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By keeping trucks and cars on the road for longer intervals, commercial fleets are being exposed to far higher levels of stress than in times gone by. Although routine maintenance is one of the best ways to counteract harsh driving conditions, proactive lubrication management can also protect a vehicle, while simultaneously reducing maintenance costs.
A slow return to more robust consumer spending has seen various sectors of the economy start to recover – good news for the transport and logistics industry. However, with the sector itself remaining extremely competitive, margins have stayed low while fuel costs in particular continue to rise. Commercial vehicle fleets around the country remain under considerable pressure in terms of increasing, or, at the very least, maintaining return on investment; being pushed harder for longer, in many instances.
Shell Lubricants cautions that significant increases in operation time will place higher pressure on individual vehicles, resulting in far greater wear and tear and a higher risk of component failure. This makes improved maintenance and regular servicing critical. It also makes lubricant choice even more important.
From a maintenance perspective, it has to be noted that strenuous operating conditions impact directly on a vehicle’s engine, gearbox and drive-train. While this makes the use of a quality lubricant important, it makes use of the correct quality lubricant imperative. With fleet managers often tempted to switch to cheaper mineral lubricants when budgets are under pressure, this approach can prove costly in the long term from a maintenance and vehicle lifespan perspective.
This is because cheaper grade lubricants are typically of lower viscosity and thus have a tendency to degrade quickly when subjected to extreme heat in the engine – as conventional oil heats, the lighter molecules usually evaporate leaving larger, heavier molecules behind and, subsequently, increasing the oil’s viscosity leading to oxidation, the formation of deposits, and thickening in conventional mineral lubricants.
As a result, cheaper lubricants often lose their vital properties very quickly under harsh driving conditions and fail to provide adequate protection. The short-term financial benefits they offer are therefore offset by the long-term risks that they expose fleets to.
Low viscosity is, however, a critical feature of lubricants as it improves a vehicle’s fuel economy by decreasing the friction between engine components. This has made the formulation of low-viscosity synthetic lubricants that retain all their vital properties a priority for lubricant manufacturers, including Shell Lubricants. In the case of Shell Rimula for example, Shell’s R&D focus led to the development of a synthetic base stock with a high viscosity index that ensures the oil’s resistance to high temperatures.
The stable-viscosity index improver used in the range is additionally resistant to viscosity shear. As such, when Rimula is subjected to heavy mechanical shearing action in the engine, this feature controls the viscosity of the oil, reducing consumption and minimising wear.
In selecting the best possible lubricant for a fleet of high-speed heavy duty vehicles, it is equally important to consider the additives in the oil. Depending on the combination of additives in the product, synthetic lubricants should be able to reduce fuel consumption, extend the life of one’s vehicles and reduce unnecessary maintenance expenditure. A combination of Shell’s calcium salicylate technology and other approved additives in Shell Rimula improves piston cleanliness, resulting in a cleaner, more efficient and reliable engine.
In the current global economic context, while fleet managers arguably do need to place more operating pressure on their existing vehicles, this needs to be countered by a renewed focus on maintenance and servicing. With synthetic low-viscosity oils readily available however, managers can rest assured that by selecting the correct lubricant their fleets will be well protected – no matter what the conditions on the road.