Motor oil, or engine oil, is an oil used for lubrication of various internal combustion engines. While the main function is to lubricate moving parts, motor oil also cleans, inhibits corrosion, improves sealing and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts. Dieter Klamann's text provides extensive technical detail about motor oils.
Motor oils are derived from petroleum-based and non-petroleum synthesized chemical compounds used to make. Motor oils are today mainly blended by using base oils composed of hydrocarbons (mineral, polyalphaolefins (PAO), polyinternal ofefins (PIO)), and are thus organic compounds consisting entirely of carbon and hydrogen. The base oils of some high-performance motor oils contain up to 20 wt.-% of esters.
Motor oil is a lubricant used in internal combustion engines. These include motor or road vehicles such as cars and motorcycles, heavier vehicles such as buses and commercial vehicles, non-road vehicles such as go-karts, snowmobiles, boats (fixed engine installations and outboards), lawn mowers, large agricultural and construction equipment, locomotives and aircraft, and static engines such as electrical generators. In engines, there are parts which move against each other causing friction which wastes otherwise useful power by converting the energy to heat. Contact between moving surfaces also wears away those parts, which could lead to lower efficiency and degradation of the motor. This increases fuel consumption and decreases power output and can, in extreme cases, lead to engine failure.
Lubricating oil creates a separating film between surfaces of adjacent moving parts to minimize direct contact between them, decreasing heat caused by friction and reducing wear, thus protecting the engine. In use, motor oil transfers heat through convection as it flows through the engine by means of air flow over the surface of the oil pan, an oil cooler and through the build up of oil gases evacuated by the Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) system.
In petrol (gasoline) engines, the top piston ring can expose the motor oil to temperatures of 320 °F (160 °C). In diesel engines the top ring can expose the oil to temperatures over 600 °F (315 °C). Motor oils with higher viscosity indices thin less at these higher temperatures.
Coating metal parts with oil also keeps them from being exposed to oxygen, inhibiting oxidation at elevated operating temperatures preventing rust or corrosion. Corrosion inhibitors may also be added to the motor oil. Many motor oils also have detergents and dispersants added to help keep the engine clean and minimize oil sludge build-up.
Rubbing of metal engine parts inevitably produces some microscopic metallic particles from the wearing of the surfaces. Such particles could circulate in the oil and grind against moving parts, causing wear. Because particles accumulate in the oil, it is typically circulated through an oil filter to remove harmful particles. An oil pump, a vane or gear pump powered by the engine, pumps the oil throughout the engine, including the oil filter. Oil filters can be a full flow or bypass type.
In the crankcase of a vehicle engine, motor oil lubricates rotating or sliding surfaces between the crankshaft journal bearings (main bearings and big-end bearings), and rods connecting the pistons to the crankshaft. The oil collects in an oil pan, or sump, at the bottom of the crankcase. In some small engines such as lawn mower engines, dippers on the bottoms of connecting rods dip into the oil at the bottom and splash it around the crankcase as needed to lubricate parts inside. In modern vehicle engines, the oil pump takes oil from the oil pan and sends it through the oil filter into oil galleries, from which the oil lubricates the main bearings holding the crankshaft up at the main journals and camshaft bearings operating the valves. In typical modern vehicles, oil pressure-fed from the oil galleries to the main bearings enters holes in the main journals of the crankshaft. From these holes in the main journals, the oil moves through passageways inside the crankshaft to exit holes in the rod journals to lubricate the rod bearings and connecting rods. Some simpler designs relied on these rapidly moving parts to splash and lubricate the contacting surfaces between the piston rings and interior surfaces of the cylinders. However, in modern designs, there are also passageways through the rods which carry oil from the rod bearings to the rod-piston connections and lubricate the contacting surfaces between the piston rings and interior surfaces of the cylinders. This oil film also serves as a seal between the piston rings and cylinder walls to separate the combustion chamber in the cylinder head from the crankcase. The oil then drips back down into the oil pan.
While it may still be used in motor vehicles, ATF or Automatic Transmission Fluid is a separate type of specialized lubricating fluid. Varying specifications of ATF are used in automatic gearboxes and some power steering systems, and should not be used to lubricate the engine. It is typically coloured dark red to distinguish it from the motor oil and other fluids in the vehicle. Other non-motor oils include gear or transmission, and differentials oils. These are used in manual gearboxes and driven axles. They could include specialty uses including EP (Extreme Pressure), hypoid, and limited slip functions. Again, they are not to be used for engine lubrication.
Other kinds of motors also use motor oil. Examples include 4-stroke or 4-cycle internal combustion engines such as those used in many "walk behind" lawn mowers and other engines, and special 2-stroke oil used in 2-stroke or 2-cycle internal combustion engines such as those used in various smaller engines like mopeds, chain saws, toy engines like those in model airplanes, certain gardening equipment like weed/grass trimmers, leaf blowers, soil cultivators, etc. Often, the applications are not exposed to as wide a temperature range in use as vehicles, so these oils may be single grade or have less viscosity index improver. 2-cycle oil is used differently from other motor oils in that it is pre-mixed with the gasoline or fuel, often in a gasoline, and burned in use along with the gasoline. Some 2-stroke engines used in cars, such as the Saab two-stroke engine, had an oil injection system rather than oil pre-mixed.
The oil properties will vary according to the individual needs of these devices. Non-smoking 2-cycle oils are composed of esters or polyglycols. Environmental legislations for leisure marine applications, especially in Europe, enhanced the use of ester-based two cycle oils.
Most motor oils are made from a heavier, thicker petroleum hydrocarbon base stock derived from crude oil, with additives to improve certain properties. The bulk of a typical motor oil consists of hydrocarbons with between 18 and 34 carbon atoms per molecule. One of the most important properties of motor oil in maintaining a lubricating film between moving parts is its viscosity. The viscosity of a liquid can be thought of as its "thickness" or a quantity of resistance to flow. The viscosity must be high enough to maintain a satisfactory lubricating film, but low enough that the oil can flow around the engine parts satisfactorily to keep them well coated under all conditions. The viscosity index is a measure of how much the oil's viscosity changes as temperature changes. A higher viscosity index indicates the viscosity changes less with temperature than a lower viscosity index.
Motor oil must be able to flow adequately at the lowest temperature it is expected to experience in order to minimize metal to metal contact between moving parts upon starting up the engine. The pour point defined first this property of motor oil, as defined by ASTM D97 as "an index of the lowest temperature of its utility" for a given application, but the "cold cranking similator" and "Mini-Rotary Viscometer", are today the properties required in motor oil specs and define the SAE classifications.
Oil is largely composed of hydrocarbons which can burn if ignited. Still another important property of motor oil is its flash point, the lowest temperature at which the oil gives off vapours which can ignite. It is dangerous for the oil in a motor to ignite and burn, so a high flash point is desirable. At a petroleum refinery, fractional distillation separates a motor oil fraction from other crude oil fractions, removing the more volatile components, and therefore increasing the oil's flash point.
Another manipulated property of motor oil is its Total Base Number (TBN), which is a measurement of the reserve alkalinity of an oil, meaning its ability to neutralize acids. The resulting quantity is determined as mg KOH/ (gram of lubricant). Analogously, Total Acid Number (TAN) is the measure of a lubricant's acidity. Other tests include zinc, phosphorus, or sulphur content, and testing for excessive foaming.
The NOACK volatility (ASTM D-5800) Test determines the physical evaporation loss of lubricants in high temperature service. A maximum of 15% evaporation loss is allowable to meet API SL and ILSAC GF-3 specifications. Some automotive OEM oil spec require lower than 10%.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has established a numerical code system for grading motor oils according to their viscosity characteristics. SAE viscosity grades include the following, from low to high viscosity, 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 or 60. The numbers 0, 5, 10, 15 and 25 are suffixed with the letter W, designating their "winter" (not "weight") or cold-start viscosity, at lower temperature. The number 20 comes with or without a W, depending on whether it is being used to denote a cold or hot viscosity grade. The document SAE J300 defines the viscometrics related to these grades.
Kinematic viscosity is graded by measuring the time it takes for a standard amount of oil to flow through a standard orifice, at standard temperatures. The longer it takes, the higher the viscosity and thus higher SAE code.
Note that the SAE has a separate viscosity rating system for gear, axle, and manual transmission oils, SAE J306, which should not be confused with engine oil viscosity. The higher numbers of a gear oil (e.g. 75W-140) do not mean that it has higher viscosity than an engine oil.
A single-grade engine oil, as defined by SAE J300, cannot use a polymeric Viscosity Index Improver (also referred to as Viscosity Modifier) additive. SAE J300 has established eleven viscosity grades, of which six are considered Winter-grades and given a W designation. The 11 viscosity grades are 0W, 5W, 10W, 15W, 20W, 25W, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60. These numbers are often referred to as the 'weight' of a motor oil.
For single winter grade oils, the dynamic viscosity is measured at different cold temperatures, specified in J300 depending on the viscosity grade, in units of mPa's or the equivalent older non-SI units, centipoise (abbreviated cP), using two different test methods. They are the Cold Cranking Simulator (ASTM D5293) and the Mini-Rotary Viscometer (ASTM D4684). Based on the coldest temperature the oil passes at, that oil is graded as SAE viscosity grade 0W, 5W, 10W, 15W, 20W, or 25W. The lower the viscosity grade, the lower the temperature the oil can pass. For example, if an oil passes at the specifications for 10W and 5W, but fails for 0W, then that oil must be labelled as an SAE 5W. That oil cannot be labelled as either 0W or 10W.
For single non-winter grade oils, the kinematic viscosity is measured at a temperature of 100 °C (212 °F) in units of mm²/s or the equivalent older non-SI units, centistokes (abbreviated cSt). Based on the range of viscosity the oil falls in at that temperature, the oil is graded as SAE viscosity grade 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60. In addition, for SAE grades 20, 30, and 40, a minimum viscosity measured at 150 °C (302 °F) and at a high-shear rate is also required. The higher the viscosity, the higher the SAE viscosity grade is.
For some applications, such as when the temperature ranges in use are not very wide, single-grade motor oil is satisfactory, for example, lawn mower engines, industrial applications, and vintage or classic cars.
The temperature range the oil is exposed to in most vehicles can be wide, ranging from cold temperatures in the winter before the vehicle is started up to hot operating temperatures when the vehicle is fully warmed up in hot summer weather. A specific oil will have high viscosity when cold and a lower viscosity at the engine's operating temperature. The difference in viscosities for most single-grade oil is too large between the extremes of temperature. To bring the difference in viscosities closer together, special polymer additives called viscosity index improvers, or VIIs are added to the oil. These additives are used to make the oil a multi-grade motor oil, however it is possible to have a multi-grade oil without the use of VIIs. The idea is to cause the multi-grade oil to have the viscosity of the base grade when cold and the viscosity of the second grade when hot. This enables one type of oil to be generally used all year. In fact, when multi-grades were initially developed, they were frequently described as all-season oil. The viscosity of a multi-grade oil still varies logarithmically with temperature, but the slope representing the change is lessened. This slope representing the change with temperature depends on the nature and amount of the additives to the base oil.
The SAE designation for multi-grade oils includes two viscosity grades, for example, 10W-30 designates a common multi-grade oil. The two numbers used are individually defined by SAE J300 for single-grade oils. Therefore, an oil labelled as 10W-30 must pass the SAE J300 viscosity grade requirement for both 10W and 30, and all limitations placed on the viscosity grades (for example, a 10W-30 oil must fail the J300 requirements at 5W). Also, if an oil does not contain any VIIs, and can pass as a multi-grade, that oil can be labelled with either of the two SAE viscosity grades. For example, a very simple multi-grade oil that can be easily made with modern base oils without any VII is a 20W-20. This oil can be labelled as 20W-20, 20W, or 20. Note, if any VIIs are used however, then that oil cannot be labelled as a single grade.
The real-world ability of an oil to crank or pump when cold is potentially diminished soon after it is put into service. The motor oil grade and viscosity to be used in a given vehicle is specified by the manufacturer of the vehicle (although some modern European cars now have no viscosity requirement), but can vary from country to country when climatic or fuel efficiency constraints come into play.
In addition to the viscosity index improvers, motor oil manufacturers often include other additives such as detergents and dispersants to help keep the engine clean by minimizing sludge build-up, corrosion inhibitors, and alkaline additives to neutralize acidic oxidation products of the oil. Most commercial oils have a minimal amount of zinc dialkyldithiophosphate as an anti-wear additive to protect contacting metal surfaces with zinc and other compounds in case of metal to metal contact. The quantity of zinc dialkyldithiophosphate is limited to minimize adverse effect on catalytic converters. Another aspect for after-treatment devices is the deposition of oil ash, which increases the exhaust back pressure and reduces over time the fuel economy. The so-called "chemical box" limits today the concentrations of sulphur, ash and phosphorus (SAP).
There are other additives available commercially which can be added to the oil by the user for purported additional benefit. Some of these additives include:
Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate (ZDDP) additives, which typically also contain calcium sulphonates, are available to consumers for additional protection under extreme-pressure conditions or in heavy duty performance situations. ZDDP and calcium additives are also added to protect motor oil from oxidative breakdown and to prevent the formation of sludge and varnish deposits.
In the 1980s and 1990s, additives with suspended PTFE particles were available e.g. "Slick50" to consumers to increase motor oil's ability to coat and protect metal surfaces. There is controversy as to the actual effectiveness of these products as they can coagulate and clog the oil filters.
Some molybdenum disulfide containing additives to lubricating oils are claimed to reduce friction, bond to metal, or have anti-wear properties. They were used in WWII in flight engines and became commercial after WWII until the 1990s. They were commercialized in the 1970s (ELF ANTAR Molygraphite) and are today still available (Liqui Moly MoS2 10 W-40, www.liqui-moly.de).
Various other extreme-pressure additives and antiwear additives.
Synthetic Oil And Synthetic Blends
Synthetic lubricants were first synthesized, or man-made, in significant quantities as replacements for mineral lubricants (and fuels) by German scientists in the late 1930s and early 1940s because of their lack of sufficient quantities of crude for their (primarily military) needs. A significant factor in its gain in popularity was the ability of synthetic-based lubricants to remain fluid in the sub-zero temperatures of the Eastern front in wintertime, temperatures which caused petroleum-based lubricants to solidify due to their higher wax content. The use of synthetic lubricants widened through the 1950s and 1960s due to a property at the other end of the temperature spectrum, the ability to lubricate aviation engines at temperatures that caused mineral-based lubricants to break down. In the mid 1970s, synthetic motor oils were formulated and commercially applied for the first time in automotive applications. The same SAE system for designating motor oil viscosity also applies to synthetic oils.
Instead of making motor oil with the conventional petroleum base, "true" synthetic oil base stocks are artificially synthesized. Synthetic oils are derived from either Group III mineral base oils, Group IV, or Group V non-mineral bases. True synthetics include classes of lubricants like synthetic esters as well as "others" like GTL (Methane Gas-to-Liquid) (Group V) and polyalpha-olefins (Group IV). Higher purity and therefore better property control theoretically means synthetic oil has good mechanical properties at extremes of high and low temperatures. The molecules are made large and "soft" enough to retain good viscosity at higher temperatures, yet branched molecular structures interfere with solidification and therefore allow flow at lower temperatures. Thus, although the viscosity still decreases as temperature increases, these synthetic motor oils have a much improved viscosity index over the traditional petroleum base. Their specially designed properties allow a wider temperature range at higher and lower temperatures and often include a lower pour point. With their improved viscosity index, true synthetic oils need little or no viscosity index improvers, which are the oil components most vulnerable to thermal and mechanical degradation as the oil ages, and thus they do not degrade as quickly as traditional motor oils. However, they still fill up with particulate matter, although at a lower rate compared to conventional oils, and the oil filter still fills and clogs up over time. So, periodic oil and filter changes should still be done with synthetic oil, but some synthetic oil suppliers suggest that the intervals between oil changes can be longer, sometimes as long as 16,000-24,000 km (10,000–15,000 mi).
With improved efficiency, synthetic lubricants are designed to make wear and tear on gears far less than with petroleum-based lubricants, reduce the incidence of oil oxidation and sludge formation, and allow for "long life" extended drain intervals. Today, synthetic lubricants are available for use in modern automobiles on nearly all lubricated components, potentially with superior performance and longevity as compared to non-synthetic alternatives. Some tests have shown that fully synthetic oil is superior to conventional oil in many respects, providing better engine protection, performance, and better flow in cold starts than petroleum-based motor oil.
In engines, there is inevitably some exposure of the oil to products of internal combustion, and microscopic coke particles from black soot accumulate in the oil during operation. Also the rubbing of metal engine parts inevitably produces some microscopic metallic particles from the wearing of the surfaces. Such particles could circulate in the oil and grind against the part surfaces causing wear. The oil filter removes many of the particles and sludge, but eventually the oil filter can become clogged, if used for extremely long periods. The motor oil and especially the additives also undergo thermal and mechanical degradation. For these reasons, the oil and the oil filter need to be periodically replaced.
The vehicle manufacturer may specify which SAE viscosity grade of oil should be used for the vehicles it produces, but many different weights can actually be used. Some manufacturers have specific quality test requirements or "specs" for service in their particular make. In the USA, most quick oil change shops recommended intervals of 5,000 km (3,000 mi) or every 3 months which is not necessary according to new car manuals from manufacturers. This has led to a 3,000 mile myth among most Americans.
With a degree of ambiguity about how many miles motor oil is actually good for, some people opt for a more convenient time-based schedule. Seasonal changes are desirable where the viscosity can be adjusted for the ambient temperature change, thicker for summer heat and thinner for the winter cold. As a general rule, the thinnest oil that does not produce excess wear is used. Time-based intervals account for both the short trip driver who does fewer miles, but builds up more contaminants, as well as the long highway trips that are much easier on the oil. Many modern cars now list somewhat higher intervals for changing of oil and filter, with the constraint of "severe" service requiring more frequent changes with less-than ideal driving, contrary to what most people think, this applies to short trips of under 16 km (10 mi), where the oil does not get to full operating temps long enough to burn off condensation, excess fuel, and other contamination that leads to "sludge", "varnish", "acids", or other deposits. In contrast, an engine which runs continually for hours, such as for a taxi, or long-distance driving, is considered "normal" service. Many manufacturers have engine computer calculations to estimate the oil's condition based on the factors which degrade it such as RPMs, temperatures, and trip length, and one system adds an optical sensor for determining the clarity of the oil in the engine. These systems are commonly known as Oil Life Monitors or OLMs. Over the years, manufacturers have been able to reduce the viscosity of oil needed to correctly lubricate the engine and extend the duration of the serviceable life. In the 1970s, typical cars took heavy 10W-40 oil which was used for a duration of 3,250 km (2,000 mi) or less. In the 1980s, 5W-30 oils were introduced to improve gas mileage and engine performance. A modern typical application would be Honda Motor's use of 5W-20 viscosity oil for 12,000 km (7,500 mi) without excess wear or deposits, while offering maximum mpg. Most other manufacturers use 20-weight oils as well. The latest API "SM" spec offers a substantially better product than preceding specifications.
A new process to break down polyethylene, a common plastic product found in many consumer containers, is used to make wax with the correct molecular properties for conversion into a lubricant, bypassing the expensive Fischer-Tropsch process. The plastic is melted and then pumped into a furnace. The heat of the furnace breaks down the molecular chains of polyethylene into wax. Finally, the wax is subjected to a catalytic process that alters the wax's molecular structure, leaving a clear oil. (Miller, et al., 2005)
Biodegradable Motor Oils based on esters or hydrocarbon-ester blends appeared in the 1990s followed by formulations beginning in 2000 which respond to the bio-no-tox-criteria of the European preparations directive (EC/1999/45). This means, that they not only are biodegradable according to OECD 301x test methods, but also the aquatic toxicities (fish, algae, daphnie) are each above 100 mg/L.
Another class of base oils suited for engine oils represents the polyalkylene glycols. They offer zeroAsh, bio-no-tox properties and lean burn characteristics.