“If it’s New, it Must be Clean,” and Other Lubricant Misconceptions

Transferring the oil invites contaminants

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From truck fleets to power plants, any operation that depends on the reliable performance of heavy-duty diesel engines has to be concerned about lubricant cleanliness. Why? Simply because, as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has stated, "Lube oil contamination is a primary reason for engine wear,” leading to “diminished fuel efficiency, shorter useful oil service life, reduced component life and loss of engine performance.”


There’s a common misconception among diesel engine operators that all it takes to mitigate the risk of oil contamination is an infusion of fresh oil into the engine – that if the oil is “new” from the manufacturer, it must be “clean.” Nothing could be further from the truth. As this 2-minute video vividly illustrates, oil is transferred as much as eight times prior to reaching your equipment. At each of those transfer points, it is exposed to particulate contamination from the environment. In fact, a Chevron analysis found that new oil can contain 32 times as much particulate matter as the OEM’s standards allow.

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Typically, particle contaminants are measured in microns – in other words, too small to be seen by the naked eye. But the damage they can do is far out of proportion to their size. To make matters worse, component wear caused by contamination actually produces more contamination ­– what the SAE calls the “chain reaction of wear.” Left unchecked, this chain reaction can lead to increased friction, shortened service intervals, loss of compression, increased fuel consumption and reduced component life.


In contrast, a study by General Motors found that improved diesel fuel cleanliness can reduce engine wear up to 70%. Another study cited by Machinery Lubrication found that increased cleanliness of crankcase oils can cut diesel fuel consumption by 1% to 4%. Clearly, there are bottom-line benefits to setting a standard of lubrication excellence. The cost of keeping oil clean will pay you back many times over in the form of lower maintenance and fuel costs, fewer expensive repairs or parts replacements, increased uptime and productivity, and extended equipment life.


So, what can you do to make sure new oil cleanliness is in line with the equipment and component manufacturers’ recommendations for optimal performance? A lot of companies rely on on-site pre-filtration systems. However, these systems are a big capital expense and often require specialized labor and training. They can be a drain on resources, a drag on efficiency and take workers away from their key tasks. A better approach is to start with an oil that is certified clean to the OEM’ standards, or to the cleanliness goals that you have set, at the point of delivery from your lubricant marketer.  


The quality and cleanliness of lubricants has a direct bearing on the performance of your diesel-powered vehicles, equipment and plant machinery. But how do you determine the optimal cleanliness levels for your applications? That is a topic we will explore in a future article. In the meantime, you can order a FREE New Oil Sampling Test Kit to get a quick health check on any new lubricants you have in your facility. It just takes a few easy steps to pull your sample and send for testing to an accredited laboratory. We’ll get back to you with a report on the cleanliness level and the suitability for your application. Why wonder or worry about new oil contamination? Order your test kit today.


Rebecca Zwetzig
Rebecca is Chevron’s ISOCLEAN Program Manager. She has 18 years of sales and marketing experience in the oil and gas industry. Her primary responsibilities are marketing Chevron’s ISOCLEAN Certified Lubricants program in North and South America, as well as support-sales enablement with education and value optimization. Since joining Chevron in April of 2013, she has also served as a Direct and Indirect Business Consultant, and Industrial Specialist. She holds an EMBA degree from Bowling Green State University as well as a B.S. in Business, Marketing and Minor in Finance from the University of Findlay. She has been recognized by the Society of Tribologists as an Oil Monitoring Analyst and earned her Certified Reliability Leader Certification from the Association of Asset Management Professionals.

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