Longer drain intervals are one of the benefits of using the new API CK4 engine oil according to PetroCanada Lubricants Photo Sean KilcarrAmerican Trucker

Longer drain intervals are one of the benefits of using the new API CK-4 engine oil, according to Petro-Canada Lubricants. (Photo: Sean Kilcarr/American Trucker)

Nine months in: An update on CK-4/FA-4

Adoption of API FA-4 oils is slow but should increase.

As the OEM technical liaison at Petro-Canada Lubricants, Brian Humphrey knows more than a few things regarding the new CK-4 and FA-4 diesel engine oil blends introduced last year. A mechanical engineer by training, Humphrey has worked off and on in the lubricants field since the early 1990s and has witnessed a lot of change in motor oil formulation. In this guest column, he provides an update on how the new CK-4 and FA-4 engine oil blends are performing in the commercial truck arena.

It’s been nine months since the official launch of the new API CK-4 and FA-4 heavy duty diesel engine oil categories.

So, how has the industry responded? What’s been the experience of fleet managers and owner-operators transitioning to API CK-4, and what level of uptake has there been of FA-4, a lower viscosity oil? Now is a good time to reflect back over the last few months to assess the roll-out to date, and also provide guidance to those who have not yet transitioned to the new categories.

Are API CK-4 oils delivering on their promise to extend drain intervals?

Brian Humphrey

A core focus in the development of both CK-4 and FA-4 was the potential to deliver extended drain capabilities. These new oils have been designed to be more robust and more resistant to oxidation, all of which contribute the ability to extend drains with no compromise to engine protection and up time. 

It is highly recommended that a used oil analysis program such as Petro-Canada’s LUBE 360 oil diagnostics process is implemented when extending drain intervals; both fleets and owner-operators should also be aware that actual oil drain intervals will depend on the severity of service and type of application.

We completed a real world field trial of our API CK-4 product, DURON HP 15W-40, with one of our long-standing partners, Jepson Petroleum. The aim of the trial was to measure the oil’s response in meeting the demands of the varied use – long haul and long engine idle times – experienced by the wholesaler and many of its customers.

There were also extreme weather conditions to take into account; the oil was performance tested in Jepson Petroleum’s native region of Calgary, Alberta, which can vary from +20°C to -20°C (which converts roughly to +68 F to -4 F).

The results: We delivered extended drain intervals of up to 50%, from 500 hours to 750 hours, as well as significant improvement in wear protection, shear stability and TBN (total base number) retention.

That being said, fleets and owner-operators should be aware that any lengthening of oil change intervals is a serious matter and should only be done after reviewing your OEM recommendations, consulting with your lubricant supplier, and then conducting a trial using a sound test protocol and regular oil sample analysis to ensure the extension is merited. 

How is the industry responding to API FA-4?

The launch of the FA-4 oils marked a significant step change in the development of lower viscosity oils to meet the needs of the engine designs of modern heavy duty fleet vehicles. Specifically designed for newer vehicles, the oils are thinner but just as durable, and are able to withstand a high-shear engine environment.

The adoption of FA-4 is being driven by both OEM recommendations and truck owner eagerness to take advantage of the potential to increase fuel economy. This can be achieved because lower viscosity oil means less friction in the engine, leading to a reduction in both fuel consumption and CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions – while still offering exceptional levels of wear protection.

We expect FA-4 oils to deliver up to 2% improved fuel economy over conventional SAE 15W-40s and up to 1% better fuel economy versus API CK-4 SAE 10W-30 diesel engine oil in on-road service, depending on driving conditions.

End users must be aware, however, that FA-4 licensed oils are engineered for newer engines and have limited backwards compatibility because some older engines are not designed to operate with such low HTHS (high temperature high shear) viscosity oils.

Our advice for fleets and owner-operators is that they must consult their engine OEM for specific guidance regarding the recommended viscosity grade for their engines and which category will be best suited for their business.

We believe that the fuel economy benefits of API FA-4 oils can have the potential to deliver improved operational efficiency and performance to overall fleet maintenance to new heights. The additional power of CK-4 as the base plus the efficiency of FA-4 may reduce vehicle downtime and deliver financial cost savings. 

The future of FA-4 adoption

As API FA-4 oils have specifically been designed for new on-highway engines, the adoption has undoubtedly been slow industry-wide.

However, we expect the uptake to increase as OEMs release their recommendations for 2017 and newer vehicles as fleets and owner-operators view evidence of the potential cost benefits and operational efficiencies the new oils can deliver.

With only a number of engines in which FA-4 oils are OEM allowed or recommended, the ability to utilize FA-4 is currently limited. Customers still can obtain improved fuel economy by utilizing API CK-4 SAE 10W-30 or 5W-30 oils and get better fuel economy versus 15W-40 oils.

We have experienced customers that are eager to take advantage of the performance benefits of API FA-4 oils, such as enhanced fuel economy, extended drain intervals and exceptional levels of wear protection, and we’ve pledged to continue to support both the industry and our customers as they manage the changes and start their API CK-4 and FA-4 journey.

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