Does Syn Oil Lead to Salvation?


HOUSTON – A thousand trucking companies went out of business in 2008, and fuel costs were a major factor, a lubricant executive said. Replacing 15W-40 with synthetic 5W-40 diesel engine oil can help improve energy efficiency, but it can be a tough sell to fleet owners.

I wouldnt use 5W-anything in my lawn mower, one fleet owner told me, Mark Betner, product manager for heavy duty lubricants with Citgo Petroleum Corp. in Houston, relayed to the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association International Lubricants & Wax Meeting herelast month. Beware of preconceived ideas about 5W oils, he said. Youll encounter many when you try to introduce synthetic 5W-40 engine oils to the heavy duty sector.

Federal on-highway emissions legislation has driven changes in diesel engine hardware, said Betner, and the reduction in particulate and NOx emissions has been huge. The emissions from one 1988 truck equaled the total emissions from 65 2010 trucks. HD engine oil has responded, with the latest specification, CJ-4, adopted in 2007. In some cities, the air coming out of a diesel engine is cleaner than the air going in, said Betner, and standards are set to tighten further in 2010.

The most important ways to achieve energy efficiency are engine, truck and trailer design, drive line technology, tire design, diesel fuel quality and condition and – critically – factors the driver can control like reduced engine idle, reduced speed, shifting patterns and driving techniques, said Betner. (Drivers are huge, he noted.) But can lubricants make a difference?

The answer, he said, is a robust yes, with synthetic 5W-40 oils. Betner cited a variety of sources, including Eaton Corp., and tests that conclude that using synthetic lubricants achieves at least a 1 percent improvement in fuel economy. At average fuel prices, this translates to a $25,000 per year savings for a 50-vehicle fleet and $125,000 per year for 250 vehicles. If the fuel savings rises to 2 percent or 3 percent, the savings can climb to $250,000 and $375,000 per year for that 250-vehicle fleet.

A General Motors fuel test comparing 5W-40 to 15W-40, said Betner, showed an average 1.8 percent improvement using the lower viscosity synthetic. Another test of an over-the-road Class 8 fleet showed an impressive increase in fuel economy of more than 3 percent.

Yes, synthetic lubricants are more expensive, said Betner, but the annual savings can far outweigh that cost. Plus, he added, lubricants and filters are only 2 percent of the total cost of fuel, maintenance, tires and lubricants/filters. Fuel takes up 70 percent, maintenance 20 percent and tires 8 percent.

Synthetic 5W-40 HD oils have the widest operating temperature range of 122 degrees F to -20 degrees F, Betner continued. This compares favorably to the 122 F to 20 F range for 15W-40 oils, and translates to longer battery and starter life

The wider temperature range possible with 5W-40 oils can bring major savings beyond fuel savings, said Betner. Consider one 3,000-bus school fleet, that used to plug-in most bus block heaters in winter months in order to start the engines. By changing from 15W-40 to 5W-40 synthetic oil, engine block heaters were virtually eliminated, saving the school district $250,000 annually in electricity costs.

Synthetic 5W-40 oils, combined with oil analysis to optimize drain intervals, show significant advantages versus 15W-40 engine oils, concluded Betner. Its a paradigm shift in lubricating diesel engines.

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