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Motor Oil Viscosity, Why it's Important
|Of all the characteristics a lubricant may
possess, the most important is its viscosity. The viscosity
of a fluid and how that viscosity reacts to variables will
determine how well a fluid can perform the basic functions
of a lubricant. There is no compromise for the
What is viscosity? When a fluid
is subjected to external forces, it resists flow due to
internal molecular friction. Viscosity is a measure of that
internal friction. Viscosity can be referred to as the
measurement of a fluidís resistance to flow.
Viscosity can be viewed in two different ways. The first
is a fluidís tendency to flow as it is visually seen. One
can think of this as the time it takes to watch a fluid pour
out of a container. The term for this kinematic
viscosity and it is expressed in units suggesting
flow volume over a period of time. The most commonly used
unit of kinematic viscosity is centistokes (cSt).
Another is a Sabolt Universal Second (SUS or SSU). When
comparing the viscosity of two different fluids, keep in
mind that a centistokes and Sabolt Universal Second are
different units, and therefore they cannot be directly
compared. The temperature of the fluid being tested will
also affect the outcome. Kinematic viscosity of a lubricant
is determined at 100C (212F) and/or 40C (104F) depending on
the grading system being used. For general comparison
purposes, the temperature at which the viscosity was
determined for the two products must be the same.
The second is a fluidís tendency to flow as is indicated
by measured resistance. You can think of this as the energy
required to move an object through a fluid. It takes little
energy to stir water with a spoon. However, significantly
more energy is required to stir honey with that same spoon.
The term for this is dynamic viscosity or
absolute viscosity and is expressed in
units known as centipoises (cP).
Whether it is reported in centistokes, SUS or centipoises
units, the higher the number assigned, the more viscous or
thicker the fluid is. And a fluidís viscosity or thickness
is directly proportional to its internal friction and
resistance to flow.
There are other ways to refer to a fluidís viscosity.
Some of the more common terms are thin, light or low. These
terms suggest how a relatively free-flowing fluid such as
water flows. Terms such as thick, heavy or high suggest that
the fluid demonstrate a strong resistance to flow. Honey is
a good example of a fluid with a high viscosity.
A fluidís viscosity is important because it is directly
related to its load-carrying capabilities. The greater a
fluidís viscosity, the greater the loads it can withstand.
The viscosity of a fluid must be adequate to separate moving
parts under normal operating conditions (temperature and
Knowing that a fluidís viscosity is directly related to
its ability to carry a load, one would think that the more
viscous a fluid, the better it is. The fact is, the use of a
high-viscosity fluid can be just as detrimental as using too
light an oil.
Too low (thin or light) = Metal-to-metal
contact (friction and wear), poor sealing and increased oil
Too high (thick or heavy) = Increased
fluid friction, Reduced energy efficiency, higher operating
temperature and equipment starting difficulties particularly
at cold temperatures.
The key is to select a fluid that is not too light and
not too heavy.
Fluids (lubricant stocks) thicken as they are cooled. As
their temperature continues to decrease, they will
eventually reach a point at which they become no longer
fluid. As they thicken, their load-carrying ability
increases, but their ability to be circulated becomes
significantly impaired. As fluids are heated, they thin,
which reduces their ability to prevent metal-to-metal
contact. Therefore, it is important that equal temperatures
be used when discussing or comparing the viscosity of
SINGLE VISCOSITY GRADE FLUIDS
Single-grade (sometimes referred to as
straight grade or mono-grade) oils
indicate their viscosity performance at either high or low
temperature. They are designed for use when operating
temperatures are relatively constant. Examples of
high-temperature, single-grade motor oils would SAE 30, 40
or 50 and SAE 80, 90 or 140 for gear lubricants. Examples of
single-grade oils with low-temperature performance are SAE
5W, 10W or 15W for motor oils and 75W, 80W and 85W for gear
lubricants. The presence of a W in oilís
grade (such as 10W or 80W) indicates low-temperature
performance. Anytime you see the W, think of it as standing
for winter or cold.
|MULTI-VISCOSITY GRADE FLUIDS
Multi-grade oils are concerned with performance at both
high and low temperatures. They are designed for use when
operating temperatures vary significantly. For example, if a
trucker leaves Florida with a load of oranges bound for
Minnesota, the truckís engine may have SAE 30 single-grade
oil in it, which is appropriate for the ambient conditions
in Florida. Upon reaching the subzero temperatures of
Minnesota, the driver finds that the SAE 30 is too viscous
to allow for starting of the vehicle. By draining the SAE 30
and installing an SAE 15W, he finds his staring problems are
resolved and he continues his work. However, returning to
Florida causes the SAE 15W to thin to the point that engine
This could be avoided by changing back to higher
viscosity oil prior to a return to the warmer climate. The
need for such frequent oil changes is not only inconvenient;
it raises the cost of operation. Multi-grade oils allow for
operation in changing climates without the need for changing
the engine oil. Typically multi-grade engine oils are 5W-30,
10W-30 15W40 and 20W-50. Typical multigrade gear lubricants
are 75W-90, 80W-90 and 85W-140.
How are multigrade (multi-viscosiy) oils made? Some exist
naturally. For example, many synthetic base stocks have
sufficient viscosity stability (index) to qualify as
multi-grade oils. For mineral base oils, it is another story.
They are created by first selecting a base stock that
possesses the desired low-temperature properties. To that
stock, chemical compounds known as viscosity index
improvers are added. These viscosity index
improvers minimize the thinning of the oil as temperature
increase. This allows the lighter base sock to now also meet
the higher temperature requirements.
Multi-grade oils offer the best of both worlds.
provide low-temperature fluidity as well as the
high-temperature stability required for operation in a
changing environment. The chart above compares the effects
temperature has on single-grade and multi-grade oils. As you
can see, the SAE 10W product is suitable for low-temperature
applications but thins readily as the temperature increases.
Conversely, the SAE 30 is suitable for high-temperature
applications but thickens readily as the temperature
decreases. The multigrade 10W-30 maintains its viscosity and
is therefore suitable for use over a significantly broader
When selecting a lubricant,
there are three basic rules of thumb to consider:
- The lower the starting and/or operating temperature,
the lighter or thinner the selected oil should be. The
higher the staring or operating temperature, the heavier
or thicker the selected oil should be.
- The higher the load a component is subjected to, the
heavier or thicker the oil should be. The lighter the load
a component is subjected to, the lighter or thinner the
oil should be.
- The faster the operating speed for a piece of
equipment, the lighter or thinner the oil should be. The
slower the operating speed for a piece of equipment, the
heavier or thicker the oil should be.
There is no advantage in using heavier oil than is
needed. In fact, it can be a disadvantage.
Remember, too low (thin or light) = Metal-to-metal
contact (friction and wear), poor sealing and increased
oil consumption. Too high (thick or heavy) = Increased
fluid friction, reduced energy efficiency, higher
operating temperatures and equipment starting difficulties
particularly at cold temperatures.
AMSOIL is proven to be
AMSOIL was the "First in Synthetics" in 1972, & still is the First
& the Best in Synthetics now.
" AMSOIL offers the Best Synthetics - Oil-Lubricants-Filters in the
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We possess the skills, desire and knowledge to answer questions, solve problems,
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