multigrade 30 weight oil. Others would do better with a 20 weight oil and few would require a 40 weight oil. You can only determine what is best by experimenting. Admittedly I did not think my Ferrari Maranello would need a 20 weight oil. In truth I could actually use a 10 weight oil. A 0W-10 would be good but it simply does not exist for normal use. Red Line does make 2W, 5W and 10W oils (this acts as a 0W-10 multigrade oil) but they are for racing only. One Formula 1 team has actually used these very oils off the shelf from Red Line.
Agip Synthetic PC 20W-50 (a thick 50 wt oil)
Redline straight 60 wt racing oil (racing only, acts as a SAE 20W-60 oil)*
Shell Helix Ultra Racing Oil 10W-60
Castrol Syntec 5W-50
Penn Synthetic 5W-50
Red Line 15W-50*
Shell Helix Ultra 15W-50
Castrol European Formula 0W-30 (a thicker 30 wt oil, almost a 40 wt oil)*
Mobil One 0W-40
Mobil One 0W-30
Penn Synthetic 5W-30
Red Line 5W-20 (a thick 20 wt oil)*
Mobil One 5W-20*
Valvoline SynPower 5W-20
…..Race Oils for Street Use…..
Use these when continued sump temperatures over 240 F are expected.
Redline straight 60 wt racing oil (racing only, not for the street, acts as a SAE 20W-60 oil)
Shell Helix Ultra Racing Oil 10W-60
Valvoline SynPower 20W-50
Castrol Syntec 5W-50
Shell Helix Ultra 15W-50
Red Line 5W-40
Shell Helix Ultra 5W-40
Red Line 10W-30
Red Line 5W-20
Castrol Syntec Blend 20W-50
Agip 4-Synt 10W-40
Valvoline Durablend 10W-40*
Castrol Syntec Blend 5W-30
Motorcraft Blend 5W-30
Valvoline Durablend 5W-30*
Valvoline Durablend 5W-20
None recommended - all relatively too thick at start up.
Penn regular Multigrade 10W-40*
Valvoline All Climate 10W-40
Penn regular Multigrade 5W-30*
Valvoline All Climate 5W-30
Penn regular Multigrade 5W-20
Mobil Clean 5000 5W-20*
If while on the road you are forced to add oil there are rules. Let us say for example that our engine has synthetic Mobil One 0W-30. Use the same type and brand if you can. If you are using Mobil 1 then it is acceptable to mix different grades but use a close grade when possible. It is not a good idea to mix say 1/2 your oil tank with 0W-30 and 1/2 with 15W-50 Mobil 1. If there is no Mobil 1 available then use the mineral based Mobil oils next,.
The last choice is to mix a synthetic of another brand. They should not react adversely if mixed but it may dilute additives. This is not a good combination. Use this combination if you must but only until an oil change can safely be performed some time soon.
I personally used 0W-20 Mobil 1 in the 575 Maranello and for the first oil change I drained the Murcielago’s (OEM) 5W-40 Agip and replaced it with 0W-30 Mobil 1. The engine became much quieter. A valve tappet noise disappeared. I am now using the 5W-20 Red Line in the Lamborghini. Used oil analysis shows that this oil works well for my non racetrack application. The same oil went into my Maybach 57. My Enzo Ferrari calls for the Shell Helix Ultra racing 10W-60 but I am using the Castrol Syntec European Formula 0W-30. This is different than the easy to find plain 0W-30 Syntec. It MUST say European Formula across the front of the label. I buy it at AutoZone stores but it is often mixed with the plain stuff.
You have to try by experimentation what operating oil grade your engine requires. In all cases however, you want the oil that gets least honey-like at startup and thins to the appropriate thickness for normal operation. Always recheck the oil label as they change a lot.
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...
40, 2.9 - 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- ASTM International
........Society of Automotive Engineers- SAE International
........American Petroleum Institute- Welcome To The API Website