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The determining factors for powertrain fluid maintenance intervals

Feb. 28, 2023
Industry experts discuss how engine oil, gear lubricant, and coolant quality are central to optimizing efficiency and performance, along with how fleets can monitor performance and establish maintenance intervals.

Engine oil, gear lubricant, and coolant quality are central to optimizing efficiency and performance and often are determining factors in establishing maintenance intervals. Effective fluid service practices also promote longer engine life.

For advice on these topics and how fleets can monitor performance, Fleet Maintenance turned to a select group of experts:

Fleet Maintenance: How do engine oils, gear lubricants, and coolants impact efficiency in terms of reduced service and longer life?

Whitacre: Fluid selection can have a significant impact on vehicle efficiency. For engine oils and gear oils, it is important to identify the viscosity grade that is most appropriate for your specific hardware and operating climate. The correct fluids may also enable extended change intervals that reduce maintenance costs and improve equipment uptime.

Coolant can also affect engine performance. It is critical to maintain the water/glycol balance that is appropriate for the season and operating temperature. Keeping an eye on additive levels as well as pH can help ensure that the coolant is providing adequate protection without contributing to deposit formation or metal corrosion.

Cigala: Using higher-quality lubricants can help in safely extending service intervals. Extended-life coolants, which need minimal servicing or additive replenishment, can also decrease related breakdowns. These coolants still need to be tested for freeze point, color, clarity, and proper additive levels.

Haumann: Using full synthetic or synthetic blend engine oils can provide performance and protection benefits because they perform extremely well in heavy-duty diesel engines, even in extreme temperatures, without compromising engine durability. Axle oils that are formulated with synthetic base oils and additive technology can improve the lubrication of the drivetrain, lower the operating temperature, and help promote longer life for the equipment.

For coolant, a typical recommendation is to use a 50/50 mixture of ethylene glycol and water, which gives a good combination of heat transfer and effective freeze protection. In some extremely cold environments, fleets may want to consider a higher concentration of ethylene glycol.

FM: What ineffective fluid maintenance practices can decrease efficiency?

Cigala: Servicing units outside of OEM-recommended intervals can decrease equipment availability and tie up valuable technician time.

Haumann: Not maintaining recommended drain intervals for engine oils can result in wear, reduced efficiency, and potential engine failure. Focusing only on the price of lubricants can result in wasting money on unplanned downtime and higher maintenance costs.

Be careful when having multiple coolants in stock because there is always the chance of a mix-up, and different extended-life coolants often don’t use the same additive chemistry. If two different coolants are mixed together, the additive chemistry will be diluted, likely to the point that it is no longer as effective.

Whitacre: It is critical to make sure that fluids and filters are changed to avoid any impact on engine performance. Over-extended drain intervals can cause the fluids to become thick and corrosive and diminish their wear protection. Allowing the fluid to become corrosive can damage bearings and bushings, reducing their operating life.

For coolants, having an improper water/glycol balance can affect freeze protection in winter months. Using tap water instead of distilled water in the coolant mixture can lead to deposits inside the cooling system that can damage the radiator and inhibit heat transfer, leading to progressive damage to the engine itself.

FM: How can fleets monitor these factors, resolve issues, and validate performance?

Haumann: With longer drain intervals now common, we recommend regular oil analysis to detect contamination or conditions that need to be corrected so that severe engine issues can be avoided. A consistent oil analysis program can also assist in optimizing drain intervals, increasing equipment reliability, and minimizing unscheduled downtime.

Cigala: Establishing a used-oil analysis program and aligning with a lubricant supplier to assist in monitoring equipment and oil health can help identify internal coolant leaks, fuel dilution, and excessive wear metals. It can also assist in setting proper oil change intervals, which increases equipment uptime, frees up technicians, and decreases breakdowns.

Whitacre: Employing a fluid analysis program allows fleets to optimize change intervals while providing pre-emptive insight into equipment issues before they become more serious. Many fluid providers and OEMs offer turnkey programs that facilitate sample collection and shipment, and easy-to-use online tools and apps that report the data along with a diagnosis and recommendations. Partnering with your fluid provider is a great way to make sure that your fleet has the right product mix along with the tools that track their performance, unlocking improved efficiency, product durability, and uptime.

About the Author

Seth Skydel

Seth Skydel, a veteran industry editor, has more than 36 years of experience in fleet management, trucking, and transportation and logistics publications. Today, in editorial and marketing roles, he writes about fleet, service, and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

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