Moto - How to read oil tank specifications

Mineral, semi-synthetic or synthetic, hydrocarbon: the different qualities

Depending on the type of engine, its performance, we choose a more or less natural oil, whose properties vary. Motor oil is not a natural product obtained by pressing sunflower seeds or olives. Too bad, it would cost less (whatever). Our oil for motorcycles and scooters is a chemical product obtained:

Automotive and motorcycle engine oil standards around the world

An oil is defined by a standard indication, followed by numbers and/or letters. This standard constitutes a qualitative reference, but above all an indication concerning the properties of the oil. In fact, there are oils for 2-stroke engines and for 4-stroke engines. Here is the detail of each standard and their application.

SAE: factual and widespread

SAE is the international standard imposed in its time by the society of American automotive engineers. It represents the level of viscosity of an automobile oil and by extension of a motorcycle oil. The SAE standard is widely used. It is clear and speaks immediately when you know how to decipher it.

An SAE oil can be monograde or multigrade. Monograde, it is a summer oil not recommended if you start and drive at low temperatures. We prefer multigrade oils with additives and designed to remain fluid at low temperatures, without losing any of their ability to form a lubricating and protective film at high temperatures.

Multigrade oils display two numbers, separated by a W indicating a cold index (Winter/Hivernal): one for fluidity when cold (-18°), the other for fluidity and resistance when hot (+100 °), making it possible to maintain a flow.

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For example, one can read on an oil container label: SAE XXWXX. Explanations.

  • SAE 5W : fluid at -35°
  • SAE 10W: fluid at -30°
  • SAE 15W: fluid at -25
  • SAE 20W: fluid at -20°
  • SAE 25W: fluid at -15°

The viscosity index of an oil represents the relationship between its viscosity and the temperature. The higher is IV index, the less is viscosity varies over the temperature ranges concerned and the more the oil retains its properties and effectively protects the engine.

In general, the number that may follow the W indicates the oil’s resistance to high temperatures and especially its ability to form a film that must never break. The higher it is, the thinner it is and the more it can break. It must have excellent chemistry to withstand very high engine speeds. Should be careful.

The ACEA standard

The European standard ACEA (Association of European Automobile Manufacturers) is more rarely found. Followed by the letter A, it only concerns gasoline passenger engine oil. The letter is itself followed by a number indicating the year of the last update. Example: A1-96 for an entry-level oil according to the standard published in 1996.

  • A1: entry level
  • A2: mid-range
  • A3: high-end
  • A4: top of the line for direct injection engine
  • A5: very top-of-the-range and allowing longer oil changes (Longlife oil)

All standards are based on tests. Those concerning ACEA concern:

  • Rising temperature during operation
  • Improving the recommended oil change intervals
  • The impact on increasing engine performance
  • The requirement of ecological standards
  • Reduction of fuel consumption by means of low viscosity
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The API standard takes the form of two letters following each other. For a gasoline car engine, the first is an S. The next:

  • A for an engine dated before 1940, without additive
  • B for an engine from 40s to 50s
  • C for a 60s engine with anti-deposit, anti-corrosion and anti-wear additives
  • D with less anti-deposit, anti-corrosion and anti-wear additives than the previous standard
  • E for an engine from the 70s to 80s
  • F for an engine from the 80s to 90s. It contains more anti-deposit, anti-corrosion and anti-wear additives
  • G for a 90s engine. It contains the same additives as the F, but reinforced
  • H is a standard that reduces polluting emissions compared to those preceding it
  • J for 2000s engines
  • L for 2000s engines, but with increased high temperature resistance
  • M for Longlife oils, extending oil changes
  • N for engines since the 2010s. Protection is greater against high temperature deposits on the pistons

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