Why Choosing an Engine Coolant by Color is not "Cool"

January 2, 2019

Engine coolants/Antifreeze are one of the more vital fluids for keeping your vehicle running correctly.  Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are building engines that get smaller by the day to meet changing environmental and fuel economy standards.  The result is higher internal pressures which create more heat for the coolant to dissipate.  The new engine designs also contain a range of new alloys in much higher proportions than before (most notably aluminum) which react differently when in contact with fluids inside your engine. 

Aside from cooling the engine and preventing it from freezing, engine coolants have another very important function, corrosion protection.  With all the changes inside the engine, coolant formulators have also had to adjust as the Silicate based formulations of the past can no longer provide adequate protection.  Most OEM's have set their own standards in regards to recommended engine coolants with some of these requirements even being engine specific.  This shift has caused the market to become cluttered with coolants of all different colors with each having it's own chemistry.  The common myth is to choose your coolant based off of its color.  While that may have been true 20 years ago, today there are too many different technologies which are incomptaible with each other to make this assumption.  Unfortunetely, coolant "mixing" is one of the biggest maintenance issues maintenance personnell and fleet owners face today.

Maintenance personnel often refer to a coolant by color. If a shop has more than one bulk fluid or if formulations have been mixed, it can become a guessing game as to which coolant is used in which machine. One of the biggest issues maintenance personnel face today is coolant formulation “mixing.”

Think about it. You may use four different coolants for four different equipment manufacturers. Do maintenance personnel know the difference? You may have multiple bulk fluids. Do they understand how to maintain each coolant in each system? Do they know which one to use for top off? If not, and coolants are “mixed,” systems are left vulnerable to corrosion and cavitation – not to mention the monetary loss from too many bulk fluids in inventory.

There are more coolant formulations, in more colors, on the market today than ever before so how do you know which one is best for your equipment? First and foremost, the coolant you choose must meet the OEM’s coolant specifications. With engine and cooling system components manufactured globally, the resources available to make them vary by region. Therefore, coolant specifications are developed based on a fluid’s compatibility with the materials used.

Coolant formulations have also changed to accommodate the recent increases in temperature and flow rates. Today’s engine designs require coolants that can handle the load this additional heat can place on the cooling system. The Extended Life Coolant formulations have also entered the marketplace to prevent overtreatment, extend drains and reduce coolant consumption. But, only checking ELC glycol levels and keeping the system topped off is far from adequate coolant and cooling system maintenance.

Extended Life Coolants have several advantages – they’re more stable, they don’t require SCAs so overtreatment is virtually eliminated and the they have a longer service life. So why is it necessary to test Extended Life Coolants?  Mechanical issues and chemical reactions take place within the cooling system. Combustion gas leaks, air leaks, localized over - heating (hotspots) or stray electrical ground issues can chemically affect and destroy the coolant and its inhibitors. In turn, the chemically changed coolant can attack the metals and components in the system causing premature failure.

Secondly, the coolant can become contaminated due to poor maintenance practices or contaminants entering through an air leak. Contaminant pH determines if scale or acid is formed. The effects of acid formation can be corrosive wear or pitting of cooling system components, degradation of hoses and seals and inhibitor and additive depletion or dropout.


If the fluid is alkaline, contaminants can form scale which can lead to cracked heads, ring and cylinder wear which increases oil consumption or oil degradation which, in turn, increases bearing wear. A coolant cannot correct excessive contaminants that find their way into the system, whether through poor maintenance practices or a mechanical issue.

Another reason for regularly scheduled coolant analysis is coolant mixing – one of the most common cooling system maintenance issues. If mixing has occurred, more than 25% the inhibitors will be too diluted to protect the system and serious corrosion can occur. Fleets with a mix of different engine manufacturers use just as many different coolants and more often than not, maintenance personnel don’t realize the difference nor do they know the importance of topping off with the correct formulation. The costs of corrosion - related issues and having multiple coolants in use can rise quickly.

Education, regularly scheduled coolant analysis and coolant program assessments can eliminate revenue losses from unscheduled downtime. We used to just have green silicate based coolant to choose from, but that is not the case today.  Of course, you can still get green, but there is also orange, yellow, gold, amber, red, pink, blue, and if you mix the wrong ones together, brown.  With all the different coolant formulations, one would think the color coding would be a good thing for easy identification.  Issue is there is not a governing body enforcing everyone to play by the same rules.  OEMs even have coolants of the same color with different formulations.  Then there are products in the market claiming to meets specifications that are not valid which consumers purchase because it was the right color. 

The bottom line – no matter what fluid you are using, mechanical issues and contaminants can jeopardize both engine and fluid life. Choosing a coolant from a reputable manufacturer in conjunction with laboratory coolant monitoring program is the only surefire way to pinpoint issues before damage occurs.  CAM2 International provides a full line of automotive and industrial coolants to meet all your needs while also providing labratory services to ensure fleet owners maximize their return on investments by reducing downtime due to coolant issues.  Contact your CAM2 representative for more information.

Growing Demand for ACEA Engine Oils in North America

October 31, 2018


On the drive for better fuel economy and reduced greenhouse emissions, more North American’s are increasingly looking to imports for their next purchase.  In 2017 alone, the U.S. imported $179.6 billion worth of automobiles accounting for 23.9% of the global import market with no other country accounting for more than 8%.  That number has grown constantly over the last 10 years. This shift  is driven by three important factors: cost savings,  fuel economy (which just happens to lead to more savings), and craftsmanship as EU automakers have placed a big focus on producing affordable, quality vehicles to compete with the Big 4.  This shift also brings a shift in the demand for lubricants.

Of all maintenance work done on a vehicle, the oil change is the most common and the most important.  The range of oils needed for domestic made vehicles is pretty standard and easy to understand.  Domestic OEM’s primarily recommend API rated engine oils with the exception of GM which has it’s own specifications on top of the current API standards while EU OEM’s develop their own unique specifications in most cases which use ACEA specifications as their baseline in lieu of API standards.  Reading the back of any “Euro” labeled engine oil can confuse even the most experienced operators.  Making the wrong choice can be very costly as most imports require a very specific type of oil.

In Europe, standards follow the guidelines set out by the Association des Constructeurs Europeans d' Automobiles - European Automobile Manufacturers Association a lobbying and standards group for the automotive industry in the European Union. Its ACEA European Oil Sequences, the most recent being outlined in 2017, defines the minimum quality level of service-fill oils that ACEA members demand for use in their vehicles.  These standards are made to meet two things: one is to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rating for average vehicle fuel economy; the other is to help vehicles reduce emissions.  While the API aims to provide a more universal option of protection which will extend service life’s and improve fuel economy.

So, what drives the need for separate specifications, and why won’t the latest SN Plus engine oils be suitable for use in most imports?

  • In North America, over 90% of passenger cars are gasoline driven where in Europe it’s closer to a 60/40 split
  • All ACEA oils must be suitable for both gasoline and diesel service
  • Diesel engines produce contaminants which require a higher amount of detergent. These added detergents interfere with API test stands.  This is why not all ACEA rated fluids carry API SN rating.
  • Drain intervals
    • N.A. automakers recommend 5-10,000 mile drain
    • EU automakers recommend 12-30,000 mile drain
  • API/ILSAC offer one-size-fits-all categories whereas ACEA proposes 10 specialized categories
  • EU OEM’s publish requirements beyond those outlined in ACEA requiring a more robust engine oil specifically designed to protect engines they produce
  • Euro V/VI emission requirements require use of specific engine oil components not commonly found in API/ILSAC fluids

ACEA also measures emissions a little different than we do in N.A. and they use their rating system as the foundation for their engine oil categories. “ A/B” are known as High or Normal SAPS, “C” rated oils are Mid or Low-SAPS.  SAPS stands for Sulphated Ash, Phosphorus, and Sulfur and is a particularly important characteristic to the life of modern vehicles, especially those equipped with exhaust after treatment systems.  Phosphorus and Sulfur are extremely poisonous to catalytic converters and particulate filters while the ash formed as a by-product of combustion can clog the small openings found in today’s smaller engines literally sucking the life from your engine and drastically reducing fuel economy.

Changing environmental restriction in Europe is also driving a shift within its own lubricant market.  The largest demand for engine oils have historically come from the A/B Normal-SAPS categories, but recent legislation and upcoming Euro VI standards have lead the drive to recommending more Mid and Low-SAPS options.  Below is a quick snapshot of the current demands in the EU automotive industry.

The current demand is primarily a mixture of 5W-30 & 5W-40, split between ACEA A3/B4 and ACEA C3 performance levels

  • Hardware changes due to emissions have shifted demand toward 5W-30 ACEA C3
  • Expect increase in C3 usage and reduction in A3/B4 performance levels as more automobiles are equipped with after treatment systems

Ongoing changes in vehicle design, represented in ACEA 2016, will continue to shift the landscape toward even lighter, lower SAPS oils in 3-5 year horizon

  • Gains are mostly expected in C1 and C5 categories due to fuel economy benefits



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TBN Benefit of new API CJ-4/SN and CK-4/SN Heavy Duty Engine Oils

 August 15, 2018

A new standard is being set in the ever-changing world of engine oil lubrication as it relates to neutralization of acids in heavy duty diesel engines.  With today’s more rigorous EPA standards, diesel engine manufactures have been forced to improve the overall efficiency and design.  The new, smaller designs were focused towards reducing CO2 emissions and improving fuel economy.  With the reduction of CO2 also comes the reduction in acid content which forms as a by-product of combustion of Sulfur containing fuels.  Since the change to Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel in 2006, engines do not require the same level of TBN protection as required by PC-9, CI-4/CI-4+ engine oils that saw average TBN ranges from 10-14.  As engine technology has evolved, oil blenders and additive companies have been forced to evolve as well.  The introduction of exhaust after-treatment systems required a change in chemistry to reach the extended drain intervals required by OEMs.  The metallic based detergent systems that nuetralized combustion acids iin pre-ULSD 2006 engines were found to be very poisonous to catylitic convertors and particulate filters.  As a result, the amount of Calcium Sulfonate, a heavily used component of CI-4+ and previous API category HD engine oils, was reduced and replaced by more environmentally friendly ashless detergent systems.  The resulting oil had a much lower TBN by HDEO standards resulting in a smaller carbon footprint, extended drain intervals, and earning the "Low Ash" tag which has become the buzz word of heavy duty engine oils. 

In order to determine the effectiveness of the lubricants to neutralize acids over the life of the engine, the Peak IR Method was adopted by several additive companies as the chosen test method for determining TBN.  The premise behind the Peak IR method and why it is the chosen test method for oxidation by OEM’s lies in the declining sulfur content in diesel fuel. In the past diesel engine oils needed more TBN to combat acids produced in the combustion cycle from sulfur in the diesel fuel. In today’s time diesel fuel has been refined to limit the amount of sulfur in the fuel with the introduction of ULSD – Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. TBN levels do not need to be as high in CJ-4 and CK-4 as they were in prior engine oil categories because there is simply less acid being produced from the combustion cycle. 

The primary method of oil breakdown has transitioned now to oil oxidation and our suppliers recommend using the Peak Oxidation by IR method as the primary measure to evaluate the remaining oil life. We have data that shows that engine oil life extends past typical minimum TBN levels – per used oil analysis. For example, the chart below shows the used oil analysis from a Volvo T-13 engine test (TBN and IR). You can see that even after the minimum TBN levels are reached, the oxidation life remains under the condemnation limit for the T-13.




CAM2's CK-4 Heavy Duty Engine Oils Offer Excellent Extended Drain Performance