The Next Generation of Oils

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Our culture is obsessed with updates, upgrades and revamps. We’re constantly bombarded by movie reboots, software updates and the “next gen” of almost everything imaginable. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Could you imagine still using the first version of the computer?

Automakers update their cars every model year to either enhance design, include more safety features or lose some weight. There have even been updates to engine performance, ushering in the direct injection engine.

To keep up with government regulations and consumer demands for greater performance with increased fuel economy — among other things — automakers need to feed the newest generation of engines the most advanced oils.

Heavy-Duty/Diesel Engine Oils (PC-11)

To get the advanced oils needed, the industry turned to the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“Back in June 2011, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) came to API and said they needed a new performance standard for heavy-duty engine oils,” said Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager for Shell Lubricants. “The driving forces were pending emission changes with CO2 reduction and improvements in fuel economy.”

For those improvements to happen, the API had to look at what areas needed the most work.

“The areas for improvement and/or replacements they wanted to look at were oxidation control, aeration tests, shear stability tests and a test for adhesive wear,” Arcy said. “They also want it to be compatible with bio diesel fuels.”

To qualify the PC-11 (or Proposed Category 11) heavy-duty engine oils, there are going to be two new tests.

“One of the new tests is called the Volvo T-13,” said Gary Parsons, global OEM and industry liaison manager with Chevron Oronite. “It’s going to look at the oxidation and nitration of the oil. That relates to the ability of the oil to continue to perform in high heat environments and for extended drains. The other test is a Caterpillar aeration test. Some of these new engines have variable valve timing. The oil acts like a hydraulic fluid to actuate the lifters and push rods. If any air gets in there, it can disrupt the operation of the engine. So, the PC-11 oils will presumably have better aeration properties to prevent that from happening.”

PC-11 is broken down into two subcategories: PC-11A and PC-11B.

“PC-11A is current viscosity grades as we have them today,” Arcy said. “The oils that fit into that category, it’s been recommended they will go under the designation CK-4, which makes sense. We’re at CJ-4 right now, so the next letter in the sequence is ‘K.’ For PC-11B, which are going to be the oils that are lighter viscosity and provide the fuel economy benefits, the predominate position is for it to be called FA-4.”

Taking the logic of going from CJ-4 to CK-4, it would seem like PC-11B should be called DK-4. However, smarter minds decided on FA-4 for a reason.

“We wanted to make sure PC-11B was clearly different in the performance standard and nomenclature than what we had in the past,” Arcy continued. “The reason ‘F’ was chosen was basically because ‘F’ and ‘C’ don’t sound a lot alike. Also, ‘F’ is a designator they’re considering using in Europe for a similar specification they’re developing. Although it’s not finalized, that’s probably where it’ll end up, as FA-4. Even though the ‘4’ isn’t necessary, we found that consumers have actually associated [the 4] with diesel products, so we left the 4 on there.”

One thing you might be wondering is whether or not PC-11 is going to be backward compatible. The answer is yes and no.

“It will and it won’t be. PC-11A (CK-4) will be backward compatible,” Parsons said. “Since the PC-11B (FA-4) oils will be thinner, they may or may not be backward compatible, depending on the OEM. It won’t be in most cases, because the engines weren’t designed to run on those in the past. You’ll find that some of the OEMs will say, ‘OK, you can use PC-11B in any of our engines from 2010 forward,’ or ‘You can use PC-11B in any of our engines starting in 2017.’ But, they won’t allow them back any further.”

You should expect to see the PC-11 oils pop up relatively soon.

“The 2017 model year is when manufacturers want to have these oils — specifically the lower viscosity oils — available for use,” Arcy said. “The date for first licensing is set for March 1, 2017. However, engine manufacturers have said they want the oils available some time in fourth quarter 2016 because they’re going to be building 2017 model year trucks in 2016. They want to have these oils available for those trucks. There is a taskforce in place right now that’s looking for ways to adjust the timing and move it into 2016. The target date we have right now is December 1, 2016. March 1, 2017 is still the ‘industry official’ date, but we’re working to get it pushed ahead.”

The new PC-11 oils will most likely affect your shop’s inventory, so be prepared.

“I can tell you, the engine manufacturers are definitely going to be supporting the PC-11B (FA-4) lower viscosity products because of the improvements in fuel economy and because of the corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions,” Arcy said. “It’s something to start thinking about now, because it could become a reality where there is a need for two separate tanks, or carrying two separate products, depending on the model year of the equipment.”

Parsons noted that oil marketers will help decide if inventory will be affected.

“Partially, it’ll be up to the oil marketers of the world to determine what their strategy is on whether they want to be first to market or not and then see how they introduce [the oils],” he said. “My prediction is probably most of CJ-4 oils will transition over to the PC-11A (CK-4) rather quickly. A lot of the quick lubes use heavy-duty diesel oil and different viscosity grades, so it’s going to depend on what the OEMs recommend. There are three major pickup truck OEMs that usually come to a fast lube: Ford Power Stroke, GM Duramax and the Ram truck with the Cummins engine. If you get a lot of those trucks in your shop, you’ll want to stock up on the new oils.”

Pricing for these new oils is still up in the air.

“There are many factors that will enter into the pricing, such as the rising cost of running tests to qualify the oils,” Parsons said. “There are usually nine or 10 engine tests and six bench tests that can typically cost $1.5-$2 million that are part of the qualification process. Market forces will ultimately determine how factors like this will impact the pricing of the finished products.”

For more information on the new PC-11 oils, visit:

Passenger Car Oils (GF-6)

Not ones to be left out of a party, new oils for passenger vehicles are being introduced, too.

The most notable difference between GF-6 and its predecessor, GF-5, are the performance tests.

“The major difference is the performance test for which OEMs are asking,” said Kaustav Sinha, global project manager for GF-6 at Chevron Oronite. “With GF-6, you will see pretty much a refresh of almost all engine tests except sequence eight. There are also two new tests. One test is a low-speed pre-ignition, which is being developed by Ford. The other one is chain wear, which is also being developed by Ford.”

Of course, new oils can’t be developed without added benefits.

“What GF-6 is doing is making sure the lubricants are designed to meet the performance levels for newer engine hardware that includes turbocharged gasoline direct injection engines,” Sinha said. “During the research and development work in the last few years, the industry has also found that a lubricant can be one of those areas that could help mitigate some of the issues OEMs are [seeing] with low-speed pre-ignition. With GF-6, there will also be better fuel economy, enhanced durability, cleanliness and protection of emission systems.”

Just like their PC-11 counterpoints, GF-6 has two subcategories, as well.

“GF-6 has two subcategories, GF-6A and GF-6B,” Sinha said. “GF-6A is all the viscosity grades except 0W-16. The 0W-16 viscosity grade will be under GF-6B.”

As for GF-6’s market names, only GF-6A is known for sure.

“GF-6A is basically going to be called SP,” Sinha said. “The naming of GF-6B has yet to be determined. There are still some designs and discussions around it.”

As for backwards compatibility, that’s still an open subject for now. To date, all previous PCMO categories have been backward compatible.

“It’s a clear industry objective, and thus almost certain, that GF-6A engine oils will be backward compatible so they can be used wherever GF-5 or previous ILSAC oils of the same viscosity grade were specified by engine manufacturers,” Sinha said. “On the other hand, GF-6B is for new, lower viscosity grades like 0W-16, that have not been recommended as service fill in the past. As a result, they are not likely to be widely backward compatible for older vehicles that were not designed to use such low viscosity engine oils. However, some OEMs may test and approve limited backward compatibility for these oils in certain model vehicles from specific model years.”

It’s going to be a few more years until the new GF-6 oils make it to your shop.

“The first commercialization date proposed right now is January 2018, so it’s going to be a few more years,” Sinha said. “[The release date] also depends on the test development timeline and the nine-month separation after PC-11 is released. If PC-11 is released in December 2016, then there could be a possibility that GF-6 creeps up to Q4 2017.”

Though much still has to be determined with the new PC-11 and GF-6 oils, it’s never too early to get the word out to your customers.

“As a shop owner, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to do. Start talking to your customers and educating them,” Arcy said. “There is going to be a big education process as we move to some of these [newer] oils, especially when we get to the point if we know they’re going to be 100-percent backward compatible or not.”

The next generation of oils is on its way. From increased fuel economy to improved performance, these updates are sure to be crowd pleasers.

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