CJ-4: Oil’s well so far

by Steven Macleod

EDMONTON, Alta. – With the release of many new products – regardless whether it’s oil, engines, tires, movies, music or beer – most of the general public keeps a healthy skepticism.

In 2006 oil developers unveiled plans to release CJ-4 – a new line of Heavy Duty Engine Oils (HDEO) to compliment the new line of engines being produced to meet 2007 emission standards. The main objective of the new line of engine oils was to ensure the longevity of the newly added Diesel Particulate Filter, which is mandated to last at least 150,000 miles before cleaning.

Along with the announcement of additives being reduced in the new category of HDEO – to ensure the DPF remains unclogged – came a few lingering questions regarding the new oil’s performance. Falling in line with new environmental regulations was good, but many consumers wanted assurances drain intervals would not be reduced, cold weather operability would remain on par, the cost would not come at too much of a premium, and engine wear and performance would not be sacrificed. Released in October 2006, CJ-4 has been out on the open road for about six months now, and according to the manufacturers it has performed as expected, which is an improvement over its predecessor CI-4 Plus.

“We’ve been really pleased with what we’re seeing from the field tests so far. The category was designed to be more capable than CI-4 Plus, and so far from what we’ve seen it is,” said Clint Smith, marketing technical service with Imperial Oil. “In terms of viscosity wear, control and cleanliness we’re really pleased with what we’re seeing in field tests.”

“They are doing really well,” agreed Lenore Indarsingh, brand category manager for driveline products with Shell. “In the lab we saw about a 50% reduction in wear and that was validated in our field tests. Now we’re really seeing evidence of that in the field, outside of the field tests that support our lab results, with actual customers.”

During the winter months, oil producers found no evidence the new CJ-4 would operate less effectively than the CI-4 Plus formula.

“We’ve had no more issues with CJ-4 due to cold weather than we have had in the past,” noted Indarsingh. “Cold weather issues can be coupled with maintenance and driver operation as well and we’re not getting anything unusual.”

And as Imperial’s Smith points out, the CJ-4 oil is new but it’s not a completely different oil.

“The new oils were blended to the same low-temperature standards as CI-4 Plus,” he stated. “The new CJ-4 is more robust against viscosity thickening due to soot, so there actually should be fewer issues due to that.”

There was some concern the new CJ-4 oil may impact drain intervals. One of the differences between the two oils is CJ-4 comes with a lower total base number (TBN), which could shorten drains. With the introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel and with many drains performed due to soot accumulation rather than TBN count, there has been no evidence so far drain intervals have been reduced, according to Smith.

“Drain intervals are really dependent on the duty cycles of the engines. It really is too soon to draw any conclusions right away,” added Indarsingh. “It’s tough to say whether drain intervals have been impacted. Once more 2007 engines are in use we’ll have more points of reference.”

With a shortage of 2007 engines on the road, many oil producers have also found it difficult to gauge the new oil’s ability to impact engine life and a few more cycles are required before tested engines are opened up for inspection.

“It’s way too early for them to see any impact on their operation or engine life yet,” explained Smith. “No news is good news at this point. If you see faults and flaws early, word does get around. But for positive results it takes time to accumulate that data.”

As well, with the new HDEO engineered to match the new line of 2007 engines, many customers are slow to purchase the new brand as they are still using pre-2007 trucks.

“It’s slow to be adopted, mainly because a lot of fleets and individual owners bought 2006 engines, so the 2007 engines are not selling as fast,” said Bill Stewart, national accounts manager with Chevron. “In the second half of this year you’ll see some people start buying it. It has been slower than the industry anticipated.”

With a bit of a cost premium placed on the CJ-4 oil – roughly 10 cents per litre – many consumers have delayed switching to the new oil and as long as there is customer demand, many of the oil producers plan to keep producing CI-4 Plus.

“We went to the market saying when do you need to switch? They want a very slow switch and we’re ready to go whenever the customer is ready to make that switch,” said Mark Pagnanelli, sales and marketing manager with Castrol. “Everyone was involved so heavily in the pre-buy that they don’t need it yet. Really from an overall standpoint we’ll use it as long as the market needs it and we let our customers dictate the transfer. Both will be around for the foreseeable future.”

For its part, Petro-Canada says its CJ-4 has been accepted more readily than expected. As a result, Petro-Canada’s Colleen Flanagan recently told Truck News the company intends to accelerate its plans to phase-out CI-4 Plus.

“It’s our hope to replace our CI-4 product sooner than we had originally planned,” she said. “At the same time we want to make sure we are servicing all of our customers with the products that they want. So, definitely sooner – but we haven’t determined that timeline yet. And we will certainly make CI-4 products available to customers who prefer to stick with the traditional line.”

Adding to the slow switchover in some segments is a large off-road community, which is using different fuel blends (ULSD is not required until 2010 for off-road vehicles) and trucks than their highway brethren.

“There’s a large community in Canada that does not have DPFs – our off-road customers, woodlots, mining – and their experience with CI-4 Plus is positive and they’re not exactly excited about changing,” explained Smith. “However there is no doubt in our mind they would benefit in wear and durability using the CJ-4 product.”

Although many of the oil producers have planned to let the market dictate when CI-4 Plus will no longer be required on store shelves, the day will eventually come. And these experts claim a clean switch to CJ-4 could save potential headaches from stocking two types of oils.

“From the standpoint of worrying about two oils, when receiving the new 2007 trucks just switch over because CJ-4 is backwards compatible and you don’t have to worry about misapplication or storing two oils,” suggested Pagnanelli. “Basically when they’re ready to use CJ-4, they should make the switch.”

“When 25% of your fleet requires CJ-4 it probably is best to make the switch,” advised Stewart. “You’re not going to want to have two bulk systems.”

As CJ-4 slowly works its way farther into the marketplace, a new round of environmental regulations waits on the horizon in 2010; and whether or not CJ-4 will be compatible to the new engine systems in 2010 is anybody’s guess.

“Based on the technology used to meet the 2010 regulations, anything is possible. As of today it’s anybody’s guess what that will be,” Pagnanelli said. “Depending on whatever spec’ goes, we’ll be there to meet the demand just like we were in 2007.”

Many oil experts are not comfortable speculating on what will be required in 2010. Whether a new oil will be required will largely depend on what changes the engine makers plan to make.

“The emission change on its own likely won’t require a new oil, as long as there are no engine changes and it’s just in the exhaust system,” noted Smith

But others are a bit bolder and are taking notes from the past.

“We anticipate a new oil,” predicted Chevron’s Stewart. “We haven’t been able to pass a new specification without a new oil yet.”

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.