Oil is oil..Or is it
By Geoff Wheatley
A few days ago I took my car in for its regular oil change and while waiting , studied the hundreds of plastic containers of new oil awaiting dispatch to some vehicle. This led me to recall the birth of Multi Grade Oil when I was much younger!
The stuff was suspect when it was offered to the public in the mid 1940's. While many of my friends Fathers, with or without vehicles could or would not believe that there could be an oil that would change its ability to protect an engine as you drove the car. To add to this suspicion how could this same oil last twice as long as the stuff you and your Father and maybe even his father had changed every fifteen hundred miles? To increase the confusion there was still a few engines that required single grade oil like marine power units, tractors etc.
However, one of the convincing selling points was the use of Multi Grade oil on the racing circuits with impressive results in performance and reliability. One of the first to use this marking approach was Castrol that even went a step father and sold their new Multi Grade with the letter "R" featured on each container. All motor publications featured at least two or more reports on the success of this wonder product forgetting to mention that its also cost more for an oil change than with the non multi-grade.
Around this time my father purchased a new car and I went with him to collect a bright new shining Ford with a tank full of gas.
The salesman who had sold the car to my father made a statement that should have brought delight to any new owner but, in reality caused considerable concern bordering on anger. Quote, "You put this new oil stuff in my new car'? Take it out and put some real oil in the engine". The salesman was, to say the least, somewhat distressed by this request and within a few minutes the Manager arrived to pour a little oil, (No Pun Intended) on troubled waters!
Managers are trained to deal with such situations and this one managed to persuade my father that this oil change was special, and would certainly save him money because of the extended life of the oil. I think the money aspect was the turning point in the conversation so with new tags and the Owners manual, we set out for home. In those days it was clearly understood that a vehicle needed time to "Run In". This required that the car did not exceed fifty miles an hour for the first five hundred or so miles. Heavy use of the power pedal was forbidden, also no speed displays to impress the neighbors or any one else. As I recall almost every day my father checked the oil level with the dip stick, then finished the process by rubbing oil between his fingers. To my knowledge he never mentioned the fact that there was this new type of lubricating mixture in the engine to anyone and I was sworn not to mention this either.
I can't recall when he took the car back for a second oil change, but I do know that after that all anyone ever heard about was the wonder oil in his car and all the benefits that it had over the old fashioned conventional lubrication. By the time I had enough money to put deposit on a new vehicle Multi-Grade was the normal lubrication so these comments are simply observations of the introduction.
What will the future hold for our personal vehicles? Engines that have a sealed lubrication system that needs only limited attention every twenty thousand miles? Batteries that will last for ever. Tires that will never get damaged and will last longer than the batteries? Automatic every thing so that all you have to do is tell the computer where you want to go. Its all feasible when you look at today's technology and how much it has progressed in a decade or two. One final comment. I witnessed a car in a local parking station that actually parked its self. It was a demonstration of the ability to do this with simple ease. I was certainly impressed and can see the time when all of our garages and vehicles have this feature. To me its a worthy extra, to my wife a gift from heaven!
Early on, I as your father, was over whelmed with the oil vs oil, I just put my head down and made my best guess and went with the flow. I still am a bit confused; As now I understand that each engine manufacture is designing their engine around a certain oil product.
You mentioned "Castrol" oil which was named after the Castor bean oil which was used in some sportscar racing engines in the '50s. I read a time ago that the US amateur race drivers when confronted with the European factory teams running Castor oil switched to that oil with disastrous results as they did not have the resources that the factory teams had. The old article said that Castor oil need to be preheated and was good for only one racing session. Of course the US race drivers treated it like the oil available off the shelf with, said, disastrous results.
Taking this subject a bit further, as engines operate to create power they are designed to rub metal against metal as one part pushes, pulls or slides against another. Engine designers leaves gaps between moving parts to allow oil, a non-compressible fluid to fill in and create a slippery medium between the moving parts. Early engine design allowed for large production variations and the skill of the oil producers only provided a single viscosity oil; ie. 20wt, 30wt, 40wt, etc. As the oil producers improved their craft they gave us mullti-grade oils; ie. 10/20wt, 10/30wt 10/40wt and so on.
The multi-grade oil was designed to perform just the opposite of single grade oil. As oil is slow to flow when cold and gets thinner as it heats up this is a problem in an engine. So the multi-grade is designed to flow easily when cold, quickly reaching every part of the engine as it starts up and then as the engine begins to work and get hot the oil thickens and provides protection to each moving part.
Synthetic oil is a totally different thing but yet the same. As stated above each engine manufacture is designing their engine around a certain oil product, and for new cars this usually is synthetic oil. It is worth noting however that older cars which were originally designed to run with petroleum based oil should not have synthetic oil in them. In this case, newer is not better.Contact Geoff Wheatley