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What is the difference between automotive and industrial lubricants?

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Leading lubrication manufacturers make products for a wide range of applications. While some lubricants are general-purpose and can serve several different types of equipment, others are more specialised and designed to answer specific needs of systems installed in stationary plant machinery or transportation.

To get the best performance while protecting equipment and reducing running costs, selecting the correct lubricant for an application is essential. Being able to buy a single product that serves multiple types of vehicle engines and equipment can be attractive as it can simplify ordering, storage and even maintenance. To this end, many operators are curious to know whether there is a difference between automotive and industrial lubricants, and if they are interchangeable.

In this blog, we’ll explore how these solutions differ but also the ways in which they are similar. However, for optimum results, the most prudent policy is always to use the specific lubricant which is recommended by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of a vehicle or mechanical system.

An overview of automotive and industrial lubricants

A wide range of lubricants are designed for the automotive industry. Engine oil is the most commonly known lubricant, but others are also used including gear oil, transmission fluid, coolant and grease. Engine oils can be mineral, semi-synthetic or synthetic, and specific products are designed to suit engines with different requirements that can answer how they must run and what conditions and environments they operate in.

Automotive lubricants typically involve a base oil, which is either natural or man-made, and then infused with additives that either suppress or boost qualities in the base oil, or add entirely new properties not innate to it.

While some automotive oils are produced to serve multiple vehicles, like Universal Tractor Oil (UTO) for the agricultural industry, others are more specialised and designed to serve vintage vehicles or motorsport bikes and cars.

Examples of industrial lubricants also include engine oils, greases and transmission fluids, but because industrial applications have more intense demands, they are formulated differently. Industrial equipment must work harder than most automotive applications, often under heavier loads, for longer periods and over more extreme temperature ranges. As a result, they are usually enhanced with different types of additives to those selected for automotive oils.

For instance, extreme pressure (EP), anti-wear and anti-corrosive additives might be included, but also additives that improve viscosity at higher temperature ranges to deliver higher thermal stability.

The range of industrial lubricants is far broader than the selection used by the automotive sector. As well as the common lubricants used above, industrial products include heat transfer oils, cutting fluids, turbine oils, corrosion preventatives, hydraulic fluids, and compressor oils to name but a few.

Exploring grease and gear oil for automotive and industrial applications

To explore the question of what the difference is between automotive and industrial lubricants further, we’ll examine two common products – grease and gear oil.

Grease is both an automotive and industrial lubricant. Usually made with a mineral or synthetic oil base, grease also includes a thickening agent that provides its viscous quality. Greases used in automotive and industrial applications have little difference, although the additives they feature may alter for specific usage.

The gear oils used in automotive and industrial applications differ greatly, however. Industrial gear oils are deployed for the lubricating fixed industrial equipment gearboxes, while vehicle gear oils are employed to lubricate mobile on-board gearboxes. As a result, the environmental temperature of the gear oil used in automotive applications varies considerably, and as a mobile device, the requirements for low and high temperatures are higher. Therefore, gear oils for vehicles must be divided into single and multi-grade products.

Unlike automotive gear oils, industrial gear oils need to cope with more intense operating conditions. They are designed to offer sufficient abrasion and extreme pressure resistance but also excellent foam resistance. Industrial gear transmission systems often include a circulating oil tank, where during operation, the oil flow making it prone to foam that reduces the working oil volume and impacts heat dissipation, or results in oil film damage, increasing mechanical wear.

Always select the optimum automotive or industrial lubricant

To sum up, industrial lubricants are designed for more specialised applications and engineered to cope with more extreme operating rates and environments than most automotive lubricants. However, this does not mean that similarities do not exist. Products for both applications are generally required to fulfil the basic rules of a lubricant.

They must help moving parts to move freely, reducing wear and damage, but also keep systems clean by flushing unwanted contaminants. They must also act as a seal, protecting parts but also working as a coolant, reducing unwanted heat that left unchecked can cause harm to machinery or become a hazard to human life.

While some products such as grease may be used in both applications, others, as we see with gear oil, can differ considerably. For best performance and protection, always consult your OEM.

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