Over the life of a working vehicle a range of factors will weigh over the drivetrain for it to respond effectively and durably. The right engine oil is of course one of them.
For the latest generation Detroit engines built and developed to accept FA-4 spec engine oils, a new oil launched to market promises to help alleviate some of the operational and financial pressures that come with the territory.
That territory is the unique, harsh, and often hot operating environment of the Australian continent.
Launched to market as recently as September, Detroit Performance Plus FE 10W30 FA-4 Heavy Duty Engine Oil, has undergone millions of miles of testing in North America.
As a low HTHS oil it is tested to ensure it provides protection at high temperatures and high shear, which are more demanding than standard viscosity tests, whilst opening up the opportunity for efficiency benefits.
But a question remains. Is it cut out for the local conditions? Supplied by Viva Energy, who also have a Shell branded equivalent, Detroit Performance Plus features ‘Low SAPS’, high performing, efficient additive technology that is designed to deliver enhanced fuel economy and lower emissions.
To prove this claim Viva Energy and Penske Australia, the local distributor of Detroit products, embarked on a 12-month validation trial involving up to six new prime movers.
The trucks used in the testing, which were organised around the heaviest applications in duty cycle, all featured the latest Detroit engine technology.
There were three Freightliner Cascadia 126s powered by a Detroit DD16, an engine designed and developed according to the GHG17 protocol, and a mix of DD13 and DD16 engines on three Western Star X-Series variants that are built to the more recent GHG21 standard.
Both truck platforms have natural crossover ideal for such a trial. In one application the trial involved 90-tonne roadtrains loaded both ways from Adelaide to Perth. Each truck, according to Paul Smallacombe, Viva Energy Product Support Engineer, had started from the first oil drain with little more than 40,000kms on the odometer.
“From the outset we wanted to get something that was representative of Australian conditions,” he says. “We know the product works. It’s spent a number of years with proven performance under its belt.”
The tests were completed in multiple trailer applications on linehaul routes in either A- or B-double. Up to five completed oil drain cycles were completed for each truck on the trial.
This would include trial runs of up to 80,000 kilometres in each of those trial runs across four key trucks of the six units the Viva Energy team was drawing data from. Validation wasn’t, according to Paul, about trying to extend oil drain intervals.
“While we were confident it would work, it was about giving that additional confidence to customers that it was proven in Australian conditions,” he says.
The foremost concern with these types of oils is that they might be too thin to hold up to the stresses that are ongoing between the mechanical components in the engine.
High temp, high shear, in that regard, is a differentiator between the traditional 15W40 heavy-duty diesel engine oils and the new FA-4 10W30 product.
The main pushback on FA-4 oils, should it come from local industry, would likely hinge, Paul suspects, on it being simply too thin for Australian conditions.
The data, to the contrary, showed that Detroit Performance Plus FE performed well above expectations certainly in terms of any fears it might increase wear.
“What we saw in the wear profile across the oil drain intervals was almost identical to what we ran in previous CK-4 trials,” Paul explains. “The 10W30 wasn’t showing any increased wear compared to 15W40. It was really no different to what we saw from 15W40 CK-4 previously.”
There were many intermediate assessments made of the oil in addition to when it was added and taken out according to Bob Gowans, Penske Australia, Business Manager – Detroit.
“By taking all the samples and putting them on a graph it will show you how the oil degrades over time,” he says.
“When you get to a certain point on the curve that’s when you change it out. You look for signs of when the curve is going to bend and try and change it out just before then so you’re not damaging the truck in any way.”
On this front, the wear metals within all of the oil samples collated during the trial were well within what would be expected of a Detroit engine. The newer, thinner oil isn’t backwards compatible for the older engines.
Pressure relief valves and filtration oil pump sizing apertures, for instance, are not set up for FA-4, a fuel economy variant of the heavy-duty diesel engine oil spec, with which the new generation powertrains have been expressly developed. That previous oil – the CK-4 spec – is still available in the market.
The range is called Detroit Engine Oils and features four iterations for different generations of engines through older two stroke to DD15 and now the DD13 and DD16 range.
“We know there’s many customers that have legacy Detroit trucks whether that’s Western Star Constellation or Freightliner Argosy or Coronado,” says Bob.
“There’s lots of fleets out there that have the more modern Detroits as well. The CK-4 is a very valuable tool for those customers given it is fine for those engines.”
That said, Shell, according to its data taken from the USA trials, reports between 2.6 per cent to 2.8 per cent fuel economy benefit over the previous 15W40 engine oil.
These impressive figures, Paul says, should be qualified by acknowledging different operations are going to yield different results. “Even if they’re getting 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent that’s significant,” he says.
“It’s a real selling point of the FA-4. It will certainly help reduce emissions obviously but there’s also big benefits for the operator in reduced fuel costs. As we know fuel costs is one of, if not the biggest cost for transport operators at the moment.”
In recent years engine technology and exhaust aftertreatment has been targeting emissions like particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.
However, the key thrust in reducing carbon dioxide, which has become the main focus now that those other air pollutants have almost been eliminated, is through burning less fuel. FA-4 spec fuels like Detroit Performance Plus FE, which is the standard factory fill on all new Freightliners and Western Stars with a Detroit engine, help operators live that out to the fullest.
“The way oils and lubricants can contribute to that is by using a thinner product, a lower viscosity oil so there’s less drag, less energy consumed, which improves the fuel economy,” says Paul.
“By using a lower HTHS oil, you create less internal friction leading to the potential for fuel economy benefits without sacrificing longevity of the engine.”
Every truck had its oil sampled regularly so that the behaviour of the oil was monitored and how its performance might have varied over the oil change interval.
This was in essence to watch for the signs of performance dropping off or other chemical compound elements appearing in the oil, a sure sign the oil is getting to the end of its life and needs to be changed.
By looking at the behaviour of the oil over its lifecycle and at the end of the trial, inspections were made inside the cylinder of the engine.
“The bores after 300,000 kilometres looked exactly like new,” says Bob. “There were no additional signs of wear, and we could also see that from the wear metal results in the oil analysis. They were at least as good as if not better than the CK-4 oil that preceded it.”
The trial is considered a success having proved to Viva Energy and Detroit that the latest standard FA-4 oils are more than a match for Australian conditions. Ultimately, customers are going to be the beneficiary in terms of longer engine life and fuel economy.
“Everybody breathes, so it’s a win-win because the world gets lower greenhouse emissions and the operators get a lower fuel bill,” says Bob. “From an operator’s perspective, it’s great that the fuel efficiency requirements have come along at the same time, driving the development of this advanced oil.”
Data observed from Detroit engine management system, confirmed for Paul a higher fuel burn than what is customarily seen in the American market and even higher than what Viva Energy had done in previous trials.
“To see it get out to those 60-, 70-, 80,000 kms is pretty impressive,” he says. “In the US they go up to the equivalent of 100,000kms but that would be on single trailer operations. With much higher fuel burns for higher loads to still get around that 80,000km drains is very impressive.”