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Lets Talk Motor Oil - Part 2

Chapter two. It gets more difficult.

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We left off discussing that a 0W-30 grade oil is not thinner than a 10W-30 oil. They both have the same thickness at operating temperature. The 0W-30 simply does not get as thick on cooling as the 10W-30. Both are still way to thick to lubricate an engine at startup.

I have heard several people say that Porsche specifically prohibits a 0W-XX engine oil, that it is too thin. Now here is the partial truth I spoke of earlier. We will discuss multi-grade oils. Earlier we said that a straight 30 grade oil has a thickness of 10 at the normal operating temperature of your engine. The multi-grade oils 0W-30 and 10W-30 also have a thickness of 10 at 212 F.

The difference is at 75 F, your startup temperature in the morning.

Oil type… Thickness at 75 F…Thickness at 212 F

Straight 30…… 250………………….10
0W-30…………..40 ………………….10

Straight 10……..30………………….. 6

Now you can see that the difference between the desired thickness your engine requires ( = 10 ) is closest to the 0W-30 oil at startup. It is still too thick for normal operation. But it does not have far to go before it warms up and thins to the correct viscosity. Remember that most engine wear occurs at startup when the oil is too thick to lubricate properly. It cannot flow and therefore cannot lubricate. Most of the thick oil at startup actually goes through the bypass valve back to the engine oil sump and not into your engine oil ways. This is especially true when you really step on that gas pedal. You really need more lubrication and you actually get less.

Note that a straight 10 grade oil is also too thick for your engine at startup. It has a thickness of 30. Yet at operating temperatures it is too thin having a thickness of 6. It needs to be around 10. The oil companies have added viscosity index improvers or VII to oils to solve this dilemma. They take a mineral based oil and add VI improvers so that it does not thin as much when it gets hotter. Now instead of only having a thickness of 6 when hot it has a thickness of 10, just as we need.

The penalty is the startup thickness also goes up to 100. This is better than being up at 250 as a straight 30 grade oil though. Oil with a startup thickness of 100 that becomes the appropriate thickness of 10 when fully warmed up is called a 10W-30 grade motor oil. This is NOT as thick as a straight 30 grade oil at startup and it is NOT as thin as a straight 10 grade oil at full operating temperature.

The downside of a mineral based multi-grade oil is that this VII additive wears out over time and you end up with the original straight 10 grade oil. It will go back to being too thin when hot. It will have a thickness of 6 instead of 10. This may be why Porsche (according to some people) does not want a 0W-30 but rather a 10W-30. If the VII wears out the 0W-30 will ultimately be thinner, a straight 0 grade oil. When the VII is used up in the 10W-30 oil it too is thinner. It goes back to a straight 10 grade oil. They are both still too thick at startup, both of them. The straight 0 grade oil, a 5 grade oil and a 10 grade oil are all too thick at startup.

This is just theory however. With normal oil change intervals the VI improver will not wear out and so the problem does not really exist. In fact, oils do thin a little with use. This is partly from dilution with blow by gasoline and partly from VI improvers being used up. What is more interesting is that with further use motor oils actually thicken and this is much worse than the minimal thinning that may have occurred earlier.

Synthetic oils are a whole different story. There is no VI improver added so there is nothing to wear out. The actual oil molecules never wear out. You could almost use the same oil forever. The problem is that there are other additives and they do get used up. I suppose if there was a good way to keep oil clean you could just add a can of additives every 6 months and just change the filter, never changing the oil.

When the additives wear out in a synthetic oil it still has the same viscosity. It will not thin as a mineral oil. The fear that some say Porsche has that oils thin when the VII runs out is not applicable to these synthetic oils. These oils will always have the correct thickness when hot and will still be too thick at startup as with all oils of all types, regardless of the API / SAE viscosity rating.

Automotive engine manufacturers know these principals of motor oils. They know there is thinning or thickening that will occur. They take these things into account when they write that owners manual. Mineral oil change recommendations will generally include shorter time intervals than those of synthetic oils.

The reality is that motor oils do not need to be changed because they thin with use. It is the eventual thickening that limits the time you may keep oil in your engine. The limit is both time itself (with no motor use) and/or mileage use. The storage of motor oil in your garage, particularly mineral based oils, slowly ages the oil limiting its use later. Do not store huge volumes of oil in your garage that is exposed to extremes of temperature.

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