Lockdown: oil under pressure

It is well established that engine oil deteriorates faster over short journeys – but why? Rob Marshall addresses this question and looks at how you should maintain the lubrication system to minimise the effects of past and future lockdowns.

Oil chemists have a tough job. It is hard enough to develop a lubricant that provides optimum anti-wear, fuel consumption and low emissions levels in average use. Yet, these are far from normal times.

Almost since the dawn of the mass-produced motorcar, manufacturers have advised both mileage and time-based oil drain intervals, whichever occurs first. More recently, many carmakers insist on an earlier service schedule for ‘severe’ conditions. Unless you face a moderately technically-minded customer, it can be difficult to persuade an owner that gentle pottering to the local shops and back is harder on the engine oil than a longer and faster commute.

Most cars do not possess an oil temperature gauge any more. Where one is fitted, the needle does not rise as quickly as the equivalent coolant temperature instrument, because oil takes longer to reach its optimum temperature.

Low use, high wear
Most engine wear occurs soon after a cold-start and during the warm-up period. While many modern cars heat their coolant comparatively quickly, thanks to electronically-controlled thermostats, on-demand water pumps, and such-like, many drivers do not know (or even care) that the oil takes far longer to warm. Cold weather and short trips are especially tough on engine oil and it is precisely those conditions that many vehicles have faced repeatedly over the last four months.

BG Products highlights that “Short trips do not allow the engine oil to reach peak operating temperatures”, while Motul UK explains: “Much like brake pads and tyres, modern oils have a preferred temperature before certain elements can perform at their best. However, the sophistication of the materials used in a modern oil means that they are engineered to also provide a high level of performance until reaching this optimum.”

Additionally, if the oil does not become sufficiently hot, water and petrol contamination cannot evaporate from it. This situation promotes oil oxidation, a consequence of which is thickening. The resultant increase in viscosity reduces oil flow, meaning that it takes longer for the lubricant to reach moving parts, especially following a cold start. Oxidation also increases the oil’s acidity. While additives combat this to an extent, the risk of corrosion heightens as those antioxidant ingredients deplete. Many technicians are familiar with oil sludge but may not realise that oxidisation tends to be the root cause. Varnishes and lacquer deposits might also result from oil oxidation, which can be even harder to shift. Chemical degradation is also a further complication.

Modern engine oils contain a balance of additives to achieve the required longevity and anti-wear characteristics but they do not last forever. Indeed, they deplete faster, as the oil becomes increasingly contaminated. If the car has not been used during wintertime, which is common among classic and cherished vehicles, even fresh oil is not immune to ageing. Castrol told us that, while engine oil is generally stable (i.e. its chemicals tend not to react with each other), moisture and other impurities can still enter the sump, even if the engine is not started. Annoyingly, an oil drain and refill is unlikely to remove all of these impurities, a proportion of which is likely to remain within the crankcase. At the very best, they will reduce the life of the fresh lubricant.

Add the quantity of oil specified by the manufacturer. Trusting the dipstick alone is unwise, especially on certain diesels, where the ‘max’ mark may consider the natural fuel contamination that results from active DPF regenerations. Should you notice that the level exceeds the ‘max’ mark, query the customer and suspect multiple aborted DPF regenerations, which may warrant further investigation.

A case for flushing
Going by Castrol’s logic, changing the oil and flushing-out these harmful deposits are beneficial for not only engine life but also tailpipe emissions. Indeed, a borderline MOT exhaust gas failure might be solved by an oil drain, flush and refill. Yet, you can choose from a huge variety of engine flushes, including dedicated machines that pump heated cleansing fluid around the lubrication system. Despite their availability, most garages dose a flushing additive into the old oil, instead. Unless oil changes were neglected in the past, flushing should not cause any problems but consider that they do not have to comply with any fixed technical standard. Wynn’s advises that an engine flush should have not only cleaning and acid neutralisation properties but also lubrication functions. It highlights that obtaining all three qualities from a single product is far from easy. Castrol agrees but claims that the flushing market is:

“dominated largely by solvent-based products, which can degrade engine seals and dislodge sludge in larger, denser deposits. This can cause blockages in vital oil ways and lead to oil leaks.”

The company highlights its latest Engine Shampoo pre-oil change treatment, which reduces this risk by dissolving and flushing out up to 85% of sludge, while being solvent-free. Naturally, other producers extol the benefits of flushing; this video of BG Product’s EPR at work is especially telling of its benefits: www.bit.ly/BGFlush.

A quality oil flush is a worthy upsell, to clean-out the crankcase of deposits that result from dirty and saturated oil.

Looking beyond oil
Multiple short journeys affect more components than service items alone, which you must consider. Should these components not work at their optimum, a consequence will likely be reduced engine oil life. Multiple aborted DPF regenerations, for example, risk over-contaminating the crankcase with diesel fuel, raising the oil levels excessively and speeding the rate of lubricant degradation.

BG Products also reminds us that fuel injectors, EGR valves, air intake plenums, oxygen sensors and catalytic converters are among the many critical areas on which deposits form. This highlights the benefits of further maintenance procedures, including fuel system additives and air intake system cleaners. JLM Lubricants also adds that, especially with short trips:
“Fuel injectors and GDI injectors especially carbon-up. This causes uneven spray patterns, or even leaking/dripping injectors. When the engine does not run at its optimum operating temperature, these droplets of fuel do not evaporate but wash past the piston rings and end-up in the engine oil.”

High-quality oil conditioners are designed to reduce the oxidisation rate of fresh oil, which is ideal, when the engine is tasked with numerous short trips.

Preventative measures
The topic about whether you should upsell an oil supplement, or not, is a contentious one. Many (but not all) engine oil blenders argue that there is no need for you to supplement their lubricants’ additive packs. The VLS shares a similar stance and told AT that:

“Oil fortifiers can actually cause issues of their own. They generally will either thicken the oil, which might make it fall outside the design viscosity and hence impact performance, or they contain additional additive metals which could cause problems with exhaust after-treatment devices.”

Yet, quality additive companies argue that, while aftertreatment compatible oil supplement additives were beneficial during pre-COVID times, they are especially relevant now. Aside from cold weather, reduced driving speeds and shorter trips place the oil at a greater risk of contamination and oxidation. Therefore, especially if we face further lockdowns in the year ahead, it may be useful to give customers’ engine lubrication systems an extra helping hand.

BG Products highlights its MOA fortifier, which is designed specifically for petrol engines and fortifies the oil against premature breakdown and degradation. JLM states that its Bortec oil additive’s anti-oxidant ingredients help the lubricant to tolerate multiple short runs, which reduces sludge formation. Furthermore, it also helps to reduce engine wear, by decreasing the risk of metal-to-metal contact before the engine oil pressure has built sufficiently, during the cold-start and warm-up phases. The Dutch lubrication experts told us that, even if the engine is not new, Bortec slows-down wear rates, as well as helping to clean the engine’s internals. It also highlights that, as the formulation represents the very latest in friction modification technology, it contains no solid particles, making it suitable for newer cars’ tighter tolerances.

Do not forget that anything that reduces combustion efficiency will decrease oil life. Fuel additives can help to maintain cleanliness but do not overlook the ignition system and other serviceable items, such as filters.

Getting it right
The extra stresses that lockdown driving conditions have placed upon engine oil highlights the importance of selecting the correct lubricant. While modern oils, made by credible manufacturers and used in the appropriate applications, provide decent low temperature protection, the VLS highlights that not permitting the lubricant to reach its optimum operating temperature of between 75 and 105 degrees centigrade is far from ideal.

Using an incompatible oil specification can create even worse problems, including accelerating wear to not only the engine but also catalytic converters and particulate filters. The VLS emphasises that, as engines become ever more sophisticated, the demands on lubricants are more stringent. Therefore, it is increasingly relevant to use a product that meets the OEM requirements in full, especially in these challenging times.

Oil verification trade body joins forces with Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards

The independent trade body, Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS), has entered into a Primary Authority partnership with Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards.

Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards will provide tailored advice and guidance for VLS and its members, to help them remain compliant with relevant regulation and legislation, as well as supporting VLS in the escalation of any cases to local Trading Standards authorities.

Since its formation in 2005, VLS has escalated several cases to Trading Standards, to ensure that enforcement action was taken to bring products into compliance with their own stated technical specifications and performance claims.

Most cases investigated by VLS are resolved by direct discussion between VLS and the Named Party. However, in some cases, if the Named Party fails to provide the evidence required to bring the product into compliance or take the necessary action, VLS has escalated the case to Trading Standards authorities.

Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards will review all of VLS’ advice and guidance issued so it becomes endorsed, supported and approved by Trading Standards.

Andrew Goddard, Chairman of VLS, said: “At VLS our objective is always to work with Named Parties to resolve complaints. However, in cases of continued non-compliance, the VLS Board has and will take action to raise cases with Trading Standards to protect end users. Motor factors, mechanics and motorists alike must all have confidence that lubricant products really can deliver what they claim. This relationship with Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards will effectively underwrite our work at VLS and ensure that decisions are enforceable.”

For more information on VLS and current cases under investigation, please contact VLS on 01442 875922 or visit www.ukla-vls.org.uk.

Tighter controls on lubricant claims

Independent trade body, the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS), has introduced stiffer new rules for assessing marketing claims on lubricants packaging, in response to several recent cases involving misleading or incorrect claims.

VLS was formed in 2013 and since then, its Technical Review Panel has investigated over 60 complaints involving commercial and passenger vehicle oils, automotive gear oils and transmission and hydraulic fluids. The vast majority relate to marketing claims including non-compliance with ACEA specifications and other industry standards, and conflicting or unevidenced OEM approvals.

Where marketing claims are being queried, the manufacturers or marketers must now submit the Candidate Data Package to demonstrate performance of the formulation being used. Although this does not specifically address the issue of OEM approvals, as very few oils are marketed without ACEA (or API) claims, requesting this document is considered to be the best way of assessing the performance of the product.

Andrew Goddard, Chairman of VLS said: “At VLS our mission is to protect and educate end users and to support fair and open competition in the lubricants market. As space in motor factors and workshops comes under pressure, there is a temptation for lubricants marketers to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach, making multiple claims on individual lubricants products. But today’s sophisticated engines require a very specific balance of chemistry to keep them working at their best. Workshops and mechanics must be able to rely on Technical Data Sheets to confirm that a product has been fully tested and really can deliver what it claims.”

Keeping lubes in-check – By Rob Marshall

Parts quality is an ongoing issue in the motor trade but how can you be sure that the lubricants you are using are not causing major damage to your customer’s cars? Rob Marshall looks at the current policing situation affecting engine oils.

The makers of sub-standard parts are out there…and thriving. In 1994, the Institute of Trading Standards stated that the counterfeit car parts industry was valued at £300m. Five years ago, the illicit market’s worth had ballooned to £26bn. While it can be very difficult to identify the difference between a poor quality component and the genuine item by a quick glance alone, oil presents an even trickier proposition. Like the retail buyer, the average auto technician professional is not a chemist and considerable faith is placed upon the specification claims on the label. So, how do you know that they are true?


This was the issue facing the United Kingdom Lubricants Association (UKLA), when it established the Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS) in 2013, after reacting to concerns raised by its members about products being sold on the open market at less than the raw material price. So, obviously, the VLS is a cartel that prevents new entrants entering the UK market, especially as many of its board members hold lofty positions within established British oil blenders…

“Absolutely not”, emphasised the UKLA’s Director General, David Wright, who revealed that: “Far from being a closed group looking after the vested interests of a select few, the VLS is an independent body and its members welcome new entrants actively to the UK lubricants scene. Yet, there has to be a level playing field and open competition. This is why we investigate complaints that are based purely on the performance claims and technical specifications of products. This is good for us, our members, independent garages and the end-user.”

Wright also emphasised that independence is vital to uphold the VLS’s credibility and the structure of its complaints and testing procedures are designed to be completely anonymous, as he explained: “While it is true that the VLS technical panel comprises of specialists from its membership, as well as additive companies and base oil suppliers, this is required because of their niche expertise. However, only the nature of the complaint is revealed to them. Details of the complainant, the product and the manufacturer are not disclosed and all cases are handled anonymously. In some situations, we have had technical panel members passing judgement on their own products without knowing it.”

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 19.27.04David Wright combines his past experience of working within the petroleum industry and enforcing standards within the regulator, the Department of Education, in his current role as Company Secretary within VLS.


Unless the issue is caused by a simple labelling error, the oil might require laboratory testing, but such specialist facilities tend to belong to the UK oil blenders, something that might affect the VLS’s impartiality.

“This is why we do not use them,” clarified Mr Wright, “We engage the services of an external testing house, SGS of Ellesmere Port, which is independent and has no relationship with either us, or UK oil blenders. SGS obtains test samples on our behalf but the nature of the complaint is not passed-on, only an instruction of which technical characteristics are to be evaluated and which products will be tested.”

Once the laboratory has reached a conclusion, the technical panel makes its recommendations to the VLS Supervisory Board. Subsequent decisions and advice are passed to the oil’s maker, including requests that the product is modified to make it comply with the required specification, or performance claims. Any responses involving formulation changes are referred back to the technical panel and sanctioned.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 19.24.18Many of the technical issues that the VLS uncovers include higher than specified levels of sulphated ash, phosphorus and sulphur (SAPS) in ACEA C-graded oils, which cause premature blockage of the diesel particulate filter monolith.





Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 19.24.28Trusting a well-established quality brand is not a bad idea, all of which have strict internal quality-control policies in place.







While credible lubricant blenders rush to correct accidental errors, why should the less scrupulous businesses care? While the VLS publishes each case’s details and conclusions on its website, see next page, thereby lifting the cloak of anonymity, each PDF resides online for eight weeks, prior to being archived, which hardly presents the same publicity deterrent as a full-page warning in the national press. While Mr Wright admitted that people were unsure just how much muscle the VLS could wield, when it was established, it has demonstrated influence, as he recalled,  “We suspended a member from the UKLA until the appropriate product changes were made to our satisfaction and the company was allowed to re-join. Yet, when it comes to active enforcement, we have found Trading Standard bodies to be immensely proactive when presented with our evidence.”

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 19.24.51Additionally, the VLS sees its role as being more than investigatory. Informing both the motor trade and end- user about oil specifications and changes within the lubricants industry is an important remit that it is growing. Yet, it views that its current procedures should continue to be prompted by third-party complaints and the need to be proactive and seek-out non-compliant lubricants is unnecessary, because this is undertaken in Europe already by the Technical Association for the European Lubricants Industry (Atiel).


If you have concerns that an oil is making spurious, incompatible, or unbelievable claims, you can report it. Yet, to meet the high costs of conducting technically-led investigations, the VLS makes a charge but it justifies the stance as helping to ensure that claims are genuine. While the cost per case varies from £500 to £2,500, the charges are slashed considerably for VLS members. Should your supplier have membership, for example, it would be worth having it proceed with the claim, especially as it can be argued that supplying compliant lubricants is more in a wholesaler’s interests. http://ukla-vls.org.uk/case-outcomes

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 19.33.43Official certification may mean that either a technical partnership exists between the blender and the carmaker, or that the oil blender applied for official approval, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.



Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 19.33.54Instead of obtaining official motor manufacturer compliance, some oils are blended to the same specification as the official oils and it is not unusual to have the same additive and base oil suppliers as those that are sanctioned officially.



The days of holding a drum each of 20W50 and 10W40 is long gone, with the gradual move towards manufacturer-specific engine oils. From an all-makes aftermarket garage perspective, apart from ensuring that the oil you order meets the standards claimed, the more bespoke requirements of modern drivetrains mean that the wrong choice could result in severe long-term mechanical damage. Speaking to Autotechnician, a spokesman from battery and lubricants supplier, Platinum International, explained that it aids its trade customers with a VRM portal available on its website; inputting a registration number into which yields the correct engine oil specifications. Yet, Platinum International also revealed that,

“Any supplier should be sensitive about garage lubricants stock tying-up not only cash but also valuable storage space. This means that greater flexibility is key. We have neither a minimum order, nor value, policies and deliver the following day.”

Verification of Lubrication Specifications (UK) Ltd.

EMAIL: admin@ukla-vls.org.uk
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