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Factory Recommendations: Which is Right?

by Richard Widman
This paper is basically a translation of my root cause investigation of some engine failures
and my discovery of problems with oil flow in cold weather. I did not intend to publish an
English version, but after a lot of searching I found that very little has been published on
the subject of used oil flow in cold weather. Less yet about what I discovered: The vehicle
manufacturer was not following the recommendations of the engine manufacturer!
I was encouraged to put it into English by many people who have written to express their
thanks for my articles on engine oil for flat tappet engines and the difference between GL-4
and GL-5 gear oils in synchronized transmissions.
This paper was originally published in Spanish as my Maintenance Bulletin #85 at the end
of August 2010 to several thousand subscribers and posted on
The premise
When we buy a vehicle or piece of equipment we should consider the maintenance
recommendations of the manufacturer. The key word here is “consider”. En my root cause
study this month of the failure of several Cummins engines I found that the
recommendations of Volkswagen for the maintenance of the Cummins engines in their
trucks did not coincide with the recommendations of Cummins for those engines. This
resulted in the catastrophic failure of several engines. In this paper I will detail the root
cause analysis.
Problem identification
This month a company that had four trucks
equipped to pick up and compact trash in the
city contacted me. In the cold they were
having troubles with noises on startup and
one engine had seized. I immediately went to
As I have indicated in many previous
bulletins, the first step in a root cause
analysis is collect all of the information
possible that might relate to the issue.
Pertinent data

The four trucks are Volkswagen 17-220 units and were bought new.

All four trucks had been in service for 3 years, accumulating between 14,000 miles
and 33,000 miles in 2400 to 5600 hours of use.

The ambient temperature at the time had warmed up to 32℉ (0℃) from a low of
14℉ (-10℃) by the time I got there.

Normal temperatures range from 32℉ (0℃) to 77℉ (25℃) in the winter and 59℉
(15℃) to 95℉ (35℃) in the summer.

The oil in the filter had the appearance of black gelatin.

Factory Recommendations: Which is Right?

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The operator’s manual was in the glove compartment of each truck.000 miles (100. • The engine is a Cummins 6CTAA 8. make few stops.000 miles (48. short distance travel using predominantly low gears.• A visual inspection of the three trucks that had started did not show excessive soot in the exhaust. Continuing the investigation The next step was to take a sample of used oil from each of the four trucks to send to a lab in the US to see the condition.000 km) Group III: Severe use Heavy cargo. indicating that this is the most up to date generation of diesel engine oil. While waiting for the results. The oil had been in use for 4970 miles (8000 km) during 860 hours of trash collecting. • The oil is a Group II API certified CI-4 SAE 15W-40. moderate velocity.3 Euro II • The filters are “original” from Fleetguard. Group I: Highway use Vehicles that travel long distances.000 km) and had accumulated 5175 hours since new. but the CG-4 had been replaced by CH-4 in 1998 (12 years ago) and then by CI-4. The Volkswagen manual defines three levels or “groups” of maintenance schedules. Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 2 of 8 . The CJ-4 classification was already in use for areas with ultra low sulfur at the time this truck was produced. CG-4 oil has already been declared obsolete by the API. work zones. But in this case. This is the point where a lot of people stop their analysis and simply change brands of oil. When new it has a pour point of -20℉ (-29℃). the mechanic is good and wanted to find the real cause of the problem. you can go through a lot of engines before finding the real problem. off road. In it there is a recommendation for CG-4 SAE 15W-40 oil. With 20 different brands in the market. Group II: Mixed use City and mixed highway use. This Volkswagen manual is interesting. Annual mileage more than 37. I looked for documentation. It is in use in thousands of other trucks.000 km).000 miles (60. Annual mileage over 62. mountains and constant stops. I do not know whether this is a mistake of Volkswagen marketing or technical people. • The truck with the seized engine had 29.

we should observe this table: If we follow that diagram.000 miles. 250 hours.In another page of the manual the oil changes are identified for each of those groups: For motor oils.000 Km. According to the Cummins manual for this motor. according to Volkswagen. That would complete our factory recommended oil change requirement and in theory protect the engine. Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 3 of 8 .000 miles) Group III maintenance should be at 12.500 miles). (7. we should consider our use “severe” and change engine oil every 12. whichever comes first. (11. or 3 months.000 Km.000 km (7. That Cummins chart shows an example at the right where a trash truck or bus might only average 10 mph and therefore should change oil every 3000 miles or less. (15.500 miles) In other words.000 miles) Group II maintenance should be at 18. Here we can see the pertinent part of the table more clearly for our refuse trucks. Group I maintenance should be at 24.000 Km. So then I looked for information from Cummins (the engine supplier). we se that trucks that collect trash require oil changes at 6.

The reality is that with an average of 5. based on the 250 hour maximum service. The black line shows the Group I reaching 50. • Mechanics that decided to look for causes instead of repairing and repeating the problems Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 4 of 8 . They were lucky that they were using a group II oil certified as CI-4.I studied the documentation for these trucks and found that they performed the 7500 mile service every 5000 miles. • CI-4 oil instead of the GC-4 recommended by Volkswagen. trying to do better than the factory recommendation (they had also been reprimanded by the auditors for wasting money on too many oil changes).5 mph. • According to Cummins they should have changed the oil 21 times in each of these trucks.000 miles • Mechanics that tried to things better than required. • Group II oil instead of the Group I that came in the truck originally. well within the recommendations of Volkswagen. • The reality is that they actually changed the oil 6 times in each of those trucks. Here we can see difference in cold flow characteristics in Cummins M-11 testing.5 mph for the three year period. in 250 hours they only travel 1375 miles in each 250 hour period.000 cp in 150 hours and the yellow line showing the Group II reaching it at 400 hours. • According to Volkswagen. they should have performed 4 oil changes in each of the 3 trucks that had the most mileage due to the severe use. Four critical factors that enabled these trucks to reach 31. since the Group I oils thicken much more in the cold. By simple division I determined that these four trucks had averaged 5.

5 cSt and 16. The oil that seemed so thick when it was drained had actually lost viscosity. The levels of detergent and antiwear are normal.000 mile (24.Other applications Here is the complete Cummins table.000 miles (16. Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 5 of 8 . First we will look at the oil of the engine that seized while the oil was a gel that would not flow out of the filter (or turbo housing).7 cSt instead of maintaining a viscosity between 12. The lab report shows it at 11. all thinking they are doing what the manufacturer recommends when they follow the Volkswagen manual. The used oil Now we will look at the lab reports of the oil that was used way beyond the Cummins recommended interval. We should note that there are a lot of trucks in the market making local deliveries or as cement mixers with these engines. Cummins realizes that this engine could end up being used in a wide variety of vehicles and equipment. Let’s remember that this oil was used for 900 hours instead of the recommended 250 hours. The TBN is within acceptable limits. Here we can see that Cummins does not recommend the extended 15. The maximum recommended by Cummins for this engine is 10.000 km) under any conditions.000 km). It is a lot more complete and much better explained than Volkswagen’s chart.3 cSt.

The degraded oil looses its ability to lubricate and flow at low temperatures leaving the engine operating dry too much time in each startup. especially for such a long period of use. The level of soot and solids is acceptable. In small print at the bottom of the page they say they recommend you respect the suggestion of the manufacturer of your vehicle). This comes from the chemical degradation of the oil. These expensive devices are nothing more than complicated filters that still can’t affect the chemical degradation of the oil. They have been disqualified many times by private and governmental agencies.The level of dirt (Silicon) is 12 ppm. we should note that there are companies that sell filters and equipment that supposedly eliminate the oil change. This can indicate the degree of degradation and contamination of the oil.000 km. Another says 14000 km in all uses. These particles should have been removed long ago with an oil change. The wear particles cause faster degradation of the oil and cause additional abrasive wear. There aren’t any filters or processes that can eliminate the degradation of an organic product. This is a little over the normal for a normal oil change. Frequently it is the recommendation of obsolete oil. This is currently happening in this market (where the “norm” is 3000 km) with one brand that is advertising 7000 km en all uses. Summary Although it is not the scope of this paper to debate filter systems. Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 6 of 8 . When we talk about oil change intervals. verifying or correcting the original recommendations. Sometimes it has been a recommendation to clean an air filter with compressed air. This is not the first time we have discovered errors in operational manuals. Another has just introduced their new product (still a group I) where they say it can be used up to 90. but not for not for such an extended period. the only way to determine the correct one for a specific application is with analysis of used oil. But this information has to be crossed with other information that we can obtain as I’ve shown here. The problem is wear. Sometimes the bad recommendations come from oil distributors who want us to believe that their oils are better than others.

The lab would return this comment (actual comment from lab) If the operator does not report the problem of noises and lack of oil flow and report it. Here we see the results of the other three trucks.4% would be identified as a little high. Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 7 of 8 . Normal used oil analysis does not include a fluidity test in cold temperatures. Here we see the same with another of the same trucks. The wear metals would not be acceptable under any conditions. the mechanics. The soot level of 1. If this were a normal over-the-road truck the 8500 km shown in this sample would be “normal” or low. If the person who takes the sample and fills out the label does not identify it as being used in trash collection service. The oil appears to be good. averaging 5. the lab or the analyst cannot identify the problem correctly. soot or dirt. the analyst can’t expect the lab to discover it. The report does not indicate any problem except wear. and the operators is critical to the identification of the correct problem.5 cSt to 16. It still shows an ample amount of additives and TBN.Note: The used oil analysis alone cannot detect the problem that caused this engine failure. The communication between the person who analyzes the report.3 cSt) at 100℃.5 mph. It does not show shear. It shows high wear metals. We can see that the oil is in the correct viscosity range for a SAE 15W-40 oil (12. but not serious. which we know by talking with the operators and their observations in cold starts where the oil does not flow and the engine runs dry.

The action plan Now it is time to double check our procedures to see were we are in relation to our manuals. Many engine manufacturers recognize the value of better base oils and additives. No part of this report is meant to be degrading of any of the brands identified. Don’t believe everything you read. 2. we should test them with oil analysis and observations. 3. This is not enough to justify so much iron. When we receive the results we should discuss them to see what additional information our operators can contribute to the conclusions. Common sense and investigation will yield better results.Finally we see the results from the 4th truck. My intention was to solve a specific problem.0 cSt) and high dirt ingression (15 ppm of silicon). should verify what is published. A good group II oil formulated to CI4 would probably have twice or maybe tree times the life of a CG-4 Group I. not just discard the comments as “normal”. This one shows slight viscosity loss (12. as I was 25 years ago. we should investigate it. there is a root cause. mechanics and analyst. and all of those who are charged with that responsibility. If the promises are reasonable we should check into them. not just believe them. lead. When we send oil samples to be analyzed we should tell everything we can about the use of the equipment and any operational observations. chrome. and a normal oil analysis program cannot determine this. The lab never could have guessed that the oil was used 4 times its recommended hours and did not flow in freezing weather. It takes back to the same: The key to identification of the basic problem is communication between the operators. There are three lessons to be learned from this: 1. Used oil does not flow at the same rate as new oil. When someone promises us a miracle product or procedure. When they “guarantee” or recommend extended intervals and our investigation shows that this product does actually have recognized qualities. we should investigate until we reach the real cause. Factory Recommendations: Which is Right? Page 8 of 8 . and copper wear. When our operators or mechanics alert us to a problem or abnormality. Communicate and investigate if you want a good maintenance plan and reduced maintenance costs. For every problem. I believe Volkswagen should correct their procedures for writing manuals. In many cases it is possible to extend the original recommendations based on analysis since there are different qualities of oil in the market.