Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Selling GF-6 Engine Oils

Nov. 1, 2019

Two experts explain the characteristics, features and compatibility of the newest generation oils.

Licensing for the newest engine oil standards won’t take effect until May 1, 2020, but oil manufacturers have planned for this change for years.

The standards represent a big change for the industry, taking into account rising MPG requirements and new engine technology. It’s the beginning of the future for engine oils.

The newest standard is GF-6, which is designated by the International Lubricant Standardization Advisory Committee or ILSAC. The organization worked for eight years on its development. There are two categories: GF-6A and GF-6B.

The name of the game for GF-6 engine oils is reducing emissions through increased fuel efficiency.

“GF-6 really is in response to the OEMs being legislated to lower their emissions,” says Martin Birze of Lubrizol. “And that’s not just in North America—that’s globally.”

Birze is Lubrizol’s regional business manager for consumer vehicle engine lubricants in North and South America. The company develops additive technology for engine oils.

NOLN also spoke with Jack Breman, who a senior account representative in business development for Jackson Oil and Solvents, a distributor of lubricants, fuel and equipment based in Indiana.

Breman says that they’ve already started prepping the sales staff so they can educate shop owners and other clients.

“It’s a matter of educating ourselves and a matter of educating our customers. And also being able to talk to the consumer,” he says.

What’s Compatible?

One factor to know about the new specifications is that GF-6A will be the main product used. That will be the standard for the most common viscosity grades.

“I think the things that our people have to know, and our customers have to know, is that GF-6A and GF-6B,” Breman says. “The 6A is backward compatible.”

That means that a GF-6 engine oil for a given SAE viscosity grade will also work for older engines that required previous standards like GF-5 and GF-4. In fact, it will offer added performance in the engine.

If it isn’t written right there on the oil filler cap, the owner’s manual will reveal the proper grade. If it’s an older car, GF-6 engine oil will still work.

“Your owner’s manual is a wealth of information,” Breman says. “You should read it.”

Just one new test came with the introduction of the previous standard, GF-5, years ago. GF-6A has seven new tests for oil performance.

It’s a challenge to find the optimal performance for all of the different testing parameters. Lubrizol knows this well. The company knows an engine’s characteristics—its “appetite”—and develops additive packages that meets all those tests.

That’s why so much research and development goes into new oil formulas, Birze says.

“A lot of what we do is we understand the appetite of each of those engines,” Birze says. “We know how to move the lever, so to speak, to improve performance or weaken performance. And that allows us to take, in this particular case, all seven new tests to understand the appetite and how you formulate a product that gives you that balanced performance in all seven engine tests.”

New to the Table: GF-6B

What’s new for these latest ILSAC standards is that GF-6B is not backward compatible. It’s specific to 0W-16 viscosity grades and should only be used in vehicles that recommend that type of engine oil.

Right now, only certain newer Toyota and Honda models recommend that grade.

Japanese OEMs have used 0W-16 oils for years, favoring it for its cold-start qualities and fuel efficiency, even over 0W-20 grades.

GF-6B oils meet all the requirements of GF-6A but is reserved for that lower viscosity. But they cannot be mixed.

“I think it's important to understand which are compatible and which are not,” Breman says. “Because if you end up putting 0W-16 in a car that’s supposed to have 0W-20 in it, you’re going to end up with a problem.”

GF-6B oils will carry their own certification labels. The “shield” was developed as the 6B alternative to the already commonplace “starburst” label for gasoline engine oils.

Great Expectations

Oil manufacturers and marketers will make big moves to develop their own products that meet these new standards. In anticipation of this, the American Petroleum Institute is allowing engine oils to carry a statement saying it will meet GF-6 specifications if the product is all ready to go.

“It can license that product now against GF-5, but what it can (also) do is it can claim that this product will meet the requirements of the future GF-6 specification,” Birze says. 

API, which runs the certification program for these standards, hasn’t allowed this before. Birze said that it’s important for quick lube operators to note that the oils can’t display a full certification mark. They can only say that the oil will be suitable to meet those standards in the future.

Many of the big brands might already be looking into this marketing move.

“What the quick oil change folks need to look at is which of their brands will actually start to say,  ‘Although I’m licensed against GF-5, this product will meet the new requirements of GF-6A, B and API SP,’” Birze says.

Inventory Interest

The bulk oils of today are significantly different than they were 15 years ago. 

“The 10w30s and higher, those are now for vehicles are from 15 years or older,” Birze says. “It’s been a while since an OEM has recommended such a heavy viscosity grade.”

And as late-model cars begin aging out of warranties or maintenance plans, vehicles that require lower-viscosity oils will come into shops more often.

“What are the most popular viscosity grades? 5W-30 and 5W-20 cover more than 50 percent of vis grades that are required,” Birze says.

Add in the growing popularity of 0W-20, and that covers as much as 80 percent of vehicles out there, he adds. In fact, Birze says that General Motors recommends two oils for gasoline engines: 5W-30 for turbocharged models and 0W-20 for all others.

Quick lube shops still carry some 10W-30 and similar grades for older vehicles. On the other end, Breman says that he advises shops to pick up some new 0W-16 oil just in case.

“I think you know which ones are going to be the fast movers,” he says. “And then the small movers—0W-16—you have to have it because you know someone is going to show up with a new car.”

Low-Speed Pre-ignition

The problem of low-speed pre-ignition, also called LSPI or super knock, arose around the development of turbocharged direct-injection engines. They’re more fuel efficient, but the high-pressure combustion chambers sometimes caused spontaneous fuel combustion without spark. It could have devastating effects on engines.

API developed the SN Plus service category to address this issue during the development of GF-6. It aimed to certify oils that add protection against LSPI through their formulations.

Birze says that technology has advanced a lot in a few short years, and SN Plus protection is a part of the new ILSAC standards.

“Gf-6 now has that built in,” he says. “So not only does it have LSPI protection, but it has better deposit control, better fuel economy. I think those are kind of the three pillars of how you have to balance the formulation.”

Birze adds that this can pose a marketing opportunity for quick lube shops. Engine oils that meet the GF-6 standards are tested to be fuel efficient and stable at those lower viscosities. Drivers with direct-injection engines expect both efficiency and performance, and he says that these new oils should deliver that.

Many drivers that have put 10W-30 or 5W-30 in their cars for years might bristle at the thought of a lighter 0W engine oil. Breman says that the testing is there to make sure they hold up, so let customers know that.

“I try to tell people that if the manufacturer recommends 0W-20 and your previous car had a 5W-30 in it, don't be frightened that there’s change,” he says. “They're doing it for a reason.”