Spotlight on the Industry: Motor Oil & The Modern Engine

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As times change, so too do modern passenger vehicle engines. To support this evolution and ensure necessary engine support, motor oils have also evolved. According to The New York Times, less than 7 percent of new vehicles in America were sold with turbochargers in 2011 — but, in only four years, that percentage has tripled. Leading automotive data analysts at IHS Automotive expect turbocharger engines to represent 38 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2021. By 2025, it’s believed that U.S. turbocharger popularity may even match Europe’s, where an astonishing 70 percent of all new vehicles are currently turbocharged (according to The Detroit News). Additionally, by 2025, the Environmental Protection Agency has designated 54.5 miles per gallon as the standard for automakers’ fleets. These greenhouse gas regulations and fuel standards have impacted the way engines are built, leading to hybrid, start-stop and turbo engines as replacements for larger six- and eight-cylinder engines. However, the technology driving these engines delivers the greater fuel efficiency required without sacrificing power.

“Engines are simply designed differently today because of new fuel economy standards. But consumer demand for power has remained a constant — they want it faster and cleaner,” said Herbert Steurer, passenger vehicle lubricants brand manager for ExxonMobil Fuels & Lubricants. “Advanced lubricant technology must work hand-in-hand with complex engineering systems to deliver drivers what they want while satisfying regulations across the board when it comes to modern engines.”

One of the larger challenges for oil technology is creating a lubricant that can withstand the incredible heat and rotation created by turbocharger engines. While engine crankshafts average about 3,000 rpm at highway speeds, a turbocharger shaft can reach speeds up to 200,000 rpm. The turbocharger creates a scorching gas that blows directly through the charger, meaning the engine — and its oil — are subjected to punishing temperatures in addition to these extreme rotating speeds. Synthetic motor oil temperatures can reach and exceed 400 F — nearly twice the average found in non-turbocharged engines. 

“The primary cause of turbocharger failure is high temperature oil oxidation,” Steurer said. “We’ve found through testing at our facilities that some motor oils actually decompose under high-operating temperatures. For that reason, to provide maximum protection, any modern synthetic motor oil on the market must offer incredible thermal and oxidation stability to resist breakdown under this kind of extreme temperature.”

Hybrids and engines with start-stop systems present their challenges to — and stresses on —  modern engines, affecting everything from the starter motor to the battery to the engine crankshaft. But the engineering goal remains the same: wear protection and high performance under extreme conditions.

“Whether it’s a turbocharger, hybrid or start-stop engine, proper lubrication will always be important to modern vehicles,” Steurer said. “And as engines continue to evolve, motor oil must evolve and adapt alongside it. The trend toward turbochargers won’t be slowing down — everything on the road from sedans to light-duty trucks feature turbo options now. Engineers like ours continue to meet the challenge, allowing drivers to enjoy thousands of miles, a whole lot of horsepower and a fuel-efficient engine. All with the peace of mind that oil technology is keeping up with, and enhancing, their investment out on the road.”  


To learn more about how Mobil 1 performance helps protect modern engines, visit:

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