When does an engine oil claim become retired or obsolete and what does it mean for workshops? CVW spoke to Andrew Goddard, Chairman of the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS) to find out.
When it comes to choosing the right engine oil for a vehicle, ACEA claims are an important part of the selection process. The ACEA specifications are developed by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. They indicate a performance standard specifically tailored to the needs of the European vehicle market (in contrast to the API – American Petroleum Institute – which is focused on the US vehicle fleet). Along with the SAE, such as 5w30, they provide a vital piece of information about the lubricant.
The right oil matters
Putting inadequate or incorrect oil in a van or truck accelerates wear to gears and bearings, which could lead to increased maintenance costs and significantly shorten the engine’s life.
As engine technology advances to cater to demands for lower emissions and increased performance, lubricants have changed too. Higher operating temperatures with instances of higher pressures and smaller sumps require thinner, less viscous lubricants to work effectively.
The ACEA sequences change to cater to this, being revised every few years. To balance clarity for users with practicality for manufacturers, each set of sequences has a crossover period. The current 2016 sequences have been mandatory for all new claims since 1st December 2017 and should now be the only claims visible on packaging or Technical Data Sheets.
As new sequences are introduced, some previous claims will be superseded and become retired or obsolete as they were devised for engines or emission requirements which are no longer current. These claims are, therefore, removed from the sequences.
When this happens, ACEA itself does not provide an indication as to which current sequence is to be used as a replacement. For example, ACEA A1/B1 was withdrawn with the introduction of the ACEA 2016 sequences but there was no indication about which sequence would replace it.
Why does it matter to workshops?
Whilst the sequences and tests might move forward to cater to the latest generation of engines, the UK vehicle parc is falling behind. The average age of vehicles on the UK’s roads is increasing and expected to increase further with the economic impact of COVID-19.
This ageing vehicle population might be a good thing for workshops in terms of increased demand for repairs, servicing, and MOTs, but older vehicles could pose a real issue. Certainly a problem, even before you take into consideration that the sequences are about to change again when the delayed 2018 sequences are finally introduced.
A vehicle handbook is always your first point of call when deciding which lubricant to use for a particular vehicle. But what if the handbook suggests an ACEA sequence that you cannot find because it has been superseded by newer claims?
The technical association of the European Lubricants Industry, ATEIL, advises that, in the case of a retired claim such as ACEA A1/B1, claims against the latest appearance of that sequence (such as 2012) are acceptable as long as all the tests for that sequence have been met.
This helps ensure that older vehicles can still access lubricants of the right technical specification. Other claims such as A3/B4 are constantly being updated and are intended to be backwardly compatible for both current and older vehicles which state the specification as their requirement.
ACEA E2 is another category that has become obsolete. Claims against this category are still valid as long as the claim is from the most recent ACEA issue when the category was valid (i.e. ACEA 2007). Manufacturers are not required to remove the E2 claim, however, for any new products, E2 is no longer a valid category, and so new claims cannot be made against it.
With lubricants marketers looking to innovate and launch new products to cater to the latest engines and specifications, it may be hard to find a product still claiming to meet these obsolete categories.
If you are in doubt, VLS strongly recommends consulting the OEM or using an online vehicle registration lookup tool. Many major lubricant blenders have a database hosted on their website where you can enter the vehicle registration and access a list of recommendations and alternative engine oils.
These databases are powered by the technical knowledge and expertise of large companies, such as OATS based in the UK or Olyslager based in the Netherlands, who spend many thousands of hours each year ploughing through numerous owner manuals and service documents to identify the right products for your customer’s vehicle.
VLS is an independent trade body which provides a credible and trusted means to verify lubricant specifications. VLS investigates complaints about engine oils and other lubricants, to ensure that products really can deliver what they claim. VLS also works to educate workshops, technicians, motorists and the wider automotive industry to improve understanding about oil choice.