Please note this article was published in April 2017 and the facts and opinions expressed may no longer be valid.

North American specification update

Insight keeps you up to date on some of the North American lubricant specification developments.

The transition from API CJ-4 to API CK-4 is now well underway. Many marketers have chosen to transition all or most of their products to the higher quality level. However, some marketers are maintaining their API CJ-4 products as the quality level is still acceptable for all model year (MY) 2017 engine applications, at reduced oil drain intervals. Logistics considerations have driven the transition to date as there is very little end user call for the new product.

Most on highway OEMs have issued their own corresponding specifications for API CK-4 and/or API FA-4, and although most recommend the new oils, they do not currently require their use. Few OEMs have opted to recommend the new more fuel efficient API FA-4 oils, although many marketers have product offerings.

With no or limited back serviceability, end users have not warmed up to the added fuel economy benefits API FA-4 products can deliver to their newest engines.

Ford issued its first approval lists at end of last year for API CK-4 oils that also meet the new Ford Material Engineering Specification WSS-M2C171-F1. The new Ford specification includes a minimum 0.10% phosphorus limit and additive companies/marketers must demonstrate that new technologies are suitable for their medium-duty diesel 6.7L engine. Ford still allows the use of oils licensed as API CJ-4, but does not allow the use of API FA-4 in its diesel vehicles at this time.

Adoption of the new oils

Most Class 8 OEMs are enthusiastically recommending the new oils and, in some cases, are allowing longer oil drain intervals. However, none require the use of these latest oils for MY 2017 vehicles and all will continue to allow the use of API CJ-4.

Class 8 sales were down for 2016 and only represent a portion of the HDD engine oil market. Class 3-6 suppliers will allow API CK-4 oils, but not API FA-4. Caterpillar has announced that it will recommend API CK-4. However, most off highway OEMs are still satisfied with API CJ-4 lubricant quality and are not ready to require the new oils. Consequently, marketers are having an issue selling the value of the upgrade. There is no question though, that the new oils provide a step change increase in engine protection.

Predictions about slow or no interest in API FA-4 oils seem to be confirmed at this point in time.

It appears that very few fleets will be able to take advantage of the added fuel economy benefits in the short term. Reasons vary, but logistics is key as many fleets would like one oil for both old and new engines, no matter which OEM supplies them, and do not want to carry special oils for just a few engines. This takes some pressure off the current supply chain as well as potential confusion regarding the need for two different SAE 10W-30 heavy-duty lubricants.

Although API FA-4 does not represent a new viscosity grade, many end users are also reluctant to use the new API FA-4 oils because they are unsure if the added fuel economy is worth any risk to engine durability. This situation is not unusual as end users have pre-conceptions about viscosity despite the significant field testing that has validated the ability of these oils to protect the engine at the lower viscosity levels.

Infineum anticipates that SAE 10W-30 API CK-4, which provides improved fuel economy over SAE 15W-40, is the best compromise for now.

It can be used in most old and all new diesel engines and meets the needs of most OEMs for on and off highway applications and could bridge the gap until the market need for API FA-4 materialises.

ILSAC GF-6 FAU may slip

Test development continues to move forward slowly, but timing for ILSAC GF-6 is still unclear. It appears that first allowable use (FAU) will slip into 2019. Many industry observers do not see the new category being ready for MY 2019 vehicles, and are predicting an introduction date during the second quarter of 2019.

An official date will not be published until all stakeholders can ensure that whatever date they pick is achievable and one that should not need to be delayed further.

All stakeholders are frustrated by this situation. But, it is critical that industry gets the tests right so that ILSAC GF-6 provides the performance needed. This will also avoid the need to develop ‘GF-6 plus’ type products immediately after ILSAC GF-6 launches. Infineum believes these new categories need a minimum life of four to five years to justify the significant investment all stakeholders must make.

Use and interest in lower viscosity API SN/GF-5 SAE XW-20 engine oils continues to grow.

Although SAE 0W-16 API SN/Resource conserving (without the Starburst) is allowed by API, OEMs appear to be waiting for the new ILSAC GF-6 specification before they will use it. Some marketers license SAE 0W-16 but, in North America, Infineum has not seen any commercial deployment of these products. SAE 5W-30 remains the largest selling viscosity grade but it is in decline, while SAE 0W-20 and 5W-20 continue to grow. Old favourites like SAE 10W-30 and 10W-40 continue to be in decline as well and fewer choices are seen in retail, as shelf space is limited and old products need to go to make room for new ones. This is especially true when one considers the growing number of synthetic applications, which are needed for many modern engines.


No significant updates to report concerning dexos1™:2015 as mandatory use of the General Motors’ specification remains on target August 31 2017. GM reports that all the major additive companies have approved product options.

GM is approving the new oils and they should become more widely available during 2017 as industry marches towards the new mandatory date. The new GM aeration test is still suspended while GM and the engine test labs resolve the issues observed so it can be reinstated.

Legacy test update

With no independent labs being able to run the test, API agreed to allow provisional licensing until the new Sequence VIE test is ready with equivalent ILSAC GF-5 limits. Although no timetable exists, it is believed that this should be in place by the end of 2017. Right now this only impacts new ILSAC GF-5 test developments as well as new GM dexos™ developments.

The Sequence IIIG and IIIF are the next tests that will run out of hardware. It is expected the Sequence IIIH will be ready to replace these tests at equivalent limits. Limits for API SN/GF-5 are close to being approved and are being balloted at this time. Limits for older categories still need to be worked.

The API Category Life Oversight Group (CLOG) continues on a plan to sustain older categories once the current legacy tests become unavailable.

CLOG is also drafting Provisional Licensing Guidelines for the current possible situations if more than one test is unavailable. This will maintain the current API specifications and allow marketers to license oils against the current performance categories. CLOG recommendations will be made to the API Lubes Group, which will discuss and ultimately ballot a recommendation to change API 1509.

Industry stakeholders will need to work very hard to find acceptable solutions to these challenges. It is clear that CLOG, along with the timely approval for replacement tests, will play a key role in helping to resolve the issues.

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