20/30 in NA, 40/50 abroad. What's the practical significance, if any?

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Mar 10, 2003
Calgary AB
I know a fellow, a mechanical engineer infact from South Africa. When he immigrated here to Canada he was in a state of shock that the recommended viscosities were so light. He also didn't understand changing the oil at 5000km, he was adament that an API SF oil was a 25,000km oil. That idea, I'm sure was not marketed in NA. His concern was engine durability, something we had difficulty comparing. One thing for sure is that nothing short of a critical fission event was going to change his ideas of what oil should be used.

That's all I can say, pure heresy. But, I've wondered about these very same things for a long time.
I think you're right about North American owners not expecting their cars to be anything but junk after, maybe, 100-150,000 miles.

Did your SA friend adjust his thinking at least for the climate difference?

Well, I wasn't intending to make an editorial comment about the longevity of NA vehicles, and my questions should not be interpreted as opinion. It's clear that many NA vehicles are retired with many more than 100-150K miles. I'm just wondering about this issue in the abstract.
He actually bought a BMW so he could use his bloody 40wt. oil.

Of course he understands multigrade oil, I believe he uses 5W40 in the BMW, unknown brand though
I think the number one answer is 'maintenance'. You could use any oil, but if the vehicle maintenanace isn't there, then it will be toast in short order.

That said, there are 2 reasons why the difference:

1. U.S. does 3k oil changes...rest of the world does 10k or more...why? To preserve natural resources...the expense for these is more...ie. higher fuel prices...higher oil prices, etc.

2. U.S. vehicles and those sold here are considered more "disposable" than vehicle ownership in other countries...ie. less disposable income relative to buy new vehicles every 4 yrs..

With this in mind, 20 and 30 weight oil can't go the distance ie. 10k or more and have the engine last over 200k...but, in N/A we just contribute that to a poorly maintained vehicle and move on or the car is junked.

What will happen? I think the answer to your question is what we've seen with the Toyota issue if your car is kept long enough.

Otherwise, for the rest of us it's either 3k oil changes or...there's always auto-rx to clean up the burn-off contaminants of the salad-oil viscosities used...
Well said Dr. T. I think you hit the nail on the head. All of your reasons makes sense and I think are 100% correct.

[ March 16, 2003, 08:01 PM: Message edited by: buster ]
I have heard that this is because of the more rigorous emissions and fuel economy standards in NA compared to Australia. Also, my view is that it is because Aus generally has very mild winters and very hot summers.

For example, the Aus Mobil oils are:

Mobil 1 0W-40
Mobil 1 10W-30
Mobil 1 5W-50
Mobil Early Model Oil 25W-60
Mobil Standard
Mobil Super 15W-40
Mobil Super FE Special 5W-30
Mobil Super GF2
Mobil Super S 10W-40
Mobil Super S 15W-50
Mobil Super XHP 20W-50
Mobil Superdrop Older Engine Oil 25W-60
Mobil Superdrop Original 20W-50

Also, everyone I know does regular oil changes here too (eg. 2 to 3 times per year averaging 4 - 5000 kms per change).

I change my oil with 20W-50 SL dino every 3 months which is about every 3000 kms

BTW, the 5W-30 oil they mention on the mobil site is about $100 per 5L (I have only seen it once or twice) compared to a good quality dino SL A3 which would cost $23 per 5L. The 20W-50 SL dino I use costs $16 per 5L.

[ March 16, 2003, 08:42 PM: Message edited by: Andrew ]
There are a couple of threads going on right now discussing the fact that many, if not most, of the vehicle manufacturers marketing in countries outside North America recommend weights of oil more viscous than the 20 and 30 weights that are typical in NA. Rather than hijack those threads, I'd like to diverge slightly from topic and raise a related issue framed in terms of these questions:

*What do you think that this actually means for vehicle owners in NA?
*Do the vehicles driven with the 40 and 50 weight oils used outside NA run for significantly more miles/KMs?
*Do they have fewer engine problems?
*Do they run cooler? Quieter?
*North American vehicle owners may benefit from fractionally improved fuel consumption, but is there a downside mechanically?

Or what about this angle: Do North American vehicle owners cycle through vehicles more frequently such that mechanical detriments to using lighter oils go undetected? Do the original vehicle owners not have the vehicles long enough for any problems to manifest themselves?

What are your thoughts on this issue? Members outside NA, please contribute.
I travel to Europe quite a bit and I can tell you that the cars are run much harder there than they are here. They use very small engines in most vehicles and then they run them like race cars. Practically any 1.8 liter sedan that you get at the rental counter will blast down the autobahn in Germany at 120 mph and if you're traveling at that speed then you'd better check your mirror before stepping out into the fast lane.

Their red lights have a yellow light that will light up before the green light comes on, just like a drag strip Christmas tree, so there is no lag time when it's time to get rolling. It's comical to see the tiny 1.1 liter cars reving their engines in anticipation of the green flag dropping. They speed away at a snails pace but they're roaring like a lion.

In the USA we get huge displacement engines that never have to work and then we drive them at crawling speeds for the majority of their lives. I notice that the vehicles that do get driven hard (although illegally) are usually smoking and rattling. My drive to work in the USA is done at 2200 RPM and my drive to work in Germany is done at 5000 RPM. This is a huge difference with regard to engine load and lubrication stress.
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