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TORONTO, Ont. - Fleets are under constant pressure to reduce costs, but with heavy-duty engine oil (HDEO) representing only about 1.5-2% of a fleet's maintenance spend, it's an easy expenditure to ove...

DON'T BE A DIPSTICK: It is possible to trim your oil budget without simply buying an inferior product.
DON'T BE A DIPSTICK: It is possible to trim your oil budget without simply buying an inferior product.

TORONTO, Ont. –Fleets are under constant pressure to reduce costs, but with heavy-duty engine oil (HDEO) representing only about 1.5-2% of a fleet’s maintenance spend, it’s an easy expenditure to overlook. However, there are worthwhile cost savings achievable by properly managing your fleet’s oil program -and we’re not talking about the short-sighted tactic of substituting a premium HDEO with a less expensive alternative.

“In the long run, a lower cost product can actually increase overall costs,” warns Dan Arcy, OEM technical manager with Shell Lubricants.

So how do you go about trimming costs while also enjoying the benefits of a premium oil? It begins with using the right oil in the first place.


For starters, buy a brand name product with the American Petroleum Institute (API) donut on the packaging. This ensures the oil meets stringent performance criteria established by the API.

“What some companies in the lower price range will do, is make statements like ‘meets the requirements of CI-4 Plus or CJ-4,’ and that’s just marketing lingo,” says Gary Parsons, global OEM and industry liaison manager, Chevron Oronite Company. “You want to make sure that the product is licensed CI-4 Plus or CJ-4 oil.”

A typical HDEO consists of 75% base oil and 25% additive. It’s a delicate balance that can easily be compromised by a fringe player that may not have the most secure supply chain, Parsons points out.

“Product stewardship and integrity along that supply chain is critical,” he says. By this time, most fleets and owner/operators have already developed a preference for one brand or another. The next step is to choose the right formulation -and there are choices.

CJ-4 vs CI-4 Plus

When low-soot, EPA07 engines were rolled out to the industry, a low-ash motor oil was also introduced. CJ-4 is completely backwards- compatible for use with pre-07 engines, and is strongly recommended -in some cases required -for 2007 and newer engines.

CJ-4 has demonstrated improvements in areas such as wear protection, deposit control, oxidation control and soot handling, according to Shell’s Arcy. However, it also comes with a steeper price tag. Is it worth the extra purchase price? That depends on who you ask.

“There may be a higher cost, but it will help with the long-term durability of the engine and you’re definitely going to have a longer service life of the diesel particulate filter (DPF),” points out Arcy.

Initially, all engine OEMs required the use of CJ-4 oils with 2007 engines for this very reason. It was feared that the higher ash content of CI-4 Plus oils would prematurely clog the DPF and maybe even hinder engine performance. However, since then, some engine manufacturers have relaxed their requirements for CJ-4 heavy-duty engine oils and will honour warranties regardless of whether a CJ-4 or CI-4 Plus product was used. This change of heart warrants a re-evaluation of the type of oil fleets and owner/operators should use, admits Parsons, especially if you are running pre-07 engines.

“If you have a pre-07 engine in your truck, why pay more for the CJ-4 when you can run just as well on CI-4 Plus?” he asks.

Even when running 2007 and newer vehicles, it may still make sense to shorten DPF cleaning intervals in order to save money by using a CI-4 Plus oil, he says.

“You may have to clean out the DPF a little bit earlier, but having the ash removed from the DPF costs about $100-$200. So if a fleet or owner/ operator was to do the math… (and clean) out that trap one additional time over a 300,000-mile period, maybe the economics come out in favour of CI-4 Plus.”

It’s an honest opinion -and one that’s not likely to win him any favours with other players in the market, which are pushing the industry to transition entirely to CJ-4 Plus oils, so they can collectively recoup the investment they’ve made in developing the new formula (suggested to be as much as US$70 million).

“We spent a heckuva lot of money developing CJ-4, so there is a desire to recover the investment and for people to use the latest and greatest,” acknowledges Parsons.

Fleets should also be cognizant that there is a cost associated with carrying two types of oil, and as EPA07 engines continue to displace older model equipment, it may be more cost-effective to make the wholesale change to CJ-4.

Arcy points out if you continue to use CI-4 Plus oil with EPA07 engines, the DPF cleaning interval will be compromised in direct relation to the ash content of the oil. CI-4 Plus has about a 50% higher ash content than CJ-4, so a DPF that can go 300,000 miles between cleanings with CJ-4 may only reach 200,000 miles or so if you’re using CI-4 Plus.

Conventional vs. synthetic

Another consideration for fleets may be the potential to save fuel by upgrading to synthetic HDEOs. But like the CJ-4 vs. CI-4 Plus debate, there are trade-offs to consider – most notably purchase price. Some oil marketers are certainly more ag- gressive than others when promoting their synthetic HDEOs.

Paula Del Castilho, category manager with Petro-Canada’s commercial transportation lubricants division, is one such proponent of synthetic HDEOs.

She says synthetic engine oils not only improve fuel mileage, but will improve cold weather startability and provide better long-term engine protection.

“If it’s -30C outside, you can go out and turn on the vehicle with a 0w40 (synthetic) and not have to wait as long as with the 15w40,” she says. Since trucks with synthetic HDEOs don’t have to be warmed up, there’s an opportunity to reduce idle time and save fuel, she adds.

Shell’s Arcy says fleets have realized fuel savings of about 1% when switching to a synthetic HDEO, which can amount to annual fuel savings of about US$450/year based on 120,000 miles per year at 6 mpg. Arcy also points out synthetic oil can save fleets money by reducing downtime and the need for jump-starts in cold climates.

However, not everyone is as convinced. Parsons says of the major US fleets he works with, “none of them are using synthetic motor oil.”

He admits there are advantages in extreme conditions, but adds: “to just switch to a synthetic in normal ambient-type conditions to gain fuel efficiency, the big fleets aren’t doing that -they’re not buying it.”


What most oil companies will agree on, is the potential for saving money by extending drain intervals. They also agree this should not be done arbitrarily, but rather in conjunction with a used oil analysis program. Big fleets have been conducting oil analysis programs for years. However, the savings are equally beneficial to small fleets and even owner/operators.

“The two go hand-in-hand,”Mark Pagnanelli, heavy-duty sales and marketing manager with Castrol distributor Wakefield Canada, says of extended drains and an oil analysis program. “We believe in oil analysis so strongly, that it’s part of our total package (with customers).”

When it comes to engine oil, extending drains represents arguably the greatest opportunity for savings. Pagnanelli says fleets have realized 10-15% savings in oil costs by nearly doubling oil change intervals.

But it doesn’t happen overnight. Pagnanelli says fleets must first complete an oil analysis and then adjust intervals accordingly, usually in stages.

Getting an oil analysis completed may be the crucial first step to extending drains, but it’s just as important to properly interpret the results. Chevron Oronite’s Parsons likens it to a blood test -unless you’re a doctor, you won’t know what to make of the results.

According to an online report by Imperial Oil, “The laboratory inspections include measurements of viscosity, water and foreign contaminants (sediment/particulate), metal analysis to identify additive depletion, wear metals, or other metallic contaminants, glycol testing for engine oils, and oxidation levels.”

If it sounds Greek to you, be sure to work closely with your oil supplier and engine manufacturer to determine optimum drain intervals.

Once the oil analysis is completed (you may even be able to get your oil supplier to offset the cost), you can begin extending drains based on your specific results. The big fleets do it already, but small fleets are only beginning to warm up to the idea and owner/operators are mostly leaving money on the table by sticking to their overly-cautious drain cycles.

“The large fleets will typically extend their oil out 45,000-50,000 miles based on our survey data but the information I’ve seen from owner/operators shows they still typically change their oil every 12,000-15,000 miles,”says Parsons. He’s puzzled by the gap – especially since most engine OEMs now offer 25,000-mile intervals. “They operate not only from a business standpoint, but also from an emotional standpoint,” Parsons says of owner/ops. “That truck is their livelihood and they treat it like a family member.”


Finally, how you buy your oil can also contribute to reduced costs. For starters, volume discounts may be available by using one supplier for all your oil, lube and fuel needs.

“When you consolidate all your lubricants to one supplier, there may be some opportunities for price savings,” points out Petro-Canada’s Del Castilho. When measuring the potential savings, don’t forget to factor in the costs of invoicing multiple suppliers, adds Shell’s Arcy.

“There are some pretty significant costs to get that invoice processed and that cheque out the door,” he notes. “If you have three different suppliers instead of one, you have three times the invoicing costs.”

Fleets should also work with their supplier to ensure they’re buying product in the most cost-effective volumes, Arcy adds. “Does your fleet warrant having a bulk tank put in? That can help lower costs, because you don’t have to dispose of the drums and you don’t have to worry about the drums sitting around and dripping on the floor.”

Fleets and owner/operators alike should keep a spare jug of motor oil in every truck, so they can top off while on the road when necessary, without paying inflated truck stop prices. Arcy also suggests fleets see whether there’s a market for used oil in their area. In the past, fleets have been forced to pay disposal fees to get rid of it, but Arcy notes a market has developed for used oil in some areas, which is purchased by re-refiners. Establishing a used oil reclamation project can turn a former cost into a source of revenue.

When it comes to oil and lubes, the opportunities to reduce costs are nearly endless. Just don’t resort to buying a cheaper product in hopes it will deliver brand name performance at a fraction of the cost, reputable oil companies warn.

“A decrease of 10 cents on an invoice price is really a short-term gain, and most companies that push that route are essentially turning back the clock on their maintenance program five to 10 years,” insists Pagnanelli. “That lower cost comes from somewhere. Look at the good, better, best scenario – not the bottom line on the invoice.”

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