Skip to content

Test oil to help diagnose engine problems

Test oil to help diagnose engine problems.


Oil analysis links

Oil analysis links.

How much do you value the engine in your car?

The life of your engine depends in no small part on the quality of the oil you put in it – oil is its lifeblood. People never used to pay a huge amount of attention to their oil but thanks to the popularity during the 80’s and 90’s of hot hatches, 16-valve engines and turbos (and as the tuner scene started to rise) engine oils underwent something of a revolution. Combined with the devastating problems of black death the days of one oil catering for everyone were over. Take Castrol for example. They led the field for years with their GTX mineral oil. This was eventually surpassed by semi-synthetic and fully synthetic oils, including GTX2 and GTX3 Lightec. Those were surpassed by Formula SLX which can cost upwards of £50 ($75) for 5 litres, and most recently, Castrol GTX Magnatec which is muscling in on the hitherto separate world of friction reducers (and we’ll deal with them later, on the additives page). That’s just a slice of one manufacturers products. There are thousands. What does my motor oil actually do? What does my oil actually do? Your engine oil does two things. Primarily it stops all the metal surfaces in your engine from grinding together and tearing themselves apart from friction, but it also transfers heat away from the combustion cycle. Engine oil must also be able to hold in suspension all the nasty by-products of combustion such as silica (silicon oxide) and acids. Finally, engine oil minimises the exposure to oxygen and thus oxidation at higher temperatures. It does all of these things under tremendous heat and pressure. If your Mustang heads are in need of repair, check out How do I read the numbers around the ‘W’? For example 5W40? As oils heat up, they generally get thinner. Single grade oils get too thin when hot for most modern engines which is where multigrade oil comes in. The idea is simple – use science and physics to prevent the base oil from getting as thin as it would normally do when it gets hot. There’s more detail on this later in the page under both viscosity, and SAE ratings. But as a quick primer – the number before the ‘W’ is the ‘cold’ viscosity rating of the oil, and the number after the ‘W’ is the ‘hot’ viscosity rating. So a 5W40 oil is one which behaves like a 5-rated single grade oil when cold, but doesn’t thin any more than a 40-rated single grade oil when hot. The lower the ‘winter’ number (hence the ‘W’), the easier the engine will turn over when starting in cold climates. A quick guide to the different grades of oil. Fully Synthetic Characteristics 0W-30 0W-40 5W-40 Fuel economy savings Enhances engine performance and power Ensures engine is protected from wear and deposit build-up Ensures good cold starting and quick circulation in freezing temperatures Gets to moving parts of the engine quickly Semi-synthetic Characteristics 5W-30 10W-40 15W-40 Better protection Good protection within the first 10 minutes after starting out Roughly three times better at reducing engine wear Increased oil change intervals – don’t need to change it quite so often Mineral Characteristics 10W-40 15W-40 Basic protection for a variety of engines Oil needs to be changed more often What the heck was Black Death? Black Death first appeared in the early 80’s when a horrible sticky black substance was found to be the cause of many engine seizures in Europe. It was extremely frustrating for vehicle owners because dealers and mechanics had no idea what was going on. Black Death just wasn’t covered under insurance – if your engine had it, you paid to fix it yourself. Many engines were affected but Ford and Vauxhall (GM) suffered the most. Faster roads, higher under-hood temperatures, tighter engineering tolerances and overworked engine oils turned out to be contributors to the problem. The oils just couldn’t handle it and changed their chemical makeup under pressure into a sort of tar-like glue. This blocked all the oil channels in the engines, starved them of lubrication and caused them to seize. I don’t recommend this but you can reproduce the effect with a frying pan, cooking oil and a blowtorch. The cooking oil will heat up far quicker than it’s designed to and will turn to a sticky black tar in your pan. Either that or it will set fire to your kitchen, which is why I said “don’t do this”. Anyway, burning kitchens aside, Black Death was the catalyst for the production of newer higher quality oils, many of them man-made rather than mineral-based. Black death for the 21st century There’s a snappy new moniker for Black Death now, and it’s called sludge. The cause is the same as Black Death and it seems to be regardless of maintenance or mileage. The chemical compounds in engine oils break down over time due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures and poor maintenance habits. When the oil oxidises, the additives separate from it and begin to chemically break down and solidify, leading to the baked-on oil deposits turning gelatinous, and that nasty compound is what is lovingly referred to nowadays as sludge. It’s like black yoghurt. What doesn’t help is that modern engines, due to packaging, have smaller sumps than in the “good old days” and so hold less oil. This means that the oil that is present in the engine can’t hold as much crap (for want of a better word) and that can lead to earlier chemical breakdown. The most common factor in sludge buildup is a combination of mineral oils, a lack of maintenance by the car owner and harsh driving conditions. Although this isn’t true in all cases. A 2005 Consumer Reports article discovered that for some reason, some engines from Audi, Chrysler, Saab, Toyota, and Volkswagen appear prone to sludge almost no matter how often the oil is changed. What does sludge look like? I was contacted by a BMW driver who had been having a particularly harsh time with sludge and was discussing it on the Bimmerfest forums. He posted some images of his problem and other readers posted similarly-framed images of the same engine components in “normal” condition. Here are two of those photos. On the left is what the cam case should look like in a well maintained engine when photographed through the oil filler cap. On the right is what the same type of engine looks like when suffering sludge buildup. In this example, the consensus was that the sludge buildup was caused by an overheating engine, oil that hadn’t been changed for 20,000 miles of stop-go city driving, a lot of cold starts and a period of about 12 months in storage without an oil change. Picture credit: Ketchup at the Bimmerfest forums Curing sludge There are no hard and fast rules for curing an engine of sludge buildup. If it’s really bad, flushing the engine might be the only cure, but that could also cause even more problems. If flushing the engine results in bits of sludge getting lodged where they can do more damage, you’re actually worse off. It’s interesting to note that some race techs have reported sludge buildup in race engines as a result of aftermarket additives being used in conjunction with the regular oil. The chemical composition of the additives isn’t as neutral as some companies would lead us to believe, and combined with particular types of oil and high-stress driving, they can cause oil breakdown and sludge to appear. The lesson from them appears to be “don’t use additives”. When is sludge not sludge? Easy; when it’s an oil and water emulsion from a leaking or blown head gasket. If this happens, you get a whitish cream coloured sludge on the inside of the oil filler cap. It’s typically cooler than the rest of the cam case and so the oil/water mix tends to condense there. If it off and the underside of it looks like it’s covered in vanilla yoghurt or mayonnaise, you’ve got a blown head gasket. A surefire way to confirm this is if your oil level is going up and your coolant level is going down. The coolant is getting through the breaks in the head gasket and mixing with the oil. When it gets to the sump it separates out and the oil floats on top. A slightly more accurate way to check for this condition is to use a combustion leak tester, or block tester. If you’re in America, NAPA sell them for about $45 (part #BK 7001006). If you’re in England, Sealey sell them for about £70 (model number VS0061). Combustion leak testers are basically a turkey baster filled with PH liquid, with a non-return valve at the bottom. To use one, run your engine for a few minutes until its warm (not hot) then turn it off. Use a protective glove (like an oven glove) and take the radiator or reservoir cap off. Plug the bottom of the combustion leak tester into the hole and squeeze the rubber bulb on top. It will suck air from the top of the coolant through the non-return valve and bubble it through the PH liquid. If the liquid changes colour (normally blue to yellow), it means there is combustion gas in the coolant which means a head gasket leak. Note:There is one other possible cause for the mayonnaise: a blocked scavenger hose. Most engines have a hose that comes off the cam cover and returns to the engine block somewhere via a vacuum line. This is the scavenger hose that scavenges oil vapour and gasses that build up in the cam cover. If it’s blocked you can end up with a buildup of condensation inside the cam cover, which can manifest itself as the yellow goop inside the filler cap. VW / Audi sludge problems While the the 1.8T engines in Audi A4’s, Audi TT, VW Passat, Jetta, Golf, New Bettle, are all very prone to sludge build-up, Audi/VW does not have an extended warranty for them from the factory. The factory warranty is 4 year/50,000 miles but it can be extended if purchased. Although Audi/VW now has 10,000 mile service intervals, oil changes can be done between “services”, and should be done if the vehicle is driven in heavy traffic, offroad, and non-highway use. Also, Audi/ VW will only warrant an engine if the customer has proof of all their oil changes. As of 2004 I belive all 1.8T engines must use synthetic oil. So if you own one of these sludge-prone engines, what can you do? Obviously, Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG) recommends that you use only VW/Audi recommended oil. You should also keep up on your oil changes, making them more frequent if you drive hard or haul a lot of cargo. The most important thing for the VW or Audi owner is this: if the oil light comes on and beeps the high pitch beep that almost everyone ignores, pull over and shut the engine down immediately. Many VAG engines can be saved by this procedure. Have the vehicled towed to a VAG dealer. Their standard procedure is to inspect the cam bearings; if they’re not scored, the oil pan will be removed and cleaned out and all the crankcase breather hoses and the oil pickup tube will be replaced. They’ll do an oil pressure test with a mechanical gauge, and hopefully will also replace the turbo lines. Finally, the turbo will be checked for bearing free-play. The VAG turbos run really hot even with proper oil and coolant supply – that’s why you need a good quality synthetic in them. Toyota sludge problems For their part, Toyota have the dubious honour of having the most complaints about sludge buildup in their engines – over 5,000 in 2008. At the time of writing there is a class action suit going on against them. Details can be found at Saab sludge problems For an example of sludge in a Saab 9 5 Aero with only 42,000 miles on it, you might be interested to read my case study on this engine, put together with the help of a reader. Our sludge case study. Like the site? The page you’re reading is free, but if you like what you see and feel you’ve learned something, a small donation to help pay down my car loan would be appreciated. Thank you. Mineral motor oil Mineral or synthetic? Mineral oils are based on oil that comes from dear old Mother Earth which has been refined. Synthetic oils are entirely concocted by chemists wearing white lab coats in oil company laboratories. The only other type is semi-synthetic, sometimes called premium, which is a blend of the two. It is safe to mix the different types, but it’s wiser to switch completely to a new type rather than mixing. Synthetic motor oil Synthetics Despite their name, most synthetic derived motor oils (ie Mobil 1, Castrol Formula RS etc) are actually derived from mineral oils – they are mostly Polyalphaolifins and these come from the purest part of the mineral oil refraction process, the gas. PAO oils will mix with normal mineral oils which means Joe public can add synthetic to his mineral, or mineral to his synthetic without his car engine seizing up (although I’ve heard Mobil 1 is actually made by reformulating ethanol). These bases are pretty stable, and by stable I mean ‘less likely to react adversely with other compounds’. They tend not to contain reactive carbon atoms for this reason. Reactive carbon has a tendency to combine with oxygen creating an acid. (As you can imagine, in an oil this would be A Bad Thing.) They also have high viscosity indices and high temperature oxidative stability. Typically a small amount of diester synthetic (a compound containing two ester groups) is added to counteract seal swell too. These diesters act as a detergent and will attack carbon residuals. So think of synthetic oils as custom-built oils. They’re designed to do the job efficiently but without any of the excess baggage that can accompany mineral based oils. Quinn-direct car insurance Pure synthetics Pure synthetic oils (polyalkyleneglycol) are the types used almost exclusively within the industrial sector in polyglycol gearbox oils for heavily loaded gearboxes. These are typically concocted by even more intelligent blokes in even whiter lab coats. These chaps break apart the molecules that make up a variety of substances, like vegetable and animal oils, and then recombine the individual atoms that make up those molecules to build new, synthetic molecules. This process allows the chemists to actually “fine tune” the molecules as they build them. Clever stuff. But Polyglycols don’t mix with normal mineral oils. While we’re on synthetic oils, I should mention Amsoil. I originally had them down as an additive. I was wrong. I’ve got to say I’ve had no experience of the product myself so I can’t vent my spleen about it. However, there is a particularly good page with a ton of info about it here. I recommend you pop over and read this and see what you think. I’ve been contacted by Amsoil themselves and asked to point out the following: Amsoil do NOT produce or market oil additives and do not wish to be associated with oil additives. They are a formulator of synthetic lubricants for automotive and industrial applications and have been in business for 30+ years. They are not a half-hour infomercial or fly-by-night product, nor have they ever been involved in a legal suit regarding their product claims in that 30+ year span. Many Amsoil products are API certified, and ALL of our products meet and in most cases exceed the specifications of ILSAC, AGMA etc….. Their lubricants also exceed manufacturers specifications and Amsoil are on many manufacturers approval lists. They base their claims on ASTM certified tests and are very open to anyone, with nothing to hide. It turns out that Amsoil actually have the stance that they recommend engine oil additives are NOT to be used with their products. This will become relevant later on this page, and in the additives section. They have a pretty good FAQ on the Amsoil website: Amsoil FAQ (external link). If I put new, fully synthetic oil in my older engine, will the seals leak? This question comes up a lot from people who’ve just bought a used vehicle and are wanting to start their history with the car on fresh oil. The short answer: generally speaking, not any more. The caveat is that your engine must be in good working order and not be leaking right now. If that’s the case, most modern oils are fully compatible with the elastomeric materials that engine seals are made from, and you shouldn’t have any issues with leaks. The longer answer: Mixing Mineral and Synthetic oils – current thinking Here’s the current thinking on the subject of mixing mineral and synthetic oils. This information is based on the answer to a technical question posed on the Shell Oil website. There is no scientific data to support the idea that mixing mineral and synthetic oils will damage your engine. When switching from a mineral oil to a synthetic, or vice versa, you will potentially leave a small amount of residual oil in the engine. That’s perfectly okay because synthetic oil and mineral-based motor oil are, for the most part, compatible with each other. (The exception is pure synthetics. Polyglycols don’t mix with normal mineral oils.) There is also no problem with switching back and forth between synthetic and mineral based oils. In fact, people who are “in the know” and who operate engines in areas where temperature fluctuations can be especially extreme, switch from mineral oil to synthetic oil for the colder months. They then switch back to mineral oil during the warmer months. There was a time, years ago, when switching between synthetic oils and mineral oils was not recommended if you had used one product or the other for a long period of time. People experienced problems with seals leaking and high oil consumption but changes in additive chemistry and seal material have taken care of those issues. And that’s an important caveat. New seal technology is great, but if you’re still driving around in a car from the 80’s with its original seals, then this argument becomes a bit of a moot point – your seals are still going to be subject to the old leakage problems no matter what newfangled additives the oil companies are putting in their products. Flushing oils These are special compound oils that are very, very thin. They almost have the consistency of tap water both when cold and hot. Typically they are 0W/20 oils. Don’t ever drive with these oils in your engine – it won’t last. Their purpose is for cleaning out all the gunk which builds up inside an engine. Note:Mobil1 0W40 is okay, because the ’40’ denotes that it’s actually thick enough at temperature to work. 0W20 just doesn’t get that viscous! Also:Some hybrid vehicles now require 0W20, so if you’re a hybrid driver, check your owner’s manual. Do I need a flushing oil? Unless there’s something seriously wrong with your engine, like you’ve filled it with milk or shampoo, you really ought never to need a flushing oil. If you’re transitioning from a mineral oil to a synthetic oil, likewise you probably don’t need to flush the engine first. If you do decide to do an oil flush, first drain your engine of all it’s oil, but leave the old oil filter in place. Next fill it up with flushing oil and run it at a fast idle for about 20 minutes. Finally, drain all this off (and marvel at the crap that comes out with it), replace the oil filter, refill with a good synthetic oil and voila! Clean engine. Of course, like most things nowadays, there’s a condition attached when using flushing oils. In an old engine you really don’t want to remove all the deposits. Some of these deposits help seal rings, lifters and even some of the flanges between the heads, covers, pan and the block, where the gaskets are thin. I have heard of engines with over 280,000km that worked fine, but when flushed, failed in a month because the blow-by past the scraper ring (now really clean) contaminated the oil and screwed the rod bearings. Using Diesel oil for flushing A question came up some time ago about using diesel-rated oils to flush out petrol engines. The idea was that because of the higher detergent levels in diesel engine oil, it might be a good cleaner / flusher for a non-diesel engine. Well most of the diesel oil specification oils can be used in old petrol engines for cleaning, but you want to use a low specification oil to ensure that you do not over clean your engine and lose compression (for example). Generally speaking, an SAE 15W/40 diesel engine oil for about 500 miles might do the trick. The question of phosphorus and zinc. Phosphorus (a component of ZDDP – Zinc Dialkyl-Dithio-Phosphate) is the key component for valve train protection in an engine and 1600ppm (parts per million) used to be the standard for phosphorus in engine oil. In 1996 the EPA forced that to be dropped to 800ppm and then more recently (2004?) to 400ppm – a quarter of the original spec. Valvetrains and their components are not especially cheap to replace and this drop in phosphorus content has been a problem for many engines (especially those with flat-tappet type cams). So why was the level dropped? Money. Next to lead, it’s the second most destructive substance to shove through a catalytic converter. The US government mandated a 150,000 mile liftime on catalytic converters and the quickest way to do that was to drop phosphorous levels and bugger the valvetrain problem. Literally. In the US, Mobil 1 originally came out with the 0W40 as a ‘European Formula’ as it was always above 1000 ppm. This initially got them out of the 1996 800ppm jam and knowledgeable consumers sought it out for obvious reasons. Their 15W50 has also maintained a very high level of phosphorus and all of the extended life Mobil synthetics now have at least 1000ppm. How do they get away with this? They’re not classified as energy/fuel conserving oils and thus do not interfere with the precious government CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) ratings. (See my section on the EPA and fuel economy in the Fuel and Engine Bible for more info on this). This also means that they don’t get the coveted ratings of other oils but they do protect your valvetrain. The same rule of thumb is true for racing oils like Royal Purple – because they’re not classified as energy / fuel conserving, it would seem they still contain good quantities of ZDDP. In fact, as a general rule-of-thumb, staying away from XX-30 oils and going to 10W-40 or higher might be the way to go if you have an older engine. 10W-40 and above is generally also not considered to be ‘gas saving’ and like the Mobil example above, doesn’t mess with the CAFE rating. If you live in England, Castrol market a product with ZDDP in the product description – ‘Castrol Classic Oil With ZDDP Anti-Wear Additive’ although it’s not mainstream enough to be available everywhere. You’ll have to find a specialist dealer. Castrol Classics. In the US, Rislone manufacture an oil supplement to boost the ZDDP content of your existing oil. Rislone Engine Oil Supplement. So what should I buy? Quality Counts! It doesn’t matter what sort of fancy marketing goes into an engine oil, or how many naked babes smear it all over their bodies, or how bright and colourful the packaging is, it’s what’s written on the packaging that counts. Specifications and approvals are everything. There are two established testing bodies. The API (American Petroleum Institute), and the European counterpart, the ACEA (Association des Constructeurs Europeens d’Automobiles – which was the CCMC). You’ve probably never heard of either of them, but their stamp of approval will be seen on the side of every reputable can of engine oil. The API The API classifications are different for petrol and diesel engines: For petrol, listings start with ‘S’ (meaning Service category, but you can also think of it as Spark-plug ignition), followed by another code to denote standard. ‘SN’ is the current top grade, which recently replaced ‘SM’ and ‘SL’. ‘SH’ will be found on most expensive oils, and almost all the new synthetics. It’s basically an upgraded ‘SG’ oil which has been tested more sternly. For diesel oils, the first letter is ‘C’ (meaning Commercial category, but you can also think of it as Compression ignition). ‘CJ’ is the highest grade at the moment, (technically CJ-4 for heavy-duty) but ‘CH’ is the most popular and is well adequate for passenger vehicle applications. Note:Castrol recently upgraded all their oils and for some reason, Castrol diesels now use the ‘S’ rating, thus completely negating my little aid-memoir above. So the older CC,CD,CE and CF ratings no longer exist, but have been replaced by an ‘SH’ grade diesel oil. This link is a service bulletin from Castrol themselves, explaining the situation. The CCMC/ACEA The ACEA standards are prefixed with a ‘G’ for petrol engines and a ‘D’ or ‘PD’ for diesel. Coupled with this are numerous approvals by car manufacturers which many oil containers sport with pride. ACEA replaced CCMC in 1996 primarily to allow for greater read-across in test programs (eg. for viscosity, viscosity modifiers and base oil). The CCMC specifications were G (1 to 5) for gasoline, D (1 to 5) or heavy duty diesel and PD1 and PD2 for passenger car diesel. ACEA though have a slightly different nomenclature they can be summarised as A for petrol, B for passenger car diesel and E for heavy duty diesel. The ACEA grades may also be followed by the year of issue which will be either ’04 or ’07 (current). The full ACEA specs are: A1 Fuel Economy Petrol † A2 Standard performance level A3 High performance and / or extended drain A5 Fuel economy petrol with extended drain capability † B1 Fuel Economy diesel † B2 Standard performance level (now obsolete) B3 High performance and / or extended drain B4 For direct injection passenger car diesel engines B5 Fuel economy diesel with extended drain capability † † Not suitable for all engines – should ONLY be used in engines specifying this fuel efficient grade. Refer to the manufacturer handbook of contact your local dealer if you’re not sure. Mineral oils: E1 Non-turbo charged light duty diesel E2 Standard performance level E3 High performance extended drain E5 (1999) High performance / long drain plus American/API performances. – This is ACEAs first attempt at a global spec. E7 Euro 4 engines – exhaust after treatment (EGR / SCR) Part / full synthetic oils: E4 Higher performance and longer extended drain E6 Euro 4 specification – low SAPS for vehicles with PDF (see below) New low SAPS (Sulphated Ash, Phosphorous, Sulphur) This oil is a recent introduction for diesel engines fitted with a DPF (Diesel particulate filter). This is effectively a filter unit in the exhaust that takes out the microscopic soot particles. If you don’t use a proper low SAPS oil, then the additives can block the filter with ash, which is a bit like putting a potato up your exhaust! New filters are pricey – £1500 isn’t unusual. C1 Low SAPS (0.5% ash) fuel efficient C2 Mid SAPS (0.8% ash) fuel efficient, performance C3 Mid SAPS (0.8% ash) Many OEM are now using their own specifications to capture this spec. eg. Mercedes 229.31/51, BMW Longlife 04, VW 507 00 etc. There is also a trend now towards manufacturers requiring their own specifications – in this case the OEM specification is the one that needs to be adhered to. If it says BMW Longlife 04, the oil must say this on the pack to be suitable for use. Typically, these markings will be found in a statement similar to: Meets the requirements of API SH/CD along the label somewhere. Also, you ought to be able to see the API Service Symbol somewhere on the packaging: Beware the fake API symbol Some unscrupulous manufacturers (and there’s not many left that do this) will put a symbol on their packaging designed to look like the API symbol without actually being the API symbol. They do this in an effort to pump up the ‘quality’ of their product by relying on people not really knowing exactly what the proper API symbol should look like. To the left is an example of a fake symbol – it looks similar but as long as you remember what to look for, you won’t get taken by this scam. Amsoil are one of the biggest inadvertent offenders of the fake API symbol. Take a look at one of their labels here on the right. See that little starburst that says “Fuel efficient formula SL-CF”? It can say all it likes, but the fact of the matter is that this is absolutely not an API-certified SL or CF oil. To be fair, some Amsoil products are API certified and they do have the correct labelling, but their top-tier products do not. The issue of their lack of API certification on these products caused such a stir at Amsoil that they had to generate a FAQ to answer the most commonly-asked questions. You can find a copy of that here : Amsoil & API Licensing. It does explain everything logcially and clearly, and it’s not scientific doublespeak. Which is nice. If this is all confusing you, then rest assured that all top oils safely conform to the current standards. What you should treat with caution are the real cheapies and those with nothing but a maker’s name on the pack. Anything below about £12 ($18) for 5 litres just isn’t going to be worth it. A Brief History of Time API ratings Some people have asked about the old standards, and although they’re not especially relevant, some rampant plagiarism from an API service bulletin means I can bring you all the API ratings right back from when the earth was cooling. the table below to see the ratings. Petrol Engines Diesel Engines Category Status Service Category Status Service CJ-4 Current Introduced in 2006 for high-speed four-stroke engines. Designed to meet 2007 on-highway exhaust emission standards. CJ-4 oils are compounded for use in all applications with diesel fuels ranging in sulphur content up to 500ppm (0.05% by weight). However, use of these oils with greater than 15ppm sulfur fuel may impact exhaust aftertreatment system durability and/or oil drain intervals. CJ-4 oils are effective at sustaining emission control system durability where particulate filters and other advanced aftertreatment systems are used. CJ-4 oils exceed the performance criteria of CF-4, CG-4, CH-4 and CI-4. SN Current For all automotive engines presently in use. Introduced in the API service symbol in November 2010 CI-4 Current Introduced in 2002 for high-speed four-stroke engines. Designed to meet 2004 exhaust emission standards implemented in 2002. CI-4 oils are formulated to sustain engine durability where exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) is used and are intented for use with diesel fuels ranging in sulphur content up to 0.5% weight. Can be used in place of CD, CE, CF-4, CG-4 and CH-4 SM Current For all automotive engines presently in use. Introduced in the API service symbol in November 2004 CH-4 Current Introduced in 1998 for high-speed four-stroke engines. CH-4 oils are specifically designed for use with diesel fuels ranging in sulphur content up to 0.5% weight. Can be used in place of CD, CE, CF-4 and CG-4. SL Still current but nearly obsolete For all automotive engines presently in use. Introduced in the API service symbol in 1998 CG-4 Current Introduced in 1995 for high-speed four-stroke engines. CG-4 oils are specifically designed for use with diesel fuels ranging in sulphur content less than 0.5% weight. CG-4 oil needs to be used for engines meeting 1994 emission standards. Can be used in place of CD, CE and CF-4. SJ Still current but nearly obsolete For all automotive engines presently in use. Introduced in the API service symbol in 1996 CF-4 Current Introduced in 1990 for high-speed four-stroke naturally aspirated and turbo engines. Can be used in place of CD and CE. SH Obsolete For model year 1996 and older engines. CF-2 Current Introduced in 1994 for severe duty, two stroke motorcycle engines. Can be used in place of CD-II. SG Obsolete For model year 1993 and older engines. CF Current Introduced in 1994 for off-road, indirect-injected and other diesel engines including those using fuel over0.5% weight sulphur. Can be used in place of CD. SF Obsolete For model year 1988 and older engines. CE Obsolete Introduced in 1987 for high-speed four-stroke naturally aspirated and turbo engines. Can be used in place of CC and CD. SE Obsolete For model year 1979 and older engines. CD-II Obsolete Introduced in 1987 for two-stroke motorcycle engines. SD Obsolete For model year 1971 and older engines. CD Obsolete Introduced in 1955 for certain naturally aspirated and turbo engines. SC Obsolete For model year 1967 and older engines. CC Obsolete Introduced in 1961 for all diesels. SB Obsolete For older engines. Use this only when specifically recommended by the manufacturer. CB Obsolete Introduced in 1949 for moderate-duty engines. SA Obsolete For much older engines with no performance requirement. Use this only when specifically recommended by the manufacturer. CA Obsolete Introduced in 1940 for light-duty engines. Grade counts too!The API/ACEA ratings only refer to an oil’s quality. For grade, you need to look at the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) ratings. These describe the oil’s function and viscosity standard. Viscosity means the substance and clinging properties of the lubricant. When cold, oil can become like treacle so it is important that any lube is kept as thin as possible. It’s cold performance is denoted by the letter ‘W’, meaning ‘winter’. At the other end of the scale, a scorching hot oil can be as thin as water and about as useful too. So it needs to be as thick as possible when warm. Thin when cold but thick when warm? That’s where MultiGrade oil comes in. For ages, good old 20W/50 was the oil to have. But as engines progressed and tolerances decreased, a lighter, thinner oil was required, especially when cold. Thus 15W/50, 15W/40 and even 15W/30 oils are now commonplace. Synthetics can go down as far as 5W which seemed unbeatable until Castrol came up with SLX – a 0W30 formulation! ‘Free flowing’ just doesn’t describe it! It’s predominantly a workshop oil retailing at around £10 ($15) a litre, but recommended for use in places like Canada in the winter. So again: what should I buy? That all depends on your car, your pocket and how you intend to drive and service the car. All brands claim theirs offers the best protection available – until they launch a superior alternative. It’s like washing powders – whiter than white until new Super-Nukem-Dazzo comes out. For most motorists and most cars, a quality mainstream oil is the best, like Castrol GTX. Moving up a step, you could look at Duckhams QXR and Castrol Protection Plus and GTX3 Lightec. The latter two of these are designed specifically for engines with catalytic converters. They’re also a good choice for GTi’s and turbo engines. Go up a step again and you’re looking at synthetic oils aimed squarely at the performance market like Mobil-1. To help you through the maze of oils available, there’s a site available now (the motor oil evaluator) that aims to lessen the confusion with a relatively balanced scoring system based on published specifications such as viscosity and pour point. It’s a good starting point if you’re looking for even more in-depth info. Marine Diesels and other special considerations. Inland Marine Diesels (and certain road vehicles under special conditions) can (and do) glaze their bores due the low cylinder wall temperatures causing the oil (and more importantly the additive pack) to undergo a chemical change to a varnish-like substance. The low temperature is caused by operating under light load for long periods. This is related to engine design, some engines being nearly immune to it and others susceptible. The old Sherpa van diesel engines were notorious for this problem. The “cure” (such as it is) is to use a low API specification oil, such as CC. Certain engine manufacturers/marinisers are now marketing the API CC oil for this purpose under their own name (and at a premium). You’ll find some modern engines where its industrial/vehicle manual states API CF and the marinised manual states API CC/CD. {Thanks to Tony Brooks for this information.} Marine Oils. I sometimes get asked “why are marine engine oils so expensive and why can’t I just use regular motor oil in my marine engine instead?”. Well, the National Marine Manufacturers Association Oil Certification Committee (click here for more info) introduced a four-stroke engine oil test and standard called the 4T certification. This specification is meant to assist boaters and manufacturers in identifying four-stroke cycle engine oils that have been specially formulated to withstand the rigors of marine engine operation. The certification was prompted by the growing influence of four-stroke engines in the marine market and their unique lubrication demands. So the simple answer is that regular road-based engine oil products don’t contain rust inhibitors and won’t pass the 4T certification. Lakes, waterways and the sea are a lot more aggressive an environment for an engine to operate around than on land. Note : the NMMA have long had a similar specification for 2-stroke oils destined for marine use, called the TC-W3® certification. The eBay problem This paragraph may seem a little out of place but I have had a lot of problems with a couple of eBay members (megamanuals and lowhondaprelude) stealing my work, turning it into PDF files and selling it on eBay. Generally, idiots like this do a copy/paste job so they won’t notice this paragraph here. If you’re reading this and you bought this page anywhere other than from my website at, then you have a pirated, copyright-infringing copy. Please send me an email as I am building a case file against the people doing this. Go to to see the full site and find my contact details. And now, back to the meat of the subject…. Like the site? The page you’re reading is free, but if you like what you see and feel you’ve learned something, a small donation to help pay down my car loan would be appreciated. Thank you. Motor oil shelf life Engine Oil Shelf Life. I couldn’t decide whether to put this in the FAQ or the main page, so it’s in both, because I get asked this question a lot. Typically, the question is along the lines of “GenericAutoSuperStore are having a sale on WickedlySlippy Brand synthetic oil. If I buy it now, how long can I keep if before I use it?” In general, liquid lubricants (ie. oils, not greases) will remain intact for a number of years. The main factor affecting the life of the oil is the storage condition for the products. Exposure to extreme temperature changes, and moisture will reduce the shelf life of the lubricants. (an increase of 10°C doubles oxidation which halves the shelf life) ie. don’t leave it in the sun with the lid off. Best to keep them sealed and unopened. Technically, engine oils have shelf lives of four to five years. However, as years pass, unused engine oils can become obsolete and fail to meet the technical requirements of current engines. The specs get updated regularly based on new scientific testing procedures and engine requirements. But this is only really a concern if you’ve bought a brand new car but have engine oil you bought for the previous car. An oil that is a number of years old might not be formulated to meet the requirements set for your newer engine. If your unopened containers of engine oil are more than three years old, read the labels to make sure they meet the latest industry standards. If they do meet the current standards, you might want to take the extra precaution of obtaining oil analysis before using them. An oil analysis will check for key properties of the oil and ensure that it still meets the original manufacturing specs. Of course the cost of getting an analysis done on old oil is probably going to outweigh going and buying fresh stuff. So it’s a double-edged sword. As a general rule, the simpler the oil formulation, the longer the shelf life. The following is a guideline under protected conditions – indoors at about 20°C: Product Shelf Life Base Oils, Process Oils 3 years Hydraulic Oils, Compressor Oils, General Purpose Lubricating Oils 2 years Engine Oils and Transmission Oils 3 years Industrial and Automotive Gear Oils 2 years Metal Working and Cutting Oils 1 year The following are signs of storage instability in a lubricant: Settling out of the additives as a gel or sticky liquid Floc or haze Precipitates/solid material Colour change or haziness Water contamination in a lubricant can be detected by a “milky” appearance of the product.

To regularly test your oil order free oil analysis kits from


Engine oil testing

Check Your Engine With an Oil Test

Is your engine sick?
Going on a long trip?
Buying a second hand car?
Not sure of your synthetic oil?
End of your warranty coming up?

We check oil for abrasives to determine the state of your engine. See here for details.
It’s as easy as 1,2,3:Price 35 AUD

  1. Ordera test kit from us online, we will post it to you
  2. Post us a sample of oil from your engine using our easy to use kit
  3. Check your results online once we’ve e-mailed you to say it’s ready


Sample Report
image of sample report


Why an Oil Check?

It is well known that particles and contaminants in oil are not good for your engine and may be indicative of other problems. Particles are abrasive and cause accelerated wear on your engine. Contaminants such as water indicate that other malfunctions may be occuring. Oil analysis picks up these particulates and contaminants and indicates what sort of wear or malfunction is occurring in your engine.

  • Identify potential problems early before they become expensive.
  • Get an insight into your engine without the cost of opening it up.
  • Roktex uses well known industry practices and standards to analyse oils. See here for details.


Don’t delay, don’t let it be a costly mistake and catch it early. Remember it is as easy as 1,2,3 with RokTex.