For lubricants suppliers, research and development is ongoing, working closely with all manufacturers to make sure the end products are correct for the vehicles on the road. It takes millions of dollars of R&D, selecting the right base oil as the carrier, determining the right additive packages, understanding the complexity of new engine technology, and striving for improved fuel efficiencies and lower emissions.
But what does the average motorist know about oil specifications and lubrication requirements?
As a global company, BP Castrol accepts its responsibility in educating not only vehicle owners but also service station owners, forecourt attendants and other service providers. The company has created a chart, characterising the various oils and their applications to guide owners and forecourt staff in making a reasonably informed decision about what oil is required by any particular engine.
The very latest, and therefore 'younger' vehicles are serviced by specialised dealers who know exactly which lubes are required, and this covers the 'OEM under warranty' or 'out of warranty' situation. It used to be 'one fits all' but not today. And to expect every outlet to stock all eventualities is just simply not realistic. Gearbox and differential lubricants constitute another topic, and specifying and changing these oils should be left to expert service providers.
The question of synthetic vs mineral based oils always arouses curiosity. This has a lot has to do with the condition of the engine, and guides are available. In an older car - say 20 years - mineral-based oils might be the answer. In newer engines, synthetics are the way to go.
The latest developments in engine technology result in different appetites, tolerance levels differences, and greatly varying performance levels. The more powerful the engines, the more difficult it is to specify only one oil for all. And the more additives required, the more expensive the oil.
In Africa, OEM retention is traditionally very low, with owners taking control of servicing specifications once the warranty has expired.
Where lubricant performance is most crucial is at cold start-up - the most wear takes places in those first few minutes, and efficient oil will help to reduce wear. If a vehicle is subjected to many short trips, the wear will be greater than if the same vehicle covers a few long trips that total the same distance.
The biggest sources of oil degradation as it passes through the combustion system are from incorrectly set injectors - or carburettors - that allow excessive fuel into the system and dilute the oil; all burnt oil will experience soot build-up, which thickens the oil and impedes it from passing through the oil galleries efficiently, leading to possible engine failure; and topping up with inferior-specification oil, which will shorten the service cycle and lead to higher costs in the long run.
Petrol and diesel engines have different 'appetites' and require different oils. Petrol-engine oils are designated by an 'S' (a prefix followed by an alphabetical grading level, for example, the highest current designation is 'SM'. Diesel-engine oils have a 'C' (for compression) designation.
Usually, people who service their own vehicles will buy oil from the local supplier. Cost will play a big role, and they will probably refill with the cheapest, rather than the best-suited oil.
It is essential to change the oil filter each time the oil is changed - new, clean oil running through an old, soiled filter just doesn't make sense.
So, whatever vehicle you run, take the time to check what its various lubrication requirements are, and you could be saving yourself a lot of expense in the long run when it comes to repairing damage caused by some short-term choices.