Back in 2012, North American and Japanese automakers proposed a new oil specification for gasoline-fueled engines: ILSAC GF-6. Certified by the American Petroleum Institute and labeled with its Starburst trademark, it would lift our current GF-5 engine oils to a new performance level. The final standard needs to deliver greater fuel economy and fuel economy retention, emission-system compatibility and elevated oil robustness for spark-ignited engines in all global markets.
Everything is up for discussion on GF-6. The proposed category may need adjustments to physical and chemical limits relative to GF-5, to allow improved performance while maintaining durability. Most urgently, the automakers said two completely new engine tests are needed and most of the existing ones used for GF-5 require updating as well, since they are based on outdated engines that are no longer made and dont reflect current technology.
In addition to a slew of laboratory bench tests, the GF-6 hurdles will include the following fired-engine sequence tests:
Sequence IIIH for Engine Oil Oxidation (may replace the IIIG).
Sequence IVB for Valvetrain Wear (replaces the IVA).
Sequence VH for Engine Oil Deposits (replaces the VG).
Sequence VIE and VIF for Fuel Economy and Retention of Fuel Economy (replaces the VID).
Sequence VIII for Bearing Corrosion and Viscosity Stability (retained from GF-5).
Timing Chain Wear Test – New Test.
Low Speed Pre-Ignition Test – New Test.
The early days of the process seemed pretty straightforward, although the fuel economy and air quality mandates were pretty steep and the auto makers were dealing with some performance problems, like timing chain wear and low speed pre-ignition, that require new tests to solve. Oh, and there was the fact that the heavy duty diesel guys were also being challenged by new federal fuel economy and emissions limits. Both sides, light and heavy duty, targeted 2016 for when the new engine oil categories were to go into effect.
Straining at the Effort
At the beginning of 2012, there was a belief that GF-6 would be ready for API to begin certifying and licensing products by January 2015. However, difficulties with developing the engine tests pushed that timing first to September 2016 and then to January 2017. In addition, the strain of simultaneously developing two categories was showing.
The industrywide cost to develop a new category is enormous. Ive heard estimates for the new heavy duty category in the neighborhood of $400 million! Youve got to expect that GF-6 is at least that and probably more. At any rate, the heavy duty side claimed the first position and early on development focused on it; API CK-4 and FA-4 are complete and begin licensing Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, here we are in mid-2016 and things are still looking hazy for the gasoline side. Not only is the new category tardy, but the delay is beginning to put a bite on the current category, too. Back in March, the first licensure date for GF-6 oils was expected to be April 2018. Last month, as the Auto Oil Advisory Panel met to discuss the latest issues regarding engine tests, that date also was looking wobbly. So why is that a problem for GF-5?
When GF-6 was first proposed, the industry went through a rigorous review of all existing GF-5 engine tests, stands and spare parts to make sure there were enough of each to get us to the GF-6 first-license date. Now however, with the delays in test development as well as problems with test hardware, reference fuels and assorted other issues, the GF-5 engine test stockpiles are in danger of running out by the end of this year – if not sooner.
As the AOAP heard, that leaves a potential gap of up to 18 months between the end of existing tests and the introduction of the new category. Obviously, the oil folks want to avoid that, and to see GF-6 get off the ground as soon as possible.
A Salvage Job?
Going into the August 11 meeting, the engine test situation was looking pretty grim. Several GF-5 engine tests are running out of parts. Various ASTM Surveillance Panels are looking at ways to extend the testing life of the engines through scrounging up parts and even going to salvage yards for backup.
According to Scott Lindholm of Shell, who has chaired the AOAP for some time, three tests are of particular concern for GF-5: the Sequence VID, Sequence VG and Sequence IIIG. All three are slated for replacement – by the VIE, VH and IIIH, respectively – but APIs Lubricants Group has yet to review and accept those into the category.
The Sequence VIE and Sequence VIF fuel economy tests have wrapped up matrix testing and data are being analyzed to see if the tests are both repeatable and reproducible. By the way, the Sequence VIF is a version designed just for very low viscosity engine oils such as SAE 0W-16.
The Sequence VG engine test for oil deposit control was originally to be replaced by the Sequence VH using a Ford engine, but technical details have caused a lot of snags. Lindholm said the Sequence VH report is due soon after this issue goes to press, and that Fords AOAP representive Ron Romano and the Sequence VH Surveillance Panel have a plan to get it over the finish line. I heard they just approved a new reference fuel batch, which helps with that plan. Stay tuned.
That leaves the Sequence IIIG, which will be replaced by the IIIH if equivalent results can be obtained and the API Lubricants Group accepts it. That needs to happen by the fourth quarter or we will need provisional licensing.
How We Got Here
Readers who follow the world of engine testing know that its the tool through which engine oil performance is defined and oil categories are managed. Engine tests have been around a long time – even longer than Ive been in the business! When you see ILSAC GF-5 or API CK-4 on a products label, you are looking at the results of industry-accepted engine tests. You are also looking at the history of engine oil.
Starting in 1911, the Society of Automotive Engineers (now SAE International) developed what would become SAE J300, a standard that classified engine oils by viscosity grade. This classification system stood alone until 1947, when the American Petroleum Institute designated three types of engine oils: regular, premium and heavy duty. Generally, regular oils were straight mineral oils, premium oils contained oxidation inhibitors, and heavy duty oils contained both oxidation inhibitors and detergent-dispersant additives.
At the time General Motors had an engine oil test, the L-4, which used a six-cylinder Chevrolet engine to gauge oil oxidation, but when GM discontinued that engine in the early 1950s, the industry joined forces to develop a versatile laboratory engine, the single-cylinder CLR L-38. Caterpillars single-cylinder engine test was in place by this time, and Fords Falcon engine rust test, and more would follow.
As engine tests proliferated, we of course needed a way to keep them straight. Cue the standard known as SAE J304, Engine Oil Tests – the mother lode of current and obsolete engine tests. Introduced in 1942 and kept up to date ever since, it lists scores of tests and their operating conditions as well as to which categories they apply.
In 1952 APIs Lubricants Committee, along with ASTM, developed the Engine Service Classification System, revising it in 1955 and again in 1960. This system separated oils by engine type, gasoline or diesel, with Service Categories ML, MM and MS for the former and DG, DM and DS for the latter.
In 1969 and 1970, API, ASTM and SAE established an entirely new category system, the basis for what we have now. SAEs role was to determine the Service Categories for engine oils; ASTM established the test methods, performance characteristics and technical descriptions; and API wrote the user language, including letter designations for each category. SAE published the results of the entire project in 1970 as SAE J183, Engine Oil Performance and Engine Service Classification.
In 1992 and 1993, API, ASTM and a group of U.S. and Japanese automotive manufacturers (now called the International Lubrication Standardization and Advisory Committee, ILSAC) together introduced improvements to ensure the quality of engine oils being licensed and marketed, and to create the ILSAC GF-series of lubricants for new vehicles. This process is codified as API 1509, Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System (EOLCS).
Of course, API, ASTM and SAE update their documents as required, adding tests where needed and deleting categories when they no longer have tests to support them. Gasoline Engine Service Category SA was obsolete from the get-go in 1970, and SB through SH became obsolete when engine test methods were no longer available to verify performance. On the diesel side, Service Categories CA through CG-4 also became obsolete for lack of test methods. Once a test method dies, so does the API category.
The Gathering Storm
With that history in mind, what about the engine tests needed for the remaining life of GF-5?
The Sequence IVA is no problem since there are enough parts to run for the length of GF-5 and then some. Its replacement, the Sequence IVB, is being worked and despite some difficulties a matrix program is scheduled to get underway soon.
The Sequence VG is good until sometime in first-quarter 2017. The AOAP hopes that the Sequence VH will be completed and available by then. However theres still a lot of work to do, including a new test matrix to be run and analyzed.
The Sequence VID fuel economy test runs out of parts before the end of the year.
The Sequence VIII test for bearing corrosion is back in calibration thanks to a new batch of parts, Lindholm noted, and API has ended provisional or temporary licensing since candidate oils can run the test now. (See my column in June for more on this.) So availability of the Sequence VIII test for GF-5 should be fine.
But the big caveat here is this all only works for GF-5 if the IIIH replaces the IIIG at equivalent limits as determined by APIs Lubricants Group, and the VIE test does the same for the VID. Lindholm thinks it will work out, but many see the timeline in peril.
Of course any number of scenarios could play out and the possibility exists that we may be without more than one engine test for a period of time. API is studying its registration system to determine how and if the provisional licensing procedures can handle more than one test being unavailable. In addition, the OEMs are concerned with provisional licensing and whether it is adequate without all testing in place.
How long a situation like that would go on is unknowable at this time. The industry has a reputation for being able to pull a rabbit out of its hat and save the situation. Barring that it could be Armageddon.
Industry consultant Steve Swedberg has over 40 years experience in lubricants, most notably with Pennzoil and Chevron Oronite. He is a longtime member of the American Chemical Society and SAE International, where he was chairman of Technical Committee 1 on automotive engine oils. He can be reached at email@example.com.