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Oil Sense


Written by Freddi Stafford

A thin film of lubrication is all that ensures a long life for all those complex mechanical components on your 4×4. Oil specs have changed to match the many advances in technology, but often your local service agent finds it easier to stock just one or two standard oils. Bad idea…

Advancements in technology have changed our lives forever, but how much thought have you given to this when it comes to your 4×4 and the quality of lubricants it uses, every time you send your vehicle in to be serviced? It’s far more important than you think.

Do you remember when we could take a pair of socks out of our drawer and place either one on either foot, without concern for our comfort? Now Falke mark their socks left and right, calling them asymmetrical, and stating that they fit your left and right foot exclusively, complementing the unique shape of each foot.

Yes, life has become complicated. However, you do not need to know all the answers in order to gain success. Instead of having to become experts on anything and everything in their lives, the world’s most successful people instead choose to surround themselves with knowledgeable and trustworthy partners that are keen to share their wisdom. Their mobile phones have contacts like Steve – Insurance Broker, George – Plumber, Claire – Landscaper, Sumayha – Labour Broker and Shaheed – Land Rover mechanic.

These are the people who have many years of experience, and consistently offer us good advice. They keep up to date on the latest advances and the latest technology, so that we do not need to. By default, they also make our lives easier. Whether you are the owner of a new vehicle or an old vehicle, the newest technologies affect us all. When a classic car owner asks me for non-detergent oil, I explain the myth that has perpetuated this requirement since after World War II (for the past 70 years) and why they do not require a “non-detergent” oil.

A small part of my explanation is that we have the same teeth now as we had 70 years ago, but modern toothpastes now have stabilised stannous fluoride formulations that deliver long-lasting anti-bacterial benefits, while the fluoride reduces demineralisation and effectively drives remineralisation. Then there are the benefits of polyphosphate formulas that provide extra whitening and anti-calculus benefits, inhibit bacterial growth, reduce bacterial adhesion and eradicate staining. In short, modern toothpastes are better able to protect our teeth than those available 70 years ago. Modern lubricants do the same for all engines.

For most consumers, buying a vehicle represents a major financial decision: one of the larger purchases they will make in their lives. Maintaining the value of this investment makes financial sense. Over the past 25 years that I have been in the oil industry, I have seen only a handful of workshops that know anything about the OEM recommended or the specified lubricants that are to be used in the vehicles they service. These successful workshops embrace the new technology and work hard to educate themselves, to the significant benefit of all their customers.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of workshops know close to nothing about choosing the correct oil, and neither do they appear to want to know more. Also included in this group are gearbox and transmission repair workshops, power-steering repair shops, panel beaters, fleet-maintenance and general workshops, and spares shops.

It appears that the dealerships/agents are not much better, either. In a recent attempt to confirm the specific automatic transmission used in a Ford Territory, 10 phone calls to 10 dealerships provided 10 different answers – which included the following advice: “We do not know, we have never changed that oil,” “use any mineral ATF,” “use the normal ATF,” “use normal ATF but you must add a special additive,” “use Mercon V fluid,” “use Dexron only,” and “we don’t ever change the fluid – it’s a lifetime fluid.” And so on.

It is of considerable concern to me that workshops which service vehicles have little or no knowledge about lubrication, to the major detriment of all their customers. It is my opinion that when a customer decides to service his or her vehicle at a private workshop as an alternative to the agents, at least 90% of the time a major compromise is made by the customers without them even knowing it. This is a compromise that results in reduced vehicle reliability, service life, and fuel consumption, plus increased future running expenses. This is primarily due to the use of incorrectly-specified lubricants and no-name or price-fighting products like coolants, with absolutely no OEM approvals and no description of the technology used on the container. The OEM-specified API, ILSAC and ACEA specifications are unknown to these workshops, as are the specific requirements of vehicles fitted with catalytic converters, EGR systems, diesel particulate filters, and pump nozzle injectors.

Most workshops are concerned only about buying the lubricants they use for servicing their customer’s cars at the lowest possible price, often standardising on a “one-oil-fits-all” philosophy. This extends to their choice of automatic transmission fluid, manual transmission oil and coolant (Antifreeze). This is simply impossible.

“What is the price of your 20W/50?” “We get it from the spares shop for R99.99 per five-litre. If you can beat that price, you will have our business.” “Yes, we use it in all the vehicles we service. No, we do not know the specification of the oil; it’s a 20W/50.” According to my Castrol handbook from 1991, 25 years ago, there were six automatic transmission fluids available, namely: GM Type A Suffix A; Dexron; Dexron II; Dexron IIE; Ford M2C 33 (Ford Type F) and Mercon fluid. This excluded the two commercial Leyland and Allison transmission fluids shown on the same page. Nowadays, we have many more. Companies like Ravenol (Ravensberger Schmierstoffvertrieb GmbH) have 33 different OEM-approved automatic transmission fluids (ATF).

Some mechanics will put an incorrectly specified universal ATF in an automatic transmission – and because it works they believe this is acceptable. This is despite not knowing the long-term effects of using the incorrect fluid, while presuming to know better than the OEM who has spent millions of dollars (or deutschmark, or yen, or rand) in scientific testing of every component of the transmission, over the full expected lifetime of the transmission. ZF (ZF Friedrichshafen) transmissions are fitted to many vehicles, including Land Rovers. The ZF website states the following: “In modern transmissions, the oil is a ‘constructional component’ that needs to match the different transmission functions and materials as perfectly as possible. ZF transmission oils are especially developed for the individual transmissions and adapted to their specific requirements.

Commercially available products usually have to meet the specifications of various units and therefore have to make compromises, preventing your ZF transmission from reaching its full potential. ZF transmission oils contain a matched combination of high-quality base stocks and special additive packages. This ensures excellent lubrication and friction characteristics even under extreme operating conditions and is a prerequisite for the long service life of ZF units, while at the same time often securing a significant reduction in fuel consumption.

ZF transmission oils are especially recommended for applications with high thermal stress, such as demanding topography, or a sporty driving style. ATFs are amongst the most sophisticated types of lubricants known to the industry. In a sense, they constitute the leading edge of lubrication technology. As with all other lubricants, when it comes to automatic transmission fluid, there is no such thing as a universal ATF, and ATFs cannot be “up-treated” by the addition of aftermarket additives.

The Engineering and Manufacturing Authorities deem that the lubricant contained within an engine or machine is also a component of that machine. It therefore stands to reason that it should be correctly chosen, maintained and monitored for its condition, just like the machine itself. Unfortunately, the lubricant’s specification and condition is frequently ignored or overlooked until a problem arises, and only then does anyone seem concerned about the maintenance of the lubricant and the critical importance of correctly selecting the lubricant.

The above means that vehicle owners should take care when it comes to choosing a workshop to service their vehicle, and pay more attention to the lubricant-quality and brand offered by them. The same amount of care should be exercised by DIY enthusiasts, as advice from spares shops on lubricants is mostly extremely poor, and, in many cases, completely non-existent.

In the next few articles, we will discuss more specifically what you need to know about how base oil-quality affects lubrication. We will look at mineral, semisynthetic and synthetic versions of engine oil, at the differences between manual and automatic transmission fluids, transfer case oils, differential oil (both non-locking and electronic locking) and power steering fluids.

We will also delve into brake fluids and coolants (anti-freeze) and more. In short, enough information to make you wiser and to assist you in making better choices.