By Blaine Denton
The American Petroleum Institute (API) will start licensing a new heavy-duty engine oil category in December 2016. During its development, the category was called Proposed Category 11 (PC-11), with two subcategories, PC-11A and PC-11B. In December 2015, ASTM Subcommittee D02.B on Automotive Lubricants approved the category, which will officially become API CK-4for PC-11A and API FA-4 for PC-11B. At the time of this writing, a ballot had been sent out to members of the API Lubricants Committee to approve the use of API CK-4 and FA-4 in the API Service Symbol Donut, the user language and the first licensing date.
Up to this point, a category has never been split in two before. Part of the impetus for this unprecedented change stems from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, which were established in 2010 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel economy for medium- and heavy-duty diesel engines. The new categories were created to address these mandates, enabling new advancements in diesel engine design, improving fuel economy through the use of lighter viscosity oils, and improving engine durability through additive chemistry and base oil selection.
API CK-4 will be backward compatible with older diesel engines. The name helps to explain this, as the current category is CJ-4. API CK-4 oils have a minimumHTHS viscosity of 3.5 mPasor higher.API FA-4 oils, however,are intended for next-generation diesel engines,and will have lower high temperature high shear limits (2.9-3.2 mPas).
Since this is the first time that a category has been split in two, the API was faced with the challenge of howto make the distinction clear for end users.
Initially, the idea was to include a suffix, H for high and L for low, to indicate their viscosity. These designations were planned to come in the form of a circular seal on the back of motor oil bottles. The API Lubricants Committee dedicated many hours to discussing the topic. Last July, API engaged the services of a marketing firm, Coyne Public Relations, to survey end-users on how this idea might play out.
The results of the survey convinced API to drop the idea of adding a suffix because it would have resulted in greater confusion. Thus, at the December 2015 meeting in Austin, Texas, U.S.A., Kevin Ferrick, who is API’s Engine Oil Licensing Certification System (EOLCS) program manager, informed the SAE Engine Oil Viscosity Classification task force that API will not move forward with its initially anticipated request for the H and L suffixes. The task force is responsible for SAE J300, the global engine oil viscosity classification system.
The main problem with the seal is that it’s new and unusual. One of the people surveyed noted, “I’ve seen it…but honestly I have no idea what API means. I think it’s a seal of approval maybe…?” Essentially, the proposed seal would add to the confusion rather than clarify the message to customers.
The survey found that these new seals created more questions than answers. Some users shared that they simply look for the picture of their engines on the back, and if they see theirs then they must be compatible.
The number of API licensees has reached an unprecedented high of 721, which of course does not help simplify the situation. Adding to the ambiguity of these seals are the designations themselves. Some users reported not even noticing the H or L, while others did not know what it was supposed to denote. Some guesses included, “Heavy duty & Light duty, Highway vs. Local, High vs. Low, or Hot temps vs. Low Temps.”
Ferrick reported that through this research, which surveyed 400 people, the API has learned that “oil specifications are in the eye of the beholder.” Sixty-five percent of those surveyed, he said, were not even aware of the new upcoming category. Beyond that, most users have a much more narrow set of qualifications they follow when they decide what oil to buy. Many users, for instance, reported that they just pay attention to the SAE viscosity grade—“diesel has always been 15W-40,” someone said.It didn’t make sense to end-users that two oils, both labeled SAE15W-40, might in fact have different viscosities. This is where the idea for the “high” and “low” qualifiers began in the first place.
A service manager explained that his employees have rarely ever made a mistake with an oil change, but he made the dire prediction that, “90% will go wrong in the beginning if this is the way it’s going to be.”
One of the proposed solutions was to simply label the bottles with the correct year, that way consumers will know if they have the older or newer versions. Another option was to include a list of compatible engines.Since space on the bottle is prime territory, Ferrick said, the task force has been trying to focus on options within the API “donut,” the circular symbol that already appears on all API-licensed products and contains the SAE viscosity grade in the centre.
“The new API CK-4 and API FA-4 products are better oils. They will better protect engines, provide better fuel economy, and reduce GHG emissions compared to today’s oils,” explained Shawn Whitacre, chairman of the ASTM Heavy Duty Engine Oil Classification Panel, which developed test methods for the PC-11 category.Whitacre is senior staff engineer of engine oil technology at Chevron Products Company.
As part of a public education campaign it launched recently, Chevron has created a new website, PC-11Explained.com which provides commentary, multimedia resources and news regarding the new category.