By Martin Birze
Business Manager, Passenger Car Motor Oils

Consider you’re driving down the road in your recently-purchased vehicle. Suddenly, the dreaded “check engine” light flickers on. You might notice a loss of power when you step on the gas—or in a worst-case scenario, your engine stops working completely.

You might bring in your car for a diagnostic check, revealing the nature of the problem: an abnormal combustion event that’s caused potentially significant engine damage.

And you might very well expect your service shop professional to have a solution to prevent this from happening in the future.

This is the situation for drivers when low speed pre-ignition (LSPI) strikes in turbocharged gasoline direction injection (TGDI) engines. As we detailed recently, newly available lubricants certified under API SN Plus can stop LSPI before it happens. And service shops bear a responsibility to educate everyday drivers on why choosing those higher performance lubricants is important.

But there’s another layer to this story, and it’s one that isn’t fully told with API SN Plus.

The lubricant industry’s understanding of LSPI and our approaches to eliminating it in TGDI engines are still evolving. With the development of the LSPI test that helps certify API SN Plus lubricants, we’ve found one way to accomplish that goal.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t others.

The job of the lubricant is to protect the engine—for as long as the drain life lasts. And one thing that we’ve discovered through our ongoing investigation of the LSPI issue is that LSPI performance is critically important not just in new oil, but in aged oil through the end of the drain cycle.

And as we’ve seen over the past several years, and as both lubricants and engines advance, oil drain intervals are getting longer and longer. It’s a benefit that drivers have come to expect in new vehicles, and when paying for higher-performance synthetic lubricants.

But as it stands today, our means of testing and certifying lubricants for LSPI performance under API SN Plus only evaluate fresh oil. And as Lubrizol’s research and development experts have recently uncovered, some formulating strategies work well for LSPI prevention only while fresh, where others work well across the entire drain cycle.

The performance of any engine oil depends primarily on the additive chemistry within it—and like any industry, different companies choose different means of delivering on an end user necessity. As oil marketers continue developing formulations that combat LSPI, we can expect to see them choosing different routes in order to do so. We believe it’s important that engine oil formulation at large move in the direction of choosing additive solutions that maintain LSPI durability throughout the drain cycle.

Our take: API SN Plus, while important, is only a supplement to the existing specification. The lubricant industry must continue working toward the best LSPI testing and solutions, and we’ll see approaches continue to evolve in the coming months and years.

Shops and service locations should continually be on the lookout for lubricants that best meet the needs of new and evolving engine technology. Drivers seeking professional expertise depend on it to protect their investment.

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