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Is The FA-4 Oil Type Promise Coming True for commercial motor vehicle ?

What’s the FA-4 engine oil type? Let’s go through a little history lesson before we talk about how the new FA-4 spec engine oil is faring during use on the market.

History of a New Oil Spec

For many years, oil companies had been doing extensive testing of what are called FA-4 and CK-4 engine oils for large commercial motor vehicle (CMV) use. The new oils were to be developed through the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) Proposed Category (PC) 11 process.

By itself, API’s PC process was designed to help create new specs for oil-service category information. These are the categories and processes initially designed to replace the API CJ-4 oil spec designations.

The new category, PC 11, was split into two separate parts (FA-4 and CK-4) so that the new designations could match the technology of the day. This is what OEMS were using, and it was time for industry standards to keep up.

So, what were these two new oil categories all about? CK-4 refers to higher-viscosity grades that may be similar to what is currently being used in older engines. FA-4 oil types are of the lower-viscosity kind and were designed to help improve overall fuel savings in newer engines beginning this year.

CK-4 oils themselves still had place because they were designed to replace spec CJ-4 oil. Even better, CK-4 oils would be back-serviceable across channels, giving them flexibility to replace older spec oils on applicable CMVs with no problem.

In addition to being the next-level-evolution of a product that has served for generations, both CK-4 and FA-4 oils offered performance improvements across the board.

Not only could these new products offer better fuel saving and viscosity upgrades, but they also improved resistance to things like oxidation and shear or aeration issues. The oils themselves were designed to help better protect the engines of the future.

Over time, these improvements are designed to offer not only greater across-the-board CMV performance enhancements, but they also better protect the hardware and could play a part in reducing vehicle downtime.

Put Simply, A Better Product

From a motor carrier’s perspective, these new oil products offered themselves as a new way to offer – albeit small – savings on both fuel cost and hardware maintenance front.

What fleets can take comfort from is that, without them having to really do a thing, they will see these new products positively impact their operations and, potentially, their bottom line, even if these improvements are incremental in nature.

Fleets initially could look to a Confidence Report. This report, put together by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) had some pretty good things to say about the switch, and went further to give full credence to the benefits.

Average over-the-road (OTR) fleets can expect a savings in the range of 0.5% to 1.5% by switching from the CJ-4 to CK-4 oil spec. Even greater savings were found at the higher end of FA-4 oil options.

Indeed, while CK-4 was designed to meet the needs of an engine from an older or newer generation, low viscosity FA-4 oil was designed exclusively for advanced new engines capable of offering even greater fuel economy potential.

On top of the 0.5% to 1.5% already promised by the switch to these new designations, FA-4 adds another 0.4% to 0.7% of fuel savings. For some CMV and engine manufacturers, this represented a boost of over 2% in overall fuel savings.

When combined with other efforts, motor carriers could see fuel savings boosts anywhere in the range of 2% to 5% or beyond! Quite honestly, there is potential here not just for OTR runners, but for regional haulers municipalities, private outfits and more.

The fact is this, operating with a new oil that is – put simply – a better offering than the one before it, is definitely a good thing. The problem back then was that there was no real way to verify that the information gleaned within the NACFE system was accurate.

Fortunately, that was back then, and we are here now, in 2017, right in the midst of a total rollout. So, how’s it going? With these oils now in complete production, it’s time to see if there’s some proof in this oil pudding.

The FA-4 Rollout Update

The FA-4 rollout was designed in concert with engine manufacturers to ensure they got the most out of their new chemistry. Still, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been speed bumps along the way.

As one example, not all FA-4 spec oils have been confirmed to be back-serviceable on older model engines not quite designed to take advantage of the new chemistry.

In the beginning, the rollout was marred by a communication problem between both the OEMs and those creating the new designations, specifically over the type and makeup of a new designation system.

Fortunately, heavy-duty engine makers and those responsible for the new designations were able to come up with a new system that meets everyone’s needs. Let’s take a closer look into the system itself and how it has ensured that the full benefits of a switch to FA-4 can be really felt, fleet-wide.

Still Lots of Research

As with any new bureaucratic roll-out or rule, this is another that has taken some time. Of course, these new fuels were to be ready by 2017, which is mean they are currently in production and distribution, even as they undergo further research and testing.

And in good news for those producing and using the new FA-4 spec oil, there is plenty of research to already definitively state with a pretty high degree of certainty that fleets can expect to see a real and marked improvement in their CMV fuel economy standard when they switch to the more advanced FA-4 fuel spec.

While the vast majority of the nation’s fleets are using the new CK-4 variant, if for nothing else than simply for its backwards-compatible nature. But for those intrepid fleets looking to make a real dent in their fuel economy while embracing a new standard, FA-4 looks like it may live up to its promise of better fuel efficiency, improved engine performance and longer hardware life-cycles.

Research to Back It Up

One example of a piece of third-party research confirmed the findings of earlier research, leading to a full embrace within the marketplace.

The fact is, in the end every motor carrier has to complete their own cost-to-benefit analysis on whether or not the switch would be of benefit to them in the long-term. One consideration could be the higher cost of an oil that is new to the market.

Other fleets may simply wait for their next round of vehicle or other equipment upgrades to make the switch, since it is highly likely that any upgrades would want to be made at the same time, in order to prevent as much downtime as possible and get every upgrade and accessory installed the one time your CMV is sitting idle in the shop.

The last thing you need is multiple jobs done when it could all have been done at once.  This is especially considering each manufacturer of heavy-duty engines for CMVs issues their own application approvals. This is also an advantageous way to handle service recommendations or OEM recalls or special offers regarding new upgrade options for the vehicle in question.

According to a statement released by Philips 66 commercial products manager, the new FA-4 oils – while critical to the advancement the industry – are still seeing their full-on adoption happen at a much more modest pace.

“Early adopters are experimenting, but broader sales will take several more years to develop until there is more equipment that requires this advanced formulation,” he recently stated when asked at an industry function how long before we see complete adoption.

It’s also important to note that fleets are faced with an oil mandate. The switch here is optional, but recommended. Rommel Atienza, commercial brand manager for Chevron echoed similar sentiments at a separate event.

“Currently, most OEMs still factory-fill with API CK-4 oils — mainly SAE 10W-30 — but we anticipate that changing as OEMs, [lubricant] marketers, and customers become more educated on the benefits of API FA-4 oils. For mixed fleets, API CK-4 still seems to be the best fit,” he explained.

“As with all major technology upgrades and changes,” he adds, “we do expect this to be a slow rollout and that we will see the adoption rate rise over time with the technology maturing in the marketplace.”

Apparently, everyone is on the same pate. Per Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager for Shell recently stated that they, “are receiving lots of inquiries on availability and compatibility, but due to the fact that many of the new engines that allow the specification have not yet even reached their first drain, it is hard to guess where fleets will be going.”

In the end, FA-4 oils will likely come to dominate the market, if for nothing else than longer shelf life and better across-the-board performance indicators.

As engine manufacturers design new engines specifically for this new oil spec, 2017 and beyond will see a slew of new CMVs set up specifically to offer up the rich rewards promised by FA-4.

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