Engine Oils

Choosing your pickup’s engine oil can be very …


By Bruce W. Smith / ©2005 Editorial Services

Preventive maintenance is critical to any piece of operating machinery, but when it comes to pickups those used on construction job sites more than most because of their severe duty use. Let service intervals slip and the costs skyrocket when parts begins to fail and time is lost from the fields.

Take the basic oil change, for example. Businessmen who take their equipment’s engine oil changes seriously know full well how paying close attention to such preventive maintenance can cut repair bills and down time running in the thousands of dollars.

But there’re some hidden issues when it comes to oil.

“Selection of the proper engine oil for use in construction equipment is critical to engine longevity,” says Allan Perry, coordinator of Product Technical Services/Kendall Oil and 76 Lubricants. “Which oil is used should be based on the type of engine and operating conditions such as speed, loads, temperature and driving cycle.

“It should meet the recommended Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) viscosity grade, American Petroleum Institute (API) and International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) performance level specified in the owner’s manual.  These recommendations are based on the engine builder’s knowledge of what is best for that specific engine and application under different operating conditions.”

That’s because engine oils are a concoction of “base” oils fortified with special “additives” designed to perform specific tasks such as removing sludge deposits, neutralizing acids created after the combustion process, removing other combustion byproducts, and preventing corrosion from water. They make look and be packaged similar from brand to brand, but they are not the same mix.


Hence the reason there are special codes on every oil container that give consumers a pretty good idea of the quality of the oil and its intended application.

The basic rating almost all gasoline engine oils meet is the API “SL” standard. Better grades have the ILSAC (a starbust symbol) GF-3 code and will perform excellent in your gasoline-powered heavy duty pickups and medium-duty trucks.

Oils with these designations on their labels meet 2001 factory engine warranty requirements, according to Maurice E. Le Pera, owner of Le Pera and Associates, a leading petroleum consulting firm in Harrisonburg, Virginia. (Oils labeled with “API SJ” and “ILSAC GF-2” were for 1997 OEM warranty requirements.)

By the end of this year oils will be getting the ILSAC GF-4 rating, showing such oils have been certified for use in the newest gas engines, as well as older ones.

Diesel oils are as different from gasoline-engine-only oils as the engines themselves. That’s because oils designed for diesel use must contend with far dirtier conditions within the engine. So it’s very important to read the oil labels closely to make sure the one you’re choosing is designed for diesel use.

(You can use an some oils designed for diesel-use in a gasoline engine, but you can’t use an oil blended specifically for a gasoline engine in a diesel.)

“Diesel engine oils require higher levels of dispersancy and alkaline reserve (TBN) than gasoline engine oils in order to handle soot and higher levels of corrosive acids,” says Perry.

Most engine builders of today’s high-output diesel engines recommend an engine oil meeting at least API “CI-4” performance requirements. These oils are designed to meet the lubrication requirements of many newer, low-emission heavy-duty diesel e engines as well as older generation diesel models.

Engine Oil pourEngine oils are a lot like beef stews: By name and basic look they are the same, but each one’s “taste” to the engine’s palate can have significant differences.

There is a caveat; some engine builders, such as Cummins, Navistar, Caterpillar, and Detroit Diesel have additional lubrication requirements specific to their engines that must also be met.

That is why such oils as Shell RotellaT (API CI-4, CH-4,CG-4, SJ/SL) and Castrol RX (API CI-4, CH-4, CG-4, CF-4, CF/SL) have notations on their labels referencing they meet or “exceed” the use requirements of those manufacturer’s diesel engines. If in doubt about a good bulk oil to have around for both gasoline and diesel use, you can’t go wrong with either brand.

Those extra additives that provide the added engine protection are why such oils cost more. More than once the experts we interviewed all said the same thing: When it comes to engine oils, you really do get what you pay for


Using the proper oil also means to follow the owner’s manual recommendation for oil weight and viscosity. This point should not be taken lightly.

“The biggest mistake vehicle owners make is using the wrong viscosity of oil, and that costs them both fuel economy and power,” says Pete Misangyi, Ford Supervisor of Fuel and Lubricants Engineering. “Using the wrong weight oil can reduce fuel economy 3- to 4-percent and have similar effect on power.”

If you live in a hot climate or do a lot of field work in a region where a combination of high heat and high-altitude are going to be encountered, the truck or tractor’s owner’s manual will give suggestions for a “multi-grade” or “all-season” oil such as 15W-40.

Multi-grade oil has the cold flow characteristics of 15-weight at start-up to protect the moving parts, yet the coating and protecting property of a 40-weight oil to continue that protection at the high temperatures. It’s ideal for diesel and gas engines alike

But the final word on which oil to use is your vehicle or equipment owner’s manual.


The debate in the use of synthetic- or mineral-based oils is always one that pops up in conversation. Nearly everyone we spoke with says synthetics are better at withstanding high heats and have longer service intervals.

“Synthetic lubricants may be desirable or even required when operating the vehicle under extreme conditions such as towing heavy loads for long distances or operating in extreme climates,” says Kendall Oil’s Perry.


Some construction companies and ranchers, in their quest to maximize engine protection, fall prey to the shelves full of aftermarket oil treatments thinking if a little is good, more is better.

If you’re one of those heed this warning from Allan Perry, coordinator of Product Technical Services/Kendall Oil and 76 Lubricants.:

“ConocoPhillips Company and most OEMs do not recommend the addition of any supplemental oil treatment additives to boost lubricant performance. Use of supplemental additives can upset the critical additive balance and can potentially result in undermining the performance of the lubricant,” he warns.

“Use of any oil additive can lead to voiding of the warranty from the OEM and oil marketer.  The consumer should select the appropriate engine oil based on the type of engine and OEM requirements, and use it as is.” –BWS

“Compared with conventional engine oils, synthetics provide better oxidation stability and resistance to thermal breakdown at high temperatures, resulting in fewer deposits and longer oil life,” he explains. ” They do not thin out as easily at high temperatures and maintain good film strength for better engine protection. They also have lower volatility at high temperatures, resulting in lower oil consumption.”

For the most part, a heavy-duty pickup owner is better off using the oil that meets, or better yet, exceeds the engine manufacturer’s recommendations set forth in the vehicle’s owner’s manual right from the very beginning. The majority of the time a good mineral-based oil will do the job just fine.


One of the most over-looked things a contractor or constrution company owner can do to keep unexpected repair bills from hurting the business’ bottom-line is to have engine oil analyzed on a regular basis. There are several companies around the country that specialize in this.

According to Bill Herguth, Chairman and CEO of Herguth Laboratories, Inc. (; 888.437.4884)—one of the most respected independent testing oil-analysis labs in the country—says “spectrochemical testing” is a rapid, convenient, and relatively inexpensive way to keep a scientific eye on engine wear.

“Vehicle and equipment owners/operators should have the first oil sample done while the engine is well-within the warranty period in case there are engine problems down the road that could be traced back to that time frame. Then they should have oil [from the oil change] sampled periodically from that point forward,” advises Herguth.

Oil TestingHaving a vehicle’s oil analyzed is like a person having an annual check-up at the doctor’s office.

Stay with the same oil brand and future analysis, which costs as little as $12, can foretell wear problems. (Typical one-time analysis runs about $20, but buying a package of test kits can cut test costs by half.)

Herguth says such analysis allows the lab to “pinpoint areas of concern,” be it piston rings, cam bushings, rod bearings, timing chain, turbo bearings, or just about any other part inside an engine—or the engine’s cooling system.

Jim Lazroff, Vice President of CTC Analytical Services / Staveley Services Fluids Analysis (; 800.982-6626), the largest oil testing laboratory network in North America, agrees, saying, “Having a vehicle’s oil analyzed is like a person having an annual check-up at the doctor’s office”

He recommends that heavy-duty engines—both gas and diesel—have the first sampling done at 50,000 miles with another analysis at 100,000 miles. Oil from gasoline engines should then be analyzed once every third oil change, or between 9,000-10,000 miles. Diesel owners should begin a 10,000-mile analysis after 150,000 miles.

Using the proper oil, changing it at the specified intervals, and keeping an eye on what it contains after its served its time protecting the engine, will maximize any engine’s longevity and keep operating costs minimized. — Bruce W. Smith

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