Oil’s well with CK-4

by James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. — The transition from the CJ-4 to CK-4 heavy-duty engine oil category in December 2016 has been seamless for fleets, but the education campaign must continue.

That’s according to Barnaby Ngai, category portfolio manager for heavy-duty engine and driveline oils at Petro-Canada Lubricants. He gave an update on the new category oils to Truck News during an interview at Truck World in April, saying that while the transition has been smooth, there are still many owner-operators and smaller fleets that are unsure about the changes.

“There’s still more work to be done,” Ngai said. “Be it, education on the newer oils and why they’re good, and what they can do. That’s why you’ll notice we still kept up our education campaign. When you look at the data, the consumption, the engine players in particular, there’s still a lot of folks using CJ-4.”

While CK-4 and FA-4 (a new low-viscosity specification developed to optimize fuel economy) hit the market in December 2016, there was no requirement for oil suppliers to end the distribution of CJ-4. As a result, while new trucks came from the factory requiring CK-4 oil, not all fleets have made the transition. And not all oil suppliers have ended production and distribution of CJ-4.

“There are still products that are CJ-4 (in the market),” Ngai said. “We’re all-in, we’re all converted, but we’re seeing some laggards and still seeing CJ-4 in the marketplace.”

CK-4 is fully backwards compatible with older engines, but since the changeover to CK-4 was not forced, some small fleets and owner-operators – particularly those who haven’t purchased new trucks of late – have delayed adopting the new oil, despite promised performance benefits. But larger fleets that have made the switch say it has been smooth sailing.

Challenger Motor Freight adopted CK-4 across its entire fleet, including older engines.

“We made the decision to move to a semi-synthetic 10W-30 long before the oil changeover, and it was very seamless for us,” Challenger director of maintenance Chris Iveson told Truck News.

At one point, Iveson considered using the fuel economy FA-4 oil, but decided against it. Ngai admitted the uptake of the FA-4 category oils has been slow.

“The fleets that are using it are seeing the fuel economy, which is great,” he said, noting many fleets are waiting to see more data on engine protection and drain intervals before making the change.

“I’d say towards the tail end of this year, we should get a better feel (for FA-4 adoption),” Ngai said.

Iveson said there have been no issues related to engine protection when switching to a lower viscosity 10W-30 product from the 15W-40 weights that continue to be prevalent in the industry.

“With our 10W-30, I’ve seen no viscosity-related issues whatsoever,” he said. “We have run and completed a 5W-30 test as well, and our testing was extremely successful. We saw no issues whatsoever.”

But Iveson said he’s going to wait for the industry to gain more experience with 5W-30 oils before dialing down the viscosity level another notch.

“If we were to go to 5W-30 in the future, I believe at this point there would be certain applications where we would stay at 10W-30,” he said. In addition to the linehaul fleet, Iveson also oversees heavy-haul and construction trucks.

Erb Transport has had a similarly uneventful experience transitioning to the CK-4 engine oil category.

“It’s been completely seamless,” said Erick Buhr, corporate parts and warranty manager for the Erb Group of Companies. “The CK-4 oil we use is backwards-compatible. We didn’t have to add a different tank to look after the older equipment.”

Erb has also transitioned to lower-viscosity engine oils without issue on its new Cummins X15 and Navistar A26 engines.

“Everything older than that – Navistar N13, Cummins ISB6 and ISX15s – we are still using 15W-40. We also have a significant amount of Cat C12s and C13s and some older Detroit 60s in the fleet. So, 15W-40 will be around for a while for us,” he explained.

But on newer equipment, Buhr said 10W-30 oils have presented “no issues” and the company is achieving 60,000-km drain intervals on those engines using a semi-synthetic. Erb has opted against running FA-4, since its engine manufacturers don’t call for it.

Buhr credits the oil suppliers for making the transition to CK-4 as smooth as possible.

“They did a really good job in handling the pressures they had,” he said. “There have been no issues at all with the oil itself.”

Iveson emphasized the need to work closely with your fleet’s oil supplier to ensure a smooth transition. This includes running oil analysis programs before making a change to a new viscosity, or changing oil drain intervals.

“We actually do oil analysis on every single one of our trucks at every single drain interval and we use a third party to provide us with feedback on not only how well the oil has lasted during that oil drain interval, but it’s also detecting coolant leaks or other minerals that may be in there, indicating engine wear,” Iveson explained.

Asked if he’s seen any fuel economy benefits from the CK-4 oil category, Iveson felt there has been some improvement, but it was difficult to isolate, as the fleet also rolled out some other fuel-saving initiatives at the same time, including air tabs and flow-through mudflaps. Collectively, the fleet saw about a 1-1.5% improvement, some of which Iveson feels is attributable to the new oil category.

He sees first-hand some continued concern about the new oils. He recently visited a small service center where the technician was vexed about which oils to use on which trucks.

“There’s a lot of worry surrounding the changeover to the new oil and I don’t think there’s any real need for it,” he said. “Buy the right one up-front and then you don’t need to worry about it.”

Petro-Canada’s Ngai agreed, but acknowledged it will take some time yet before the industry completely transitions to the new category oils, noting it took three to five years for the industry to fully move from CI-4 to CJ-4. However, he added there’s no reason to fear the new oils.

“With the benefits (of CK-4) over and above CJ-4, there’s no reason to have a CJ-4,” he said.

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