Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS) deciphers the information on lubricant packaging so that factors can advise their customers on which products they should be buying.
In today’s competitive market, lubricant choice can run into hundreds or even thousands of products. New, lower viscosity, more efficient lubricants are being launched every year to cater for the increasing demands of consumers. Yet the average age of the UK car is increasing. Packaging plays a vital role by informing the customer and trader of its contents and whether the lubricant is suitable for the chosen application. Lubricant packaging carries key pieces of vital information that can help you navigate your way to finding the right automotive engine, transmission, brake or gear oil.
Choosing the right oil really does matter. Manufacturers invest millions of pounds in developing sophisticated, technologically- advanced engineering and expect all the parts that go to make up an application to be of suitable quality to ensure the life of the vehicle for many years to come. Putting inadequate or incorrect oil in the car accelerates wear to gears and bearings which could significantly shorten an engine’s life.
When it comes to looking at claims on lubricants packs, there are usually five key pieces of information that end users need to consider carefully:
1. SAE – The Society of Automotive Engineers
This will indicate a lubricant’s viscosity or resistance to flow.
For modern, multi-grade engine oils there are two numbers separated by a letter ‘w’. The first number indicates a summer viscosity and the second number, after the letter ‘w’, indicates a viscosity in colder or winter operating temperatures e.g. 5W-30.
2. API – The American Petroleum Institute
This measure indicates an oil’s performance standard relevant to a given application.
Here you might see two sets of letters, an ‘S’ rating followed by a sequence letter and a ‘C’ rating also followed by a sequence letter, and sometimes, an associated number. ‘S’ in this case is a relevant quality rating for petrol or gasoline cars and ‘C’ for diesel or commercial vehicles. These ratings change over time but the latest ones are SN for petroleum cars and CK-4 for diesel vehicles.
3. ACEA – Developed by the European Association of Original Equipment Manufacturers, indicating a performance standard specifically tailored to the needs of the European market. The current series that lubricant marketers are blending to were produced in 2016.
These ACEA sequences identify relevant performance standards for lubricants based on the type of engine – usually the ‘A’ series of gasoline or petroleum engines and the ‘B’ series for diesel engines, including light vans. Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ sequences are designed for vehicles not fitted with exhaust after-treatment devices. For vehicles that are fitted with either a catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter, the ‘C’ sequences apply, where ‘C’ represents catalyst compatible. So a typical series of sequences might be ACEA A3/B4, or alternatively ACEA C3. The exact combination of letters will depend on the engine’s specific requirements and for heavy commercial diesel engines the ACEA ‘E’ series will apply.
4. The next piece of information might relate to the specific car. More recently, manufacturers require specific lubricants that match the exacting requirements of their vehicles. These give the end user the added assurance that not only will a lubricant meet the requirements of the engine as reflected in the ACEA ratings, but it has been specifically developed against the manufacturers’ specification. Typically you might see a manufacturer’s letters accompany the name of the lubricant, such as VW, GM or PSA. These lubricants might be suitable for use or meet the requirements of a manufacturer or they might have gone through the OEM’s formal approval process.
5. The final piece of information will indicate if a lubricant is formally approved by a manufacturer – by stating the list of OEMs alongside the relevant formal approval. So, for example MB 229.51 would represent Mercedes-Benz 229.51 specification.
Evaluating each of these pieces of information is vital to ensure the correct lubricant choice. Relying on the SAE alone doesn’t take into account the specific demands of different engines that fall within that series. Always review this in conjunction with the other elements. If there is any doubt, it is always best to advise customers to check with a vehicle’s operating manual. Despite advances in technology, this rule of thumb holds as true today as it always has.