Heavy equipment engines are similar to those in the cars and trucks we drive every day, but they’re under completely different demands. Choosing the right oil for your heavy equipment — whether you’re operating a single piece, running a farm or using a fleet of construction equipment — is critical to keeping your business running. After all, if your heavy equipment gas or diesel engine is down, your business is down too.
Three Considerations for Heavy Equipment Oil
Heavy equipment oil needs to do a lot more than it ever has before. Today’s engines are lighter and smaller than they’ve ever been, and yet they’re subjected to even more demands. At the same time, operators expect them to work harder and last longer with less maintenance. It’s a tall order, to be sure, and modern engine oils have been keeping up with the demand. Here are three things to keep in mind when selecting heavy equipment oil:
- Oil Classification: Pay close attention to what your engine requires. Currently, there are four American Petroleum Institute (API) diesel engine oil classifications. API CH-4 was introduced in 1998, replacing CD, CE, CF-4 and CG-4 oils. API CI-4, CJ-4 and CK-4 were introduced in 2002, 2010 and 2017, respectively. If your engine calls for API CJ-4, you can safely use a CK-4 oil, but not a CI-4 engine oil, for example. Additionally, “the latest and greatest” API FA-4 engine oil is completely incompatible with all API Cx classifications.
- Manufacturer Recommendations: Keep in mind manufacturer oil recommendations, as these sometimes exceed the generalized API classifications. Engines utilizing EGR and ACERT emissions-reduction technology are more prone to acid and soot production, for which some manufacturers have implemented their own oil classifications. Your oil selection should meet or exceed these specifications, but no manufacturer can require you to purchase a certain brand to maintain the warranty.
- The Right Viscosity: One pervasive myth that needs to be done away with is oil weight. Select the lightest oil your manufacturer recommends for your climate and usage scenario. Lighter oils flow better when cold, reducing startup wear. They also improve fuel economy and engine cooling.
Oil change intervals are important to making sure your oil is doing all it can for your engine. Construction-equipment manufacturers recommend 200-hour service intervals, but some fleet operators have found they’ve been able to extend that to 350 or 400 hours with no significant increase in wear. Tractor trailer oil changes may be suggested every 20,000 miles, but a 500-hour interval may better address lots of idle or PTO time. High-sulfur diesel fuels, over 15 ppm, might require shorter oil change intervals, while full-synthetic oils could extend the time between changes. The best way to judge oil condition is by comprehensive analysis, as this accounts for all of its characteristics, not simply contamination.
When choosing the right oil for your heavy equipment engine, match the capabilities of the oil with the demands of the motor. Whether you’re operating a loader or an 18-wheeler, a fleet of one or 100, choosing the right oil will ensure that your business keeps rolling.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.