API CJ-4 oil status

API CJ-4 oil status

Previously (see my June 2006 column) I explained that API CJ-4 oils for 2007 and later diesel engines were a compromise requested by engine builders to enable the use of particulate traps to meet stringent emissions requirements.

Previously (see my June 2006 column) I explained that API CJ-4 oils for 2007 and later diesel engines were a compromise requested by engine builders to enable the use of particulate traps to meet stringent emissions requirements. During their development these oils were often referred to as “low SAPS” (low sulfated ash, phosphorus, and sulfur) oils. I checked recently to see how these oils were doing in the marketplace.

First, let’s refresh our memories on the meaning of low SAPS. Low sulfated ash (SA) effectively places limits on the amount of detergent the oil can contain. Diesels love detergents! Low phosphorus (P) places limits on the amount of zinc dithiophosphate oxidation inhibitor/extreme pressure additive that can be utilized. Low S effectively places limits on the amount of sulfur containing antioxidants that can be used.

To develop CJ-4 oils researchers had to utilize new chemistry. Much of this chemistry was unproven in modern diesel engines in both the lab and the field, and developmental costs were staggering. Additive suppliers, oil marketers, oil refiners, and diesel engine builders spent millions to bring CJ-4 oils to market. Oil marketers immediately began conditioning large fleet users to expect price increases to cover their development costs.
Adoption of CJ-4 oils has gone more slowly than anticipated (remember, most oil marketers only want to handle one diesel in their systems). Major fleets opted to stay with CI-4 and CI-4 plus oils because of their lower cost and their proven field performance. Several fleets I’ve interviewed plan to use CI-4 oils as long as the majority of their power units don’t utilize particulate traps and the oils are readily available. They think the cost of more frequent particulate trap cleanings will be more than offset by the additional cost of CJ-4 oils.

Recently I learned a little about oil marketing while looking for some CI–4 plus oil for one of my vehicles. I could find no CI-4 oil at the major retailers (other than a synthetic). I eventually found some CI-4 oil at a farm supply outlet where oil probably wasn’t a fast-moving item. What was going on here?

What I did find at the major retail outlets was CJ-4 oils for sale at the same prices as CI-4 oils. One outlet actually had CI-4 and CJ-4 oils of the same brand on the same shelf for sale at the same price. The retailer didn’t recognize the difference between the oils even though the containers were different.

How can this happen when oil marketers are asking major fleets to accept price increases in the move to CJ-4 oils? Let’s take a look at how oils are sold. Most oil marketers deal primarily in volume. They aren’t interested in small sales; that’s why they don’t call on individuals and small fleets. Of course, large fleets are contacted directly by oil marketer sales people.

Most oil sold through retail outlets (and small fleets) is handled by independent oil jobbers who purchase from the oil marketer. Often these jobbers handle several brands of oil to boost sales. They aren’t interested in API specs; they’re interested in maximizing volumes while simplifying their logistics as much as possible. Inadvertently, they are equilibrating the selling price of CI-4 and CJ-4 oils. Oil jobbers would also like to have only one oil in their systems.

Are independent oil jobbers paying more for CJ-4 oils and absorbing the cost increase? Or are oil marketers selling oil jobbers CJ-4 oils at CI-4 prices to get more CJ-4 oil into the marketplace? I’d love to know the answer to these questions, but I’m smart enough to realize I may never find out. In the meantime you fleet operators should ask your suppliers these questions. The answers might be interesting!  

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