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What is the difference between engine oil and lubricant?

Lubricants are in constant use in our world, keeping vehicles and other mechanical equipment operating smoothly and safely. The main purpose for lubricating machinery of any kind is to limit friction and cool down surfaces of moving parts, avoiding the threat of potential damage or wear. For as long as we’ve been using machinery with working parts, we’ve been attempting to make them run more efficiently, and lubricants play a major role in this endeavour.

Meanwhile, engine oil, sometimes referred to as “motor oil”, is an example of a lubricant – it’s a very specific type designed for use with engines in vehicles and other equipment that employs them to convert power into motion. Lubricant is a general term used to describe an oil-based substance that engines and other mechanical equipment needs to function effectively. Along with engine oil, there are many types of lubricant available for a wide range of machinery used in different industries.

What does a lubricant do?

When lubricants are used in machinery, they are performing many tasks at once. While primarily they allow moving machine parts, sometimes called components, to keep cool and move easily so they don’t suffer damage and unnecessary wear, lubricants are doing far more than that.

Over time, dust and dirt will accumulate in machinery, and as lubricants move through the machinery, they collect and remove such particles and debris, ensuring parts aren’t clogged or jammed. Contaminants such as rust can also be flushed out, adding to the lifespan of equipment.

The lubricant reduces heat, friction and wear when it’s introduced, forming a film in between surfaces. Employing the right lubricant will help make the most of machinery and accrue savings in time, money and manpower by making machine operations far more effective.

Built-for-purpose lubricants

While all lubricants are oil-based, there are host of options available. Every vehicle or piece of mechanical equipment will have an ideal type of lubricant it requires to operate at its most effective. Information supplied by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) should always be consulted when selecting the lubricant needed. From industrial to automotive, there are a wide range of different lubricants designed for all kinds of equipment, from gears and compressors, to engines in commercial or passenger vehicles.

Engine oils

Used in vehicles and other kinds of machinery, engine oil is either synthetic, mineral or a hybrid of the two known as semi-synthetic. Mineral oils are created from refined crude oil and are typically used on older models of engine. Synthetic oils are either made by chemically adapting mineral oils or created completely synthetically. Packed full of additives, they can offer greater performance and protection. Semi-synthetic oils are frequently used in practical vehicles as they offer far better performance than mineral oils for a competitive price.

What is engine oil viscosity grade?

Every engine oil has its own viscosity grade – for example, 5W30 or 20W50. The grades are employed to differentiate between a range of engine oils and represent the lubricant’s properties, describing its performance and fluidity at both low and high temperatures. A low viscosity grade will mean the oil is likely to be more fluid, whereas a higher grade will be more viscous and thicker.

Widely employed by more modern vehicles, multi-grade oils are suitable for using in any season due to their inherent temperature range being higher. These oils are marked with (x)W(y), with ‘y’ indicating the high temperature viscosity grade and ‘x’ the low temperature grade. Higher numbers will seal off and protect parts and lower numbers will limit friction, improving and cooling engine performance.

Designed with older engines in mind, monograde oils are offered in two different types. These are noted for use in either summer or winter driving conditions. Monograde oils for summer are marked ‘SAE’ followed by a number from 0 to 60, oils for winter feature an SAE followed by a number from 0 to 25 and ending in a W for winter. Lower numbers indicate better cooling, fuel saving and lubrication while higher numbers protect and seal components.

Selecting the correct engine oil

Whether it’s in the car you drive daily or the equipment you operate at work, knowing the kind of oil your engine needs is essential if you want it to run at optimum performance. A wide variety of engine oils are available to buy that have been optimised for different needs. As mentioned above, depending on the age of your engine, you’ll be able to work out whether it’s likely to require a mineral or synthetic oil.

Although an owner manual will detail the optimum choice, different engine oil standards are used throughout the market, allowing vehicle owners to identify a suitable oil for their needs. The ACEA standard features a letter followed by a number. The letter will indicate the type of engine it’s been developed for. ‘A’ denotes a petrol engine, ‘B’ is for engine’s running on diesel power, ‘C’ is designed for light engines that are equipped with catalytic converters or particulate filters and ‘E’ represents oil for use in commercial vehicles.

The number that follows the letter represents the oil’s performance. Petrol and diesel both have three different categories: A3, A4 and A5, and B3, B4 and B5 respectively. Meanwhile, cars fitted with devices to control pollution like particulate filters have five: C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5. Commercial vehicle oil has four categories: E4, E6, E7 and E9.

The other standard shown on engine oils is the API. These two letter codes either begin with an S to indicate petrol engines or C for those using diesel. The second letter that follows indicates the overall performance of the oil. Oils with the best performance are marked with letters at the end of the alphabet.

Understanding how lubricant works and selecting the right type for your machinery is the first step to ensuring you get the very best out of your equipment. Check and change your lubricant regularly to make sure it’s always doing its job as well as it should.

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