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Lubrication Basics

All that you need to know...

... about lubrication:

Lubrication is important

Every mechanism requires lubrication !

Without lubricant, any engine or transmission would seize or wear out in only a few minutes !

In cars and trucks:

When the proper lubricant is lacking the result is obvious failure of the mechanism.
However, the difference between poor , adequate and superior lubricant is not as easily seen.

With adequate lubricant the mechanism will usually perform well and will last for long time.

With poor lubrication the service life will be significantly less than the design life.

With superior lubricant the same mechanism may last many years longer or even "forever".

Lubrication is therefore most important in all cars, trucks and other motor vehicles, especially if a long and trouble free service life is desired.

How long should a new car last?

Since 1996 when new OBD II regulations went into effect, all passenger cars and light duty trucks sold in the USA are currently designed, tested and certified for a useful service life which ranges from low of 2 years or 24,000 miles to high of 15 years or 150,000 miles.

Majority of vehicles have 7 year or 70,000 miles "useful life" certification. Only very few cars sold in California and few North Eastern States that adopted California Emission Regulations are certified for up to 15 years or 150,000 miles

In 2003 the only car that is certified for 15 year or 150,000 miles was FORD Focus PZEV, available ONLY in California.

The only other car that was previously certified for 15 year or 150,000 miles was the NISSAN Sentra CA, which was made in limited numbers.

You can find out which Cars with PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) certification are available, they automatically have to have 15 year or 150,000 miles Emission Performance Warranty, that however unfortunately does not Guarantee that the vehicle itself will be operational or trouble free for that long, what it means is IF the vehicle runs for that long, it will NOT pollute the air !

Go to for more information about "clean vehicles".

Most frequent design life for in 1990's for Cars was 7 years (84 months) or 70,000 miles, and for Light Duty trucks it was 10 years or 100,000 miles, which ever occurred first.

However since Light Trucks and SUVs became replacements for Cars in daily commuting for most American Drivers in late 1990's the design life was reduced to match that of Cars, that is only 7 years or 70,000 miles "useful life".

However, with the exception of the Exhaust Emission System and Fuel Evaporative System whose longevity, performance and warranty is required by EPA & CARB, most vehicles are Warranted against all other defects in manufacture and drivetrain performance for only:
3 years or 36,000 miles, which ever occurs first.

Statistically most vehicles are reliable and relatively problem free if properly maintained for the first 5 years or 50,000 miles. Most problems occur thereafter and repairs are usually required. That is why NO manufacturer or a bank will lease any new vehicle for more than 5 years or 50,000 miles, nor will be willing to finance new vehicle purchase for period longer than 60 months.

Majority of leases are however only written for the period that is equivalent to the basic OEM warranty, usually 3 years or 36,000 miles.

It is important to realize that the service specifications and recommendations in the vehicle owner's manual are based on this design life of not more than 7 years or 70,000 miles.

The recommended type of lubricant, the oil and oil filter change frequency, are considered optimal for vehicles that are operated under ideal conditions, and which are not expected to be used much beyond their design life.

After all "every" vehicle manufacturer wants you to buy another NEW vehicle from them as soon as possible.

The Automotive Industry design cycle has been 3 to 5 years for some time, that is any Automotive Manufacturer expects you to buy from them a NEW vehicle that often, or else they DO NOT want you as a customer.

The Automotive Industry collapse of 2009 did slightly change this, but the fact is that currently NO Automotive Manufacturer in the World has a business model that is based on keeping existing vehicles in service. All Automotive Manufacturers only have business model based on producing MORE vehicles next year than they did year ago, and that is why the Automotive Industry collapse happened in 2009 when Sales of NEW vehicles dropped to less than one half of 2008 annual sales level.

No vehicle producer wants you to drive your vehicle "forever". Their business model is simply not designed to maintain already made vehicles on the road indefinitely. They are "all" organized to build NEW vehicles and sell them as quickly as possible.

In the USA the success or failure in the automotive market is measured by number of NEW vehicles sold in "last" 30 days. Any vehicle model is considered unsuccessful if its inventory of NEW unsold vehicles exceeds the estimated retail sales demand for next 90 days.

Currently 5,000 to 7,500 mile engine oil and oil filter change interval, and 24,000 to 36,000 mile transmission oil change is most commonly specified by OEM's. These recommendations are based on use of premium petroleum based lubricating oils with an API SN & ILSAC GF-5 performance rating for Motor Oil and Dexron or Mercon for ATF.

In actual use most modern automobiles and light duty trucks last on the average about 7 to 9 years and about 80,000 to 90,000 miles, before serious mechanical repairs are required. That is why "useful service life" for purposes of Federal and California emission laws is defined by the OEM's as 7-years or 70,000-miles.

The average service life of most vehicles in the USA according to NHTSA data is 120,000 to 128,000 miles and about 12 years, before they are scrapped, junked, or restored.

Most cars are relatively trouble free if proper lubricants are used and frequently replaced.

However, you should read our article FOREVER to get basic understanding of trends in Automobile Industry and why no OEM makes any vehicle with intent for them to last "forever".

Want long service life from your car?

If a longer reliable and trouble free service life than 5 years or 50,000 miles is required, or if the vehicle is operated under severe or super severe operating conditions, the recommended service intervals need to be two to three times more frequent.

This means that if you desire long and trouble free vehicle service life you should change the engine oil and filter every 3,000 to 4,000 miles and transmission oil every 12,000 to 15,000 miles.

However, if you also operate the vehicle under severe conditions, as most vehicle owners do, the service interval should be only 2,000 to 2,500 miles between engine oil changes and 7,500 to 10,000 miles between transmission oil changes, if petroleum products are used.

Also read our "FOREVER" article in our Publications Section

What is an "ideal" operating condition?

When the engine and transmission is operated at moderate loads, and is not subjected to hard accelerations and decelerations or is not operated under full load, when the engine is operated at normal operating temperature, and is not too cold nor too hot, and when the climatic conditions are comfortable for most human beings, that is no severe winter colds, no hot summer days and no excessive humidity or airborne dust.

What is " severe" operating condition?

When the engine and transmission is operated under high and frequently cycling loads such as fast high performance or racing driving or the more common "stop-and-go" driving, driving in dust or sand, short trips, especially in cold weather where the engine is not allowed to fully warm up, or carrying heavy loads, pulling trailers, especially during hot summer, or sustained high speed driving.

What is " super severe" operating condition?

It is any type of driving that would qualify as severe operating condition, but is additionally done in adverse climatic conditions, such as severe cold or high heat.

Is your "normal" driving "severe"?

Most car owners do not realize that their typical "normal" daily driving classifies as a severe" operating condition!

The most common driving consists of short trips (less than 10 miles), periods of idling, "stop-and-go" driving, and frequent accelerations and decelerations. All of these conditions qualify as "severe" operating conditions.

The most frequent type of driving is short trips with many stops and starts. Under such conditions the engine never reaches its normal operating temperature, particularly in winter.

Why does oil need to be changed?

When motorists are asked: " Why does motor oil need to be changed? " the most common answers are:

Amazingly all above reasons are WRONG !

And here is why:

  1. In modern fuel injected electronically controlled engines with "sealed" crankcases there is no way that "ambient" dirt can get into the engine oil. Only if AIR FILTER is defective (torn or improperly installed or missing) or PISTON RINGS are excessively worn or broken, small amount of "dirt" can be introduced into the engine lubricating oil.
    (For more info go to: Dirty Motor Oil in Q&A in Publications)

  2. The Hydrocarbon Oil in its pure form is quite stable chemical, after all it has been in existence for millions of years before it was introduced into your vehicle. Almost no amount of pressure or mechanical stress will "damage" the oil molecules. Interaction with other chemicals, extreme heat and availability of oxygen will cause oxidation, formation of gum, varnish and sludge, but not a "Break Down". The long chain polymer molecules that are present in most multi-viscosity oils to give them high viscosity index, can however shear under stress and become shorter or smaller molecules. This loss of multi-viscosity property is sometimes referred to as "Viscosity Break-Down" a term that was introduced by CASTROL in their GTX Motor Oil commercials.

  3. Unfortunately most mechanics are NOT Automotive Engineers, are NOT Lubrication Engineers, are NOT Tribologists, are NOT Chemists, are NOT Rheologists.
    One needs all of above to determine if any Oil needs to be changed. Also since such TEST can cost from $10 to $100, depending on accuracy and complexity, it is more convenient to change oil at some arbitrarily determined interval.

There are two reasons why lubricants need to be changed periodically:

  1. The most important reason is chemical change of the lubricant itself. The lubricant looses its lubricating capacity due to chemical decomposition of the oil itself and due to depletion of the chemical additives that are present in modern oils. The more severe are the operating conditions, the faster does this change occur.

  2. The second reason is removal of wear particles that are present in the lubricant and which can not be removed by normal filtration. The greater the loads to which the mechanism is subjected the faster is the wear and more wear particles are present in the oil. Frequent starting and stopping of the engine, especially in winter, also increases wear and formation of "cold sludge".

Is there an alternative to frequent oil changes?

if more superior lubricant than that which is recommended by OEM is used, frequent servicing can be safely reduced or even eliminated.

Synthetic Oils are usually better than petroleum oils, permitting extended oil drain periods.

However it is important to realize that just because Oil is Synthetic, it does not automatically imply that it can be used for service periods that are any longer than those specified by OEM for Conventional Petroleum Oil.

Both ExxonMobil (Mobil 1) and CASTROL (Syntec) specifically instruct consumers using their Synthetic Oils to follow OEM recommendations for Oil Change Interval that is same as specified for conventional petroleum oil, if the vehicle is under Warranty !

CASTROL and Pennzoil both go as far as specifying only
3 month or 3,000 mile service interval (same as petroleum)
"for best performance".

AMSOIL is one of few companies that has several different longer life Motor Oils, some with one year or 24,000 mile service interval, and others with 6 month or 7,500 mile service interval.

Synthetic Super Lubricants with colloidally suspended solid lubricants in chemically inert liquid synthetic oil are the best (Syn-Sol ). They eliminate the need for oil changes in most applications.

Why are some Synthetic Oils better?

One basic fact that has to be recognized is that lubricant is not automatically better or superior to Petroleum Oil just because it is or claims to be "synthetic ". (For more details see Publications > Synthetic)

However, because many synthetic lubricants are chemically more uniform, and are stable under extreme pressures and temperatures (both hot and cold), and usually do not decompose as rapidly as petroleum base lubricants, longer oil change intervals are therefore permissible.

Modern Premium Synthetic lubricating oils will allows up to 24,000 miles or one year between engine oil changes.

(The same service life that was promoted by Mobil for the original version of Mobil 1 back in 1976 -- no such claim is now being made for the current version of Mobil 1.)

But likewise these permissible extended oil change intervals are based on the expected service life of ONLY 7 years or 70,000 miles for vehicles operated under ideal conditions. If vehicle is operated under severe service operating conditions (as most vehicles are), or if longer service life is required, this extended service interval needs be likewise reduced to one half or one third.

This means that engine oil should still be changed every 2,000 to 7,500 miles in most automotive and light truck applications.

There are number of " synthetic " oils available to consumers in the USA.

Most recognized brand is Mobil 1

Others are:

CASTROL Syntec is also promoted as " synthetic " despite of it being produced from Group III Petroleum Basestock (see Synthetic)

Because Synthetic Oils are about four times more expensive than equivalent petroleum oils, less than 4% of vehicle owners in the USA currently use them.

Premium Synthetic Oils are available from small companies such as AMSOIL, Eon, Red Line, Royal Purple.

Premium Synthetic Oils are six to nine times more expensive that petroleum oils, and since they are produced by small companies, reliable data on their market share is not available, but it is estimated to be less than 1/2 %.

Synthetic Blend - a Hype?

In recent years a new category of Motor Oils has been developed primarily in the USA, they are " Synthetic Blend " Motor Oils.

They are about half the price of " Fully Synthetic " motor oils which currently sell in the $4.25 to $5.00 price range for one U.S. Quart.

They promise the same performance as " Synthetics " but for half the price.

At first glance that seems promising, but when the ultimate truth of " Synthetic Blends " is examined, it is apparent that the only benefit that they offer, is a higher profit margin for the marketer of the oil.

Here are the facts:

" Fully Synthetic " Motor Oils contain 70% to 85% Synthetic Base Oil by volume, the balance are additives dispersed in Petroleum Carrier Oil. They sell for under $8.00 per US Quart and cost about $3.25 to manufacture.
The mark up is about 50%. The market share is about 4%.

Petroleum Motor Oils contain 80% to 95% Petroleum Base Oil by volume, the balance are additives dispersed in Petroleum Carrier Oil. They sell for under $2.00 per US Quart and cost about 63 cents to produce (even at price of crude oil @ $100.00 per barrel).
The mark up is about 150%. The market share is over 90%.

Synthetic Blend " Motor Oils contain 5% to 20% Synthetic Base Oil, 60% to 70% Petroleum Base Oil, the balance are additives dispersed in Petroleum Carrier Oil. They sell for $3.00 to $4.50 per US Quart and cost ONLY about 70 to 80 cents to produce.
The mark up is as much as 600%. The market share is about 2%.

The temptation of high returns on investment which is presented by " Synthetic Blend " Motor Oils is the only driving force behind their promotion, after all if you could triple your profit, what would you rather sell " Petroleum " or " Synthetic Blend "?

Even Mobil which for over 20 years held the position that "semi-synthetics" as they used to call what now is generally referred to as " Synthetic Blend ", are a waste of money, if you want synthetic quality and synthetic performance get " 100% Synthetic* " ( Mobil 1 , of course).

But under the pressure of Exxon management since Mobil was merged into ExxonMobil guess what the first "improvement" of Mobil 1 was ?
A Synthetic Blend Mobil 1 !!!

" Synthetic Blend " is a hype, if you think that you can not "afford" synthetic oil, get petroleum oil and change it frequently.

Syn-Sol lubricants are the best!

Modern synthetic super lubricants that are especially designed for extended service life even under super severe operating conditions, and in many vehicle applications they can be installed permanently, that is no oil changes are required during the service life of a typical vehicle.

However, if extended service life is also required, the synthetic super lubricants should be replaced or micro filtered every 50,000 to 100,000 miles.

The best synthetic super lubricants are not just improved synthetic oils, but are blend of chemically inert solid lubricants, that are in colloidal suspension in a multi-viscosity liquid chemically inert synthetic lubricant. (Syn-Sol ).

Unfortunately these synthetic super lubricants (Syn-Sol ), were until very recently very expensive, costing from $250 to $1,425 per U.S. Quart. Therefore their use was limited to critical applications in space flight , military and industrial applications.

However, recent technological improvements in manufacturing techniques and increased demand for these lubricants, allowed for the price to be reduced to a point where their use in modern vehicles is now cost effective even in privately owned vehicles.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® lubricants are the only such lubricants available to consumers in the USA.

In modern vehicles the use of SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® is at current prices, not just cost effective, but costs no more than the use of Petroleum, or about one cent per mile driven.

When increased fuel efficiency and improved engine durability is considered, the use of SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® actually saves to typical motorists over $1,000 during the service life of the typical vehicle.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® lubricants are available as:

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® "The FIRST Oil you do NOT change"!