Your oil will never be the same

By Jami Jones, managing editor

The demands on your engine oil will change with the 2017 trucks and engines. Original equipment manufacturers will be forced into a fuel mileage game of limbo-lower-now that has put the pressure on every business that contributes to the finished trucks and its performance.

And it's not the first time. In fact, more than 10 years ago, the first rounds of reduced emissions standards were bearing down on the trucking industry. The demands on oil increased dramatically with higher underhood temperatures and expanded soot handling needs.

The current engine category - developed more than a decade ago - on the shelves is CJ-4. It's rare that an engine category has lasted so long.

Dan Arcy, Shell Global OEM technical manager and industry trade association liaison, is leading the category development team.

"We did such a good job on CJ-4 that we didn't have to change it again," he said.

But, as with anything else, all good things must come to an end. CJ-4 won't meet the demands of the newer engines, and that has prompted the development of the new category.

The new oil was requested by engine makers when the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out its greenhouse gas regulation for 2017, targeting a reduction in greenhouse gases and forcing an improvement in heavy-duty truck fuel economy. Development of the new oil category started in 2011.

Industry terms for the development phase is PC-11, or proposed category 11.

The new oil, PC-11, is currently in the development phase, which is a three- to five-year process. It will move into category implementation in late 2016.

He says that the new oil will be the first in the history of engine oils to be broken into two subcategories. There will no longer be a one-size-fits-all oil.

When the development of the new category started, the possibilities seemed almost endless. Now engine oils will have to get even thinner - or have lower viscosity - to improve fuel mileage, yet still improve on their ability to protect the engine and keep from breaking down because of engine heat. The term 0W, or zero weight, was even being tossed around.

As development and research moved on, it became clear that two new oils would be needed - not just one. The PC-11 category was then split into two subcategories, PC-11A and PC-11B.

The demands on the oil by newer engines will require a different oil than older engines require. One subcategory, called PC-11A, will be designed to be backward compatible - where it can be used in older engines. The second subcategory, PC-11B, will not be as backward compatible - meaning it will only work with certain engine model years. How many years is the trick.

As the clock ticks down to the 2017 rollout, the steps in the development of the new category may seem small from the outside, but Arcy said that the development team is on track to have the new category defined and in place to meet the deadline.

"We're buttoning things down. It may not sound like major milestones, but they are along the way," Arcy said.

For example, the million dollar question of backward compatibility is closer to being answered. The PC-11A subcategory will be fully backward compatible, he said.

"So wherever you are using CJ-4 15W-40 oil now, you'll be able to use PC-11A 15W-40. Same with 10W-30 CJ-4 oil," Arcy said. "The part that we don't have yet is the PC-11B lower viscosity oil. Engine manufacturers still have not come out with definitive answers to what engines they will allow PC-11B to be used in - both in 2017 and prior engines. That is still forthcoming."

With just over a year to rollout, Arcy said not having the backward compatibility of the lower-viscosity PC-11B decided isn't really a concern.

"That doesn't surprise me; back with CJ-4 development we were in the same boat. There were some things that didn't come out until almost six months before the launch as far as backward compatibility and all that," he said.

The behind the scenes portion of the development is nearing completion. The tests with their pass-fail criteria and limits have been proposed to the full committee. Once that's voted on and passed, which Arcy is optimistic will happen, the committee will move on to putting out a full ballot lining out everything - category name, limits, etc.

"Then we'll have things nailed down," Arcy said.

He said the new oil subcategories will be CK-4 for the PC-11A and FA-4 for the PC-11B. All that remains is the formal blessing of the voting process.

That will move the industry into Phase 3 of the category development - putting their oils to the test.

"Everyone can go run engine tests and qualify their oil. That typically takes a year," Arcy said. "Dec. 1, 2016, will be the first licensing of CK-4 and FA-4 categories."

Oil manufacturers haven't been sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting on the final standards, tests and such for the new oil.

Even though they don't know the pass-fail limits, Arcy said Shell, for example, has already been in the labs and on the road with testing. LL