Keller-Heartt Blog: May 2016
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How Nanoparticles Are Changing the Future of Motor Oil

    Over the past several years, lubrication engineers have been hard at work researching a new method to improve the standard of commercial motor oils. Tribologists, the scientists that study the interaction between surfaces in movement, are thinking big by turning to a tiny hero that can protect metal surfaces and increase oil efficiency. These tiny agents are called nanoparticles—but tiny is an understatement. Nanoparticles are between one and 100 nanometers. To put that into perspective, a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide.
    Despite their size, nanoparticles make a big impact. In regards to motor oil, engineers are studying the lubricating properties of spherical nanoparticles made up of carbon and other chemical compounds. These particles are added to conventional motor oil, and the modified oil’s performance is compared to the traditional formula. Scientists have found that increasing the concentration of nanoparticles in motor oil improves performance by reducing friction, minimizing heat build-up, and ultimately saving energy.
    Nanoparticles work for a couple reasons. First, the spherical particles act as ball bearings between surfaces, generating a smooth, rolling movement that produces less friction. When there is a lower friction coefficient, less energy is wasted in the process. Secondly, many nanoparticles have superior heat conductivity properties. Malaysian scientists recently found that adding just 0.01% of graphene nanoflakes to a conventional oil’s mass improved thermal conductivity by 17%.  Graphene, however, is only one of many types of nanoparticles tested. Other studies have involved copper, titanium oxide, and tungsten disulfide nanopowders. These compounds were also found to be helpful in reducing wear and friction while providing a protective layer to metal surfaces like steel and aluminum.
   If such a small amount of nanopowder can go such a long way, these minuscule compounds could potentially take the place of certain additives that are already used in the market. Their lubricating properties, and the financial implications that these properties have for manufacturers and consumers, means that major changes may be ahead for the production of motor oils.

The ROI of Synthetic Oil for Your Fleet

Synthetic engine oil is swiftly becoming a requirement for newer vehicles and trucks with heavy-duty towing capacity. At an average cost three to four times more than conventional oil, synthetic diesel oil can raise questions among fleet owners about saving costs and keeping a profit. Though up-front costs will increase, the copious benefits of synthetic oil can drive down costs from labor, maintenance, and even fuel consumed on an annual basis.

How does this happen? The answer lies in the synthetic oil’s makeup. Unlike conventional oil, which comes from crude oil and can contain multiple types of compound molecules, synthetic oil is manufactured to contain uniform hydrocarbon molecules. This uniformity improves resistance against oxidation and stabilizes viscosity in extreme temperatures, therefore maintaining oil thickness in hot conditions and flowing easily in cold starts. Not only does this translate to better protection and less wear, but it also translates to less oil breakdown over time and longer drain intervals.

If a truck from your fleet requires an oil change 11 times per year or more of conventional oil, switching to a premium synthetic oil can nearly double the mileage between oil drain intervals (with some exceptions for extremely severe terrain or frequent stop-and-go driving). By switching to premium synthetic oil and cutting the number of oil changes almost in half, you could save thousands on oil, premium oil filters, and professional labor.

Less maintenance and higher productivity? Check. Fewer labor costs? Check. But there is another benefit that can be overlooked: fuel economy. While some industry members say synthetic oil does not improve fuel efficiency, at least not enough to consider it a serious benefit, there could still be some truth to the positive claims. Since synthetic oil is known to be cleaner and create less friction, it is more energy and fuel efficient. Even with a small, one percent increase in fuel efficiency, a fleet manager could make a dent in costs.

Let’s look at the math: If your truck hits roughly 110,000 miles annually, it will require 18,333 gallons of fuel based on an average of 6mpg. At $2.23 per gallon of diesel fuel, the cost of fuel adds up to $40,882.59 annually per truck and $817,651.80 for a 20-truck fleet. With a one percent increase in fuel efficiency, each truck would save about $404.00 annually for fuel. That is $8,080.00 for a fleet of 20 trucks. For a fleet of 50 trucks, a fleet manager could save more than $20,000.00.

While synthetic oil is touted for its physical benefits, consumers tend to ignore the ways that these benefits translate into a positive ROI in the long run. The up-front costs of synthetic oil too often overshadow these important monetary gains.  

5 Motor Oil Sins You May Be Committing and How to Fix Them

Proper oil maintenance can be a bit like the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Some motor oils are too thick, some too thin, and some just right. And sometimes oil changes are too frequent or too sparse before that perfect balance is finally achieved. Often times it is a series of bad habits keeping your wallet and engine from their happily ever after. The following are common habits and missteps you can avoid with your engine oil:

1. You ignore the vehicle’s user manual when choosing the correct oil weight.

The motor oil recommendation in your vehicle’s user manual has been tested thoroughly with proven results to make your life easier, so don’t forget to use it. Choosing the incorrect oil weight (viscosity grade) can cause costly damage to your engine, especially as the weather changes and newer engine models enter the market. Luckily, most motor oils are now made in multi-grade formulas to ensure that a single oil can protect internal surfaces in cold weather and maintain its thickness in hot operating temperatures. This eliminates the need to use different oils during different seasons. However, our instincts still tempt us to experiment and often overcorrect for external conditions.
Some consumers ditch the user manual to try an oil weight, for example, that is much higher than recommended in hopes of getting extra protection in hot temperatures, leading to increased friction and wasted energy consumption. While this correction may be okay for Texas or Arizona, it is best to start with the manufacturer’s recommendations and tweak within reasonable bounds. This also applies to the addition of additives. If an auto shop asks if you would like additional additives with your oil change, it’s best to say no to avoid dilution and hurting the oil’s existing balance.

2. You’re using synthetic oil when you can use conventional and ignoring synthetic blend altogether.

Synthetic oils are often praised for their superior wear protection due especially to their purified formulas and higher viscosity index. More engines now require synthetic oils than before, but synthetic is the more expensive option. If you are using conventional oil as a long distance driver, it is definitely time to switch to synthetic. However, if you’re a casual driver in a temperate climate with an older engine model or just a short, daily commute to work and the grocery store, that full synthetic formula is emptying your pockets with very little to show in return. Switch back to a conventional oil if possible, or try a synthetic blend formula. This mix of conventional and synthetic oils is cheaper than full synthetic, and it increases wear protection.

3. You think you don’t need an oil change, because you drive fewer miles—Or, you change the oil too often, because you drive more miles.

If your engine is not hard at work, why get an oil change? It may seem frivolous, but oil that sits in a cold engine can become too thick or break down over time and leave deposits. An idle car actually requires more oil changes than you expect. On the other hand, it seems like common sense to get an oil change when your engine is more active, but in reality, many experts say you can hold off a little longer. Rather than changing your oil every 4,000 miles, push that number to somewhere near 7,500 miles or even more. Advancements in technology allow for this, and while more oil changes won’t do any damage to your engine, it may damage your wallet.

4. You’re too focused on the oil and not the other players.

The right oil and sufficient oil changes are great, but it doesn’t mean much if your vehicle has a faulty drain plug gasket or a plugged oil filter. Oil filters should be changed along with your oil to keep oil as clean and efficient as possible. The wrong filter can lead to oil leaks, and a cheap filter could shed material into your motor oil. If you want your engine oil to work well, don’t forget to support it with the more pricey, quality filters that are well worth the investment.

5. You refill oil when levels are low without draining the old oil.

If the “low oil pressure” light starts to flash, it’s easy to refill those levels by adding new oil to the existing oil before you run out on the side of the road. While this is okay in an emergency, you should find the time to do a full oil change afterwards. Unfortunately, mixing the new oil with the old oil only contaminates the new oil with deposits and dirt that is harmful to the engine. Changing the oil filter is also recommended.