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3/6/2016

MotorOilViscosityGradesExplainedinLayman'sTerms

MotorOilViscosity

Whatdothosenumbersmean?

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MotorOilViscosityGrades
WhatdoestheSAEViscosityratingonyourMotoroil
bottlemean?
Howdotheycomeupwiththisrating...really?

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SAE40
10w40
5w30
20w50
5w20
SAE30
15W40

Mostofthetimewhenviscosityisexplainedwordsareusedthataretoo
technicalfortheaveragepersontoquicklygrasp.Thisleavesthemstill
wonderingwhattheviscositynumbersreallymeanonabottleofmotoroil.
Simplyput,viscosityistheoil'sresistancetoflowor,forthelayman,anoil's
speedofflowasmeasuredthroughadeviceknownasaviscometer.The
thicker(higherviscosity)ofanoil,thesloweritwillflow.Youwillseeoil
viscositymeasurementinlubearticlesstatedinkinematic(kv)andabsolute(cSt)terms.Theseare
translatedintotheeasiertounderstandSAEviscositynumbersyouseeonanoilbottle.

Thiswebsite
hostedthrough:

OK...Whatdoesa5W30dothatanSAE30won't?
WhenyouseeaWonaviscosityratingitmeansthatthisoilviscosityhasbeentestedataColder
temperature.ThenumberswithouttheWarealltestedat210For100Cwhichisconsideredan
approximationofengineoperatingtemperature.Inotherwords,aSAE30motoroilisthesameviscosity
asa10w30or5W30at210(100C).Thedifferenceiswhentheviscosityistestedatamuchcolder
temperature.Forexample,a5W30motoroilperformslikeaSAE5motoroilwouldperformatthecold
temperaturespecified,butstillhastheSAE30viscosityat210F(100C)whichisengineoperating
temperature.Thisallowstheenginetogetquickoilflowwhenitisstartedcoldversesdryrunninguntil
lubricanteitherwarmsupsufficientlyorisfinallyforcedthroughtheengineoilsystem.Theadvantagesof
alowWviscositynumberisobvious.Thequickertheoilflowscold,thelessdryrunning.Lessdry
runningmeansmuchlessenginewear.
Obviously,coldtemperatureorWratingsare
testeddifferentlythanregularSAEviscosity
ratings.Simplyput,thesetestsaredone
withadifferenttemperaturesystem.Thereis
ascalefortheW,orwinterviscositygrades
and,dependingonwhichgradeisselected,
testingisdoneatdifferenttemperatures.
SeetheTablestotherightbelowformore
information.

SAEViscosityChart(HighTemp)
100C(210F)
SAE
Viscosity

Kinematic
(cSt)
100CMin

Kinematic
(cSt)
100CMax

20
5.6
<9.3
Basicallytodeterminenonwintergrade
30
9.3
<12.5
viscosityusingaviscometerameasured
40
12.5
<16.3
amountofoilat100Cisallowedtoflow
50
16.3
<21.9
throughanorificeandtimed.Usingatable
60
21.9
<26.1
theydetermineSAEviscositybasedon
differentranges.Thickerorheavyviscosity
Winteror"W"Grades
oilswilltakelongertoflowthroughtheorifice
intheviscometerandendupinhigher
numberrangessuchasSAE50orSAE60
LowTemp(C)
Kinematic
forexample.Ifanoilflowsthroughfaster
ViscositycP
SAE
(cSt)
beingthinner/lighterthenitwillwindupina
lownumberrangesuchasSAE10orSAE
Viscosity Cranking Pumping
100C
20forexample.Occasionallyitispossible
Min
Max
Max(NYS)
foranoiltobarelyfallintooneviscosity
range.Forexample,anoilisbarelyanSAE
0W
3,250@30 60,000@40
3.8
30havingatimethatputsitontheverylow
5W
3,500@25 60,000@35
3.8
side.ThenanotheroilistimedtobeanSAE
10W
3,500@20 60,000@30
4.1
20onthehighsidenotquitebreakinginto
15W
3,500@15 60,000@25
5.6
theSAE30numbers.Technicallyspeaking
theseoilswillbeclosetothesameviscosity
20W
4,500@10 60,000@20
5.6
eventhoughoneisanSAE20andtheother
25W
6,000@5 60,000@15
9.3
anSAE30.Butyouhavetodrawtheline
somewhereandthat'showtheSAEsystemisdesigned.Anothersystemtakesmoreaccuratenumbers
intoaccountknownascStabbreviatedforcentistokes.You'llseethesenumbersusedoftenforindustrial
lubricantssuchascompressororhydraulicoils.Thetableattheright,SAEViscosityChart(High
Temp),showstheequivalentsforcStandSAEviscositynumbers.You'llseetherangesforcSt
comparedtoSAEnumbers.Anoilthatis9.2cStwillbenearlythesameviscosityasanoilthatis9.3
cSt,yetoneisanSAE20andtheotherisanSAE30.ThisiswhythecStcentistokesnumbersmore
accuratelyshowoilviscosity.
NowifyoulookatthetablelabeledWinteror"W"Grades,youcangetvaluableinformationonhowthe
Worwintergradeviscositiesaremeasured.Basically,asshownbythechart,whentheoilisreducedto
acoldertemperatureitismeasuredforperformancefactors.IfitperformslikeaSAE0motoroilatthe
coldertemperature,thenitwillreceivetheSAE0Wviscositygrade.Consequently,ifthemotoroil
performslikeaSAE20motoroilatthereducedtemperatures(thescalevariesseethechart),thenit
willbeaSAE20Wmotoroil.
IfamotoroilpassesthecoldtemperatureorW(wintergrade)specificationforaSAE15Wandat210F
(100C)flowsthroughtheviscometerlikeaSAE40motoroil,thenthelabelwillread15W40.Getting
thepicture?Consequently,ifthemotoroilperformslikeaSAE5motoroilonthereducedtemperature
scaleandflowslikeaSAE20at210F(100C),thenthismotoroil'slabelwillread5W20.Andsoforth
andsoon!
Ican'ttellyouhowmanytimesIhaveheardsomeone,usuallyanautomechanic,saythattheywouldn't
usea5W30motoroilbecauseitis,"Toothin."Thentheymayusea10W30orSAE30motoroil.At

http://www.upmpg.com/tech_articles/motoroil_viscosity/

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3/6/2016

MotorOilViscosityGradesExplainedinLayman'sTerms
engineoperatingtemperaturestheseoilsarethesame.Theonlytimethe5W30oilis"thin"isatcold
startupconditionswhereyouneedittobe"thin."

Sohowdotheygetamotoroiltoflowinthecoldwhenitisathickerviscosity
at210F?
TheadditionofPourPointDepressantadditives(VI)keeptheparaffininpetroleumbaseoilsfrom
coalescingtogetherwhentemperaturedrops.PourPointDepressantscankeepanoilfluidinextreme
coldtemperatures,suchasinthearcticregions.WewillnotgointoPourPointDepressingadditivesat
thistimeexcepttosaytheyareonlyusedwheretemperaturesareveryextremetokeepthemotoroil
frombecomingcompletelyimmobilizedbythecoldtemperatureextreme.Fornowwewilljustdiscussthe
ViscosityImprovers(VI)additives.

Whydon'twejustuseaSAE10motoroilsowecangetinstantlubricationon
enginestartup?
Thereasonissimple:itwouldbeaSAE10motoroilat210F!Thelowertheviscosity,themorewear
willinevitablyoccur.Thisiswhyitisbesttousetheproperoilviscosityrecommendedbytheauto
manufacturerasitwillprotecthotandatcoldstartups.Obviouslya10W10motoroilwon'thavethefilm
strengthtopreventenginewearatfulloperatingtemperaturelikea5W20,10W30or5W30motoroilfor
example.
TheVIadditiveshavetheeffectofkeepingtheoilfromthinningexcessivelywhenheated.Theactual
mechanicsofthissystemarealittlemorecomplexinthattheseadditivesareaddedtoathinneroilso
thatitwillbefluidatacoldtemperature.TheVIadditivesthenpreventthinningastheoilisheatedso
thatitnowcanpasstheSAEviscosityratingat210.ForexampleifyouhaveaSAE10motoroilitwill
flowlikea10Watthecoldertemperature.Butat210degreesitwillbeaSAE10givingusa10W10or
SAE10viscosityrating.Obviouslythisisgoodatcoldstartup,butterribleatengineoperating
temperatureespeciallyinwarmerclimates.ButbyaddingtheVIadditiveswecanpreventtheoilfrom
thinningasitisheatedtoachievehigherviscositynumbersat210degrees.Thisishowtheymakea
petroleumbasedmotoroilfunctionforthe10W30rating.Thefartherthetemperaturerange,likewitha
10W40,thenmoreVIadditivesareused.Withmesofar?Good,nowforthebadnews.

DrawbacksofViscosityImprovingadditives
Multigrademotoroilsperformagreatservicenotbeingtoothickatcoldstartuptopreventenginewear
byprovidingmoreinstantaneousoilflowtocriticalengineparts.However,thereisadrawback.These
additivesshearbackinhighheatorduringhighshearforceoperationandbreakdowncausingsome
sludging.What'sworseisoncetheadditivebeginstobedepletedthemotoroilnolongresiststhinningso
nowyouhaveathinnermotoroilat210degrees.Your10W30motoroilcaneasilybecomea10W20or
evenaSAE10(10W10)motoroil.Idon'thavetotellyouwhythatisbad.ThemoreVIadditivesthe
worsetheproblemwhichiswhyautomanufacturersdecidedtosteercarownersawayfrommotoroils
loadedwithVIadditiveslikethe10W40and20W50viscosities.
ThelesschangeamotoroilhasfromhightolowtemperaturesgivesitahighViscosityIndex.Synthetic
motoroilsthataremadefromGroupIV(4)PAObasestockshaveViscosityIndexesofmorethan150
becausetheyaremanufacturedtobealubricantanddon'thavetheparaffinthatcausesthethickening
astheycool.Butpetroleumbasedmotoroils(GroupI(1)&II(2))usuallyhaveViscosityIndexesofless
than140becausetheytendtothickenmoreatthecoldertemperatureduetotheparaffindespitethe
additionofViscosityImprovingadditives.ThehighertheViscosityIndexnumberthelessthinningand
thickeningthemotoroilhas.Inotherwords,highnumbergood,lownumberbad.Lownumbersthicken
moreastheycoolandthinmorehot.YouseetheseViscosityIndexratingspostedondatasheetsof
motoroilsprovidedbythemanufacturer.
Asalreadymentioned,VIimprovingadditivescanshearbackunderpressureandhighheatconditions
leavingthemotoroilunabletoprotecttheengineproperlyunderhighheatconditionsandcausesludging.
Alsothereisalimittohowmuchviscosityimprovingadditivescanbeaddedwithoutaffectingtherestof
themotoroil'schemistry.Automanufacturershavemovedawayfromsomemotoroilsthatrequirealot
ofviscosityimprovingadditives,likethe10W40and20W50motoroils,toblendsthatrequireless
viscosityadditiveslikethe5W20,5W30and10W30motoroils.Becausestressloadsonmulti
viscositymotoroilscanalsocausethinningmanyracerschoosetouseastraightweightpetroleum
racingmotoroiloraPAObasedSyntheticwhichdonothavetheVIadditives.ButonlytheGroupIV(4)
PAObasedsyntheticsgenerallydon'tneedVIadditives.Readontolearnwhy:

Whataboutsyntheticmotoroils?DotheyneedViscosityAdditives?
GroupIV(4)andGroupV(5)baseoil(synthetics)arechemicallymadefromuniformmoleculeswithno
paraffinandgenerallydon'tneedViscosityAdditives.However,inrecentyearsGroupIII(3)basedoils
havebeenlabeled"synthetic"throughalegalloophole.ThesearepetroleumbasedGroupII(2)oilsthat
havehadthesulfurrefinedoutmakingthemmorepureandlongerlasting.GroupIII(3)"synthetic"motor
oilsmustemployViscosityAdditivesbeingpetroleumbased.
GroupV(5)basedsyntheticsareusuallynotcompatiblewithpetroleumorpetroleumfuelsandhavepoor
sealswell.Theseareusedforaircompressors,hydraulics,etc.It'stheGroupIV(4)PAObased
syntheticsthatmakethebestmotoroils.Theyarecompatiblewithpetroleumbasedoilsandfuelsplus
theyhavebettersealswellthanpetroleum.TypicallyPAObasedmotoroilsusenoViscosityIndex
additivesyetpassthemultigradeviscosityrequirementsasastraightweight!Thismakesthemideal
underagreatertemperaturerange.OneadvantageofnothavingtoemployViscosityImprovingadditives
ishavingamorepureundilutedlubricantthatcanbeloadedwithmorelongevityandperformance
additivestokeeptheoilcleanerlongerwithbettermileage/horsepower.

HowdoIknowwhatmotoroilisaGroupIV(4)basedPAOsyntheticmotoroil?
Asmoreandmorelargeoilcompaniesswitchedtheir"synthetic"motoroilstothelessexpensive/more
profitableGroupIII(3)basestocksithasbecomemucheasiertoidentifywhicharePAObasedtrue
synthetic.Ofthelargeoilcompanies,onlyMobil1ExtendedPerformance,asofthiswriting(12162012),
isstillaPAObasedtruesynthetic.Therest,includingregularMobil1andCastrolEdgehaveswitchedto
thecheaper/moreprofitableGroupIII(3)petroleumbased"synthetic"motoroil.AMSOILSyntheticMotor
OilsarePAObasedtruesyntheticmotoroilswiththeexceptionoftheshortoildrainOEandXL
syntheticmotoroilssoldatsomeAutoPartsStoresandQuickOilChangeCenters.Thisleavesmore
than20PAObasedtruesyntheticmotoroilsmanufacturedandmarketedbyAMSOILwithonlyafew
GroupIII(3)basedsyntheticmotoroilsidentifiedbythe"OE"and"XL"productname.
Soasyoucansee,theaverageperformanceofmotoroilscanbeaffectedbyhowtheychangeduring
theirservicelife.MultigradepetroleumcanloseviscosityandthincausingacceleratedwearastheVI
additivesshearback.Straightweightpetroleum(i.e.SAE30,SAE40)thickenalotastheycoolmeaning
longertimebeforelubricantreachescriticalpartsoncoldstarts,buthavenoVIadditivessotheyresists
thinning.However,theycandegradeandthickenasheatandbyproductsofcombustionaffectthe
unsaturatedchemistry.GroupIII(3)syntheticsresiststhisdegradationmuchbetter,butbeingpetroleum
basedemploysomeVIadditiveswhichisanegativeandtypicallydon'thaveasgoodperformanceinthe
volatilityviscosityretentionareas.OnlytheGroupIV(4)PAObasesyntheticshavethesaturated
chemistrytoresistdegradingwhenexposedtothebyproductsofcombustionandheat,plustypically
employnoVIadditivesmakingthemverythermallystableforlongerperiods.ForthisreasontheGroup
IV(4)syntheticsmaintainpeakmileageandpowerthroughouttheirservicelife

http://www.upmpg.com/tech_articles/motoroil_viscosity/

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MotorOilViscosityGradesExplainedinLayman'sTerms
Modernmotoroilsareamarvelofchemistrytobesure.Therearealotmoreadditivesinplaythanthe
fewmentionedhere.TheAPI( AmericanPetroleumInstitutesetsoilstandardsintheU.S .),ILSAC
( InternationalLubricantsStandardizationandApprovalCommitteeU.S.&Japaneseauto/truck
manufacturersstandardsformotoroil )andACEA( AssociationdesConstructeursEuropeens
d'AutomobilesEuropeanauto/truckmanufactureroilstandards )aresomeofthedifferentorganizations
youwillseeprovidingratinginformationontheservicegradesofdifferentmotoroils.Plustherearesome
automanufacturerslikeMercedes,BMWandVolkswagenthathaveuniqueoilstandardsfortheircars.
Youneedtoreadyourowner'smanualclearlytobesureyouareusingtheproperoilforyourapplication.
Someoftheseorganizations,suchasthe API and ILSAC ,havereducedfrictionmodifieramountsin
ordertoextendthelifeofcatalyticconvertersandreducepollution.Thesewillincreasewearbutwillbe
stillwithinthe"acceptablewear"range.Becauseoftheincreasedwearandexpenseoflicensingthese
oilssomecompanieswillnotcertifyforAPI&ILSACinordertoachieveahigherlevelofperformance.
Peoplewitholderenginesthatdonothaverollercamsfindtheseoilsespeciallyattractivetomaintaina
reducedlevelofenginewear.AMSOILonlyhas5motoroilscertifiedfortheAPI&ILSACforthisreason
(thefourXL7500Brandedmotoroilsandthesemisynthetic15W40PCO).Therestofthenearly30
syntheticmotoroilsarenotcertifiedinordertomaintainthehigherlevelsoffrictionmodifiertomaintain
theenhancedlevelofperformancenecessaryfortheirtargetedmarket.Inotherwords,theless
expensivemotoroilsmadebyAMSOILareAPI&ILSACcertifiedwhilethehighendmoreexpensive
performancemotoroilsarenot.OnereasoncompanieslikeAMSOILandMobilareatoddswiththe
reducedfrictionmodifierstandardsistheydon'ttakeintoconsiderationthereducedvolatilityofPAO
basedmotoroilswhichleadstomuchlesspollutionandtherebylessproblemsforthecatalytic
converter.Evenwiththefullwearpreventingadditivestheseoilsdonotproducethepollutionof
petroleummotoroils.ForthisreasonAMSOILhasleftthefrictionmodifierlevelshighandskips
certificationforthesehigherperformingmotoroils.Formoreinformationreadthese:
Howtoreadviscosityinformationonadatabulletin (databulletinviscositynumbersexplained)
MotorOilQualityProgressesWithEngineTechnology(Goodinformationonmotoroilserviceratings)
and WhydoesMotorOilDeteriorate?
Formoreinformationalsosee:
HowtoReadanOilBottleWhatdothoseAPI,SAEandILSACNumbersMean?
SAEFiltrationStudyBetterFiltrationReducesWearandMaintenanceCosts
WhydoesMotorOilDeteriorate?Thereasonwechangemotoroil&when
ChangeEngineOilLightHowdothesesystemsworkandhowgoodarethey?
MotorOilServiceRatingsGoodinformationonmotoroilserviceratings
Don'tForgetTheGearOil!ExplainsGearLubetechnology&maintenance
ExtendingDifferentialLifeChangingdifferentialfluidafterbreakinextendslife
DrivetrainServiceRatingsExplainedGearLubeserviceratingsexplained

http://www.upmpg.com/tech_articles/motoroil_viscosity/

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