Springtime Lubricant Checks and Changes: What You Need to Know

Updated Feb 27, 2023

As temperatures rise, the oils and lubricants in your equipment and trucks need some attention.

In this episode of The Dirt, Chevron’s Gene Jensen details what you what you need to know to make sure your machines will be ready for the upcoming construction season and its hotter temperatures.

He explains the ins and outs of when and what to check and what types of oils and lubricants are better suited to your climate. That includes oils for engines, hydraulics, final drives, transmissions, as well as coolants and greases.

There is no one-size-fits all solution, and choosing the wrong product can mean lost equipment uptime on the jobsite. He also discusses your on-the-road trucks’ needs.

So check out The Dirt to find out what you need to know to keep your equipment and pickup, maintenance and haul trucks running – no matter what the temperature.

Equipment World serves up weekly videos on the latest in construction equipment, work trucks and pickup trucks – everything contractors need to get their work done. Subscribe and visit us at equipmentworld.com

In this Episode:

00:00 - Warmer Temps and Lubricants: What Do You Need to Know?

00:30 - What Kind of Oil to Use as Temps Start to Change

02:50 - Grease: Should You Change It With the Seasons?

06:24 - On-Road Equipment: What Kind of Grease Is Best?

08:32 - On-Road Equipment: Transmission Fluids

10:30 - Engine Oil Classifications & Operating Temps: How to Know What’s Right

12:02 - Moly Grease Best Uses

13:15 - Coolant & Warmer Temps: Maintenance Tips

15:37 - Wrap Up: Oil Viscosity

16:45 - Outro: Lubricants and Season Changes


Bryan Furnace (00:00):

Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Equipment World. You're watching The Dirt. I'm your host, Bryan, and today we're here to talk about springtime.


Now that the temperatures are starting to change, what do we really need to worry about from a lubricant standpoint on our machines? Well, here to talk with us from Chevron today is Gene Jensen and he's going to give us a quick rundown on some of the things you should consider as the temperatures start to change.


So my first question for you is, as the temperatures start to change, there's a lot of contractors out there that they've got a one-size-fits-all of everything lubricant-wise. What are your kind of thoughts on lubricants that contractors really should be kind of considering switching out between the cold months and the warmer months?

Gene Jensen (00:45):

So I'm going to kind of expand on your question. I'm going to go to checking and changing. I'm going to talk about two different things here, talk about some other stuff later.


But first of all talk about big yellow equipment and the TO-4 spec. It stands for transmission oil iteration number four as far as I understand it. And we typically see a 10 in the hydraulics and a 30 in the tranny and a 50 in the final drives. Okay?


So as we move from warm to cold or cold to warm, either one, we want to look at those because if we're moving to hot, we may have to move up in viscosity. If we're moving to cold, we may have to move down in viscosity. So for example, the 50 on the final drive, there are sixties out there. And I've also seen 10 put in transmission. So we kind of move around, we kind of have to move around. Now, a lot of people don't like to do that.

Bryan Furnace (01:37):

It's a lot of extra work.

Gene Jensen (01:39):

Yeah, it's a lot of extra work. And so what we've come up with is kind of like a multi-viscosity kind of deal. There are products out there that you can put in there that will function in the temperature range. So we have a fluid that can take in the 10 and the 30.


So on a service truck, you can reduce the amount of compartments that you need by using one product for the hydraulics and the transmission. Now, they're more expensive of course, because they're multi-viscosity. Now, in some cases, that fluid can actually do the final drives, but I get a little bit skittish on final drives because there's a lot of work going on there.


And I'll kind of add one more little thing there, Bryan, is that the hydraulics in and of themselves, there are different temperature ranges of use. Maybe a more inexpensive hydraulic oil can, and I like to use my hands here, maybe the temperature range of use, in other words, if this is hot and this is cold, and it's fine, it's not too thick and it's not too thin. But there are hydraulic oils that have a wider temperature range of use, we call that viscosity index. But basically, we can take more heat and we can take more cold. That's an idea to avoid this changing with the seasons.

Bryan Furnace (02:51):

So let's flip over to grease for a minute, because coming out of the field, grease was always one of those things that I don't want to fool around with different tubes of grease and all this stuff. Is grease something that you should really consider switching out with the changing season or is one grease going to do the job year round?

Gene Jensen (03:09):

Well, sometimes you have to, right? It's pumpability. Sometimes you're out and you're cold and it just won't pump, and so you've got to change it. So to kind of answer a little bit, I want to come back, what is a grease? Well, we only use the grease because we have to.

Bryan Furnace (03:25):


Gene Jensen (03:25):

It would be way better to have a fluid that flowed in that bearing or that bushing or whatever, because it cleans it and it cools it. And of course, we don't have that capability all the time, so we've got to have a grease so it'll stay in place.


So what is a grease? It's base oil. Base oil is the most important part, whether it's mineral or synthetic and what the viscosity of that base oil is. Okay? For example, a wheel bearing uses a lighter vis than a big heavy piece of equipment, and you should know which one you're using in which application.


So we have the base oil, then we have the thickener. And the way the thickener works, it's kind of like grandma, she's making gravy, right? So she takes the leftovers from the roast, the base oil, in the bottom of the pan and she adds flour and cornstarch. Well, that's how we make grease, is we put a thickener in there.


And there's a little kind of a sidebar there, you got to be careful because these thickeners that we use, there's various kinds of them. Lithium and lithium complex are the most common. But they don't work and play well with one another, so they cause it to fall apart. So you've got to be careful there.


And then the other consideration that you might want to look at is the additives. We put extreme pressure in there. Most greases, they're called an EP, which stands for extreme pressure, because when those things slap together, a lot of it gets pushed out of the way. And those extreme pressure additives, they're kind of adhered to the metal and they get lubrication.


We have tackiness, and there's the good old pocket tackle meter. The guy carries around, he goes like this and he likes it to string out and all that kind of stuff. And then the last thing that I'll kind of talk about is Moly. Some applications you like to have Moly, like bucket pins and some you don't.


And so anyway, the best practice as you're moving from grease is, like in the wintertime you might have to go to a number one grease, which has less thickener. Grandma didn't put as much flour in there. We didn't put as much thickener in there. But in the summertime you might move to a number two grease because it hangs in there better with the heat. And you want to make sure that you stay in the same family, because these thickeners, they don't like each other sometimes, and you want to make sure of course that you get the right viscosity.


And then the last thing that I'll kind of talk about with grease is color. Color doesn't mean anything. Color is a dye. Moly greases are all gray because the molybdenum makes them gray, but all these reds and blues and all these other colors, it's just a dye. And when you work a grease for a while, it goes dark anyway.


So anyway, those are kind of some considerations that from one grease to another and also when you're moving from a time of year when you can pump it and when you can't really pump it.

Bryan Furnace (05:55):

Now, as an operator coming out of the field I have to tell you, the blue grease always works best. It's got to be the color blue that does it.

Gene Jensen (06:05):

So Bryan, that is psychosomatic on your part, buddy. I actually, here's a little story. So this guy, we had brown grease and he hated it. He just thought it was the worst stuff and we literally had the exact same stuff and it was red, and it was the greatest stuff ever. So it's psychosomatic.

Bryan Furnace (06:23):

That's funny. Well, let's flip over now to, we've kind of talked about the yellow iron side. What about on-road trucks? Because we do have a lot of service trucks, lowboys, stuff like that. What do contractors need to kind of consider as we move into the warmer months for those vehicles?


What about on-road trucks? What do contractors need to kind of consider as we move into the warmer months for those vehicles?

Gene Jensen (07:55):

So I'm going to expand on grease first. But we were just talking about grease, I'll just keep going there. So the Moly that I talked about is great in bucket pins and slow-moving bearings like on the big yellow equipment. But in the trucks and wheel bearings and such, it's not.


Now, not everybody believes that completely, but my experience is is that Moly is slightly abrasive. And so if you're going to put the same grease in the big yellow equipment as well as the service truck, it'll work, but the bearing won't last as long. The wheel bearings won't last as long.

Bryan Furnace (08:26):


Gene Jensen (08:27):

Yeah. So Moly is good in some places and not in other, in my opinion. The other thing is, of course the transmissions are different in these service trucks and the lowboys and that sort of thing.


And what's happened over the years is that we used to have a standard 50 weight that we'd put in there, synthetic in those trannies on the, which is a different tranny completely than of course the yellow equipment. But then Volvo came up with their own deal. Eaton, Daimler, they all came up with their own transmission fluid.


So now instead of having a straight 50 weight we have three different fluids based on who the manufacturer is, and they have different viscosity because one of the things they wanted is they wanted multi-viscosity. They didn't want just a straight 50, they wanted multi-vis


And then I'll add one more thing on transmissions, which is Allison. Allison, they just upgraded their spec, it's now called TES 668, and there's another fluid for that. So it's gotten complicated. And these multi-viscosity things make it confusing for mechanics and stuff because they see 7590 and they think that's a rear end oil. No. I mean, you'd screw things up, don't do that. There's different additives in transmission and rear ends.


And then let's talk about service trucks and stuff, is the manufacturers have also changed there. We've got Dana, Meritor and STEMCO, they kind of all subscribe, but it's a different additive package than the typical gear oils that we've seen, 75, 90, 80, 140. It's still those viscosities, but the additive packages changed, so we had to change that to another fluid. So here we go. We still have the old one but we've got the new ones.


And then Daimler, there are some of those out there on the rear ends, and they have their own fluid as well. It's got its own viscosity and it's very confusing.


So little fun story, I was in a construction shop and they literally took duct tape and they put transmission, wrote transmission on the duct tape, and then they wrote rear end on duct tape on the other tank, right? Because they couldn't keep it straight because they look the same.

Bryan Furnace (10:31):

It is interesting. It becomes apparent to me, gone are the days, and this is for a lot of the smaller contractors that do all of their own maintenance, gone are the days where you just throw a specific weight of oil in something because that's the way it's always been. It's becoming more and more apparent you have to read the manufacturer's specs before you put any fluids in these machines.

Gene Jensen (10:52):

Absolutely. And that's really apparent when you're talking about engine oil. I get asked all the time, "Is there a universal engine oil? Does it matter if I'm in the northern climate or the southern climate or whatever?" I get asked questions like that.


So just kind of taking one step back and saying, "Well, let's dissect what 1540 means." Well, 1540 means it's really a 15-way oil. Okay? And then the 40 is we put an additive in there, it's called a viscosity index improver. But what it does is it helps it thin out slower. It doesn't thicken. 15 at startup, it does act like a 15 weight, but at operating temperature it acts like a 40 because it thins out slower. We put an additive in there that makes it thin out slower.


If you look at an OEM and they'll say, "Okay, in a cold climate use a 5W-40." Okay. "In a hotter climate, maybe 1540, you don't need that low end." So what you need to look at is where are you working, where's your stuff? And if you need the low ends, then you need the low ends. Even the OEMs, they will make a recommendation based on what the average temperature is. So yes, there is a difference whether you're working in a cold climate or a warm climate.

Bryan Furnace (12:02):

Well, now it's my turn to revisit grease, because I have a question for you. You mentioned Moly and you mentioned lithium-based with the thickeners. What are the advantages of Moly over lithium? Because I heard you talk about that kind of more for the yellow iron versus lithium for the trucks. Why use one over the other as opposed to just going lithium for everything?

Gene Jensen (12:18):

All right, so we'll just differentiate, just break apart your question just for a little second. The lithium, there's lithium and lithium complex. That's actually the thickener.

Bryan Furnace (12:26):


Gene Jensen (12:27):

So that's lithium and lithium complex. Now, lithium complex has a higher dropping point, so it's considered a high temp [inaudible 00:12:34]. So we're talking about the thickener. Now let's talk about Moly a little bit deeper. When you look at it, it looks like black baby powder. And it's put in the grease and it's a [inaudible 00:12:43].

Bryan Furnace (12:43):

Kind of like graphite almost?

Gene Jensen (12:45):

Yeah, I mean, we don't use graphite anymore. I mean, you can still get it, but there's not very many people that use it. But it goes in there and you pump it in there. And let's take a bucket pin on a front end loader. That is a very severe thing because that bucket gets pushed right into the pile of rocks or whatever, there's a shock load on it. And so all the grease just gets slapped right out of the way.

Bryan Furnace (13:06):


Gene Jensen (13:07):

And so what happens is is the Moly will hang around and do a little bit of lubrication. So the bucket pin will last a lot longer with the Moly than it will without. Hey, I have another one for you, here we're talking about seasonality. Coolants, okay?

Bryan Furnace (13:20):


Gene Jensen (13:20):

Let's back up and say what is a coolant? It's ethylene glycol, which is put in there to stop it from freezing in water. It's half-and-half, okay?


Well, the water is what moves the heat. Water is the best heat transfer fluid known, right? And so that's the one that does all the work. And so what happens is, in a cooling system they have little leaks here and there and what volatilizes first, the water. The water gets out of there, and the glycol's heavier so it hangs around.


And so we top it off and then we top it off and then we top it off, and eventually we get too much glycol. Glycol by itself is a horrible... I mean, it doesn't move heat very well. Water moves heat.


So what happens is, as you get too much glycol in there, then your cooling capability's gone down and you're going, "What the heck? I'm overheating." And it's clear full of coolant, you got too much glycol.

Bryan Furnace (14:08):


Gene Jensen (14:08):

And what I suggest is you use a refractometer, you put a little drop on the refractometer, look through there, and it'll give you the percentage of glycol or the freeze point. And almost always when we're looking at it, especially this time of year, it's heavy on glycol.


And so you want to add water. You don't want to add tap water. You want to add reverse osmosis, that deionized or distilled water, because all the tap water's got crud in there that acts like a blanket keeping heat in inside that cooling system.


So there's another kind of, as you're looking at seasonality, is look at that coolant because often, coolants, they don't get much respect. They need to get a little bit more love.

Bryan Furnace (14:48):

Come on now, Gene, we all know that you have to look at your coolant one time a year, and it's generally the night before it's going to freeze. And you go out there with your little bubble measure and you make sure that the little bubbles are floating just right. And if they aren't, you go get you a concentrate jug and just dump the whole thing in it. You're good to go for the next year.

Gene Jensen (15:06):

Yeah. Well, Bryan, you're not. Okay? Let's just put it that way. You're not. And those little bubble guy things, they work and they don't. And people, they keep them around and they get old. And you really need to look into a refractometer and how that thing works because that really gives you what it is. And again, I'm going to say you almost always are going to be adding water, not that concentrate that you just said.

Bryan Furnace (15:28):

And that is totally backwards from everyone I have ever worked for, the way that they handle that situation. So I'm glad we talked about this.

Gene Jensen (15:35):

That's right. That's right.

Bryan Furnace (15:37):

So my final question for you is, is this really something that we're worried about northern states that get these huge temperature fluctuations or do operators down in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, is that something they need to worry about as well?

Gene Jensen (15:50):

Everything goes to viscosity. So the oil needs to stay in a range of usability. If it gets too cold, it won't flow. If it gets too hot, it's too thin, it won't give you the oil film. In both cases, like in hydrology, a cavitation, all that kind of stuff. So what you have to do is, you have to adjust viscosity to the temperature that you're working in.


Unfortunately, these days we've got multi-viscosity fluids and then we also have fluids that have, like I just said, I use my little deal here where they have wider temperature ranges of use. So you just got to take a look at that.


But viscosity is always the most important thing, period, period, period. And so what you need to do is you need to adjust so that that fluid can handle the temperature that you're using, whether that be hot or whether that be cold.

Bryan Furnace (16:36):

Well Gene, thank you so much for the time and all the information. This has been great.

Gene Jensen (16:39):

You bet, Bryan. Had a good time. Enjoyed it. Love to do it again.

Bryan Furnace (16:43):

Oh, we will. We'll get you back on here.


Well, thank you again for Gene taking the time to come on the show to give us a little insight as to maybe some things to take into consideration that you haven't in the past when it comes to the temperatures changing over. There's some things you can do from a lubricant standpoint that can materially have an impact even on just the small day-to-day things like greasing your machine.


So as always, I hope this has been helpful to your business. We'll catch you guys on the next episode of The Dirt.