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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

How to determine the best synthetic oil?

Choice is good, but how do you determine the best synthetic oil?

If we all agree that synthetic lubricants offer better protection than conventional mineral oils, then the next question surely has to be how do you determine the best synthetic oil?

To avoid costly damage, it’s important to determine the best synthetic oil before you buy. In this article we’re going to answer the question in broader terms, so as to include industrial products as well as synthetic motor oils used in
our cars.

We will not be discussing viscosity requirements.

Consider the lubricant group when trying to determine the best synthetic oil.

The first step in determining the best synthetic oil for the application is to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples - or more accurately synthetic oil with synthetic oil! Yes that’s right - not all synthetic lubricants are the same, or even fully synthetic:
  • Groups I and II are commonly referred to as conventional mineral oils. 
  • Group III is the problem group. In the USA these are referred to as synthetic although they may be highly refined or blended mineral oils. 
  • Group IV is the fully synthetic grouping. 
  • Group V base oils are so diverse that there is no new catch-all description. 
For the purpose of this exercise we’re going to assume that you're already aware of these advantages of synthetics: :
  • Reduced friction properties 
  • Extended oil change intervals 
  • Improved temperature range 
  • Improved oxidation properties 
  • Viscosity stability at extreme temperatures 
Two of the key considerations when trying to determine the best synthetic oil are the base oil and the additive package. While the base stock is very important for compatibility with the application, it is often the additive package that will determine the best synthetic oil in an application test.

Considerations when you have to determine the best synthetic oil.

All oils are not created equal. Gear lube is not hydraulic fluid; a compressor lube is not an engine oil and so forth. Gear oils will have anti-wear or extreme pressure additives in them. Compressor oils may have completely different additive packages with special rust and oxidation inhibitors. Synthetic motor oil used in a car or motorcycle engine, will have detergents specific to that required by the vehicle, among other additives, not found in most other oils.

The level of additive package is clearly marked on automotive motor oil you use in your car engine: The letters next to API, such as SM, refer to the additive quality level of the motor oil. In the case of SM, it’s the highest available standard for a motor car. CF is a diesel engine or commercial vehicle standard and the highest current one is CJ-4. These are rearwards inter-changeable.

For industrial lubricants the additive packages can vary across suppliers and therefore any special requirements should be discussed with the manufacturer before making any changes.

Once you’ve determined the best synthetic oil for your application, you need to keep track of the performance over time, to accurately monitor the performance.

Tracking performance once you’ve determine the best synthetic oil.

The best way of accurately tracking the performance over a long time is to conduct “wear check” analysis at pre-determined intervals. This can be in hours for industrial equipment or in km's/ miles for vehicles. In the end, these regular tests will give you a great way of monitoring degradation of both the oil and equipment, over the years, by way of:
  • Oxidation levels 
  • Acid levels 
  • Additive depletion 
  • Sludge build-up 
  • Silica content 
  • Wear particles 
Using this method, the lifespan of the oil can be determined, from which you can map whether you’ve in fact determined the best synthetic oil. Bear in mind lubrication and wear are no longer the only factors to base your decision on:

  • You need to also look at operating costs. 
  • Labour and cost of filters incurred in oil changes. 
  • Time/ production lost due to these changes. 
  • Energy costs (reduced friction will reduce input energy requirements, thereby saving fuel/ electricity costs) 
  • Extended equipment service life. 
  • Environmental impact due to less frequent oil changes. 
In summary: the question of how to determine the best synthetic oil should actually be: how to determine the best synthetic oil for the application and conditions.

For more information on the advantages of using the right synthetic lubricants take a look at this post describing what are synthetic oils or let Habot Synthetic Lubricants determine the best synthetic oil for your specific application.