A Better Blend

| April 07, 2005

The problem, as expressed by Greg Shenk, senior staff engineer with the Mack/Volvo powertrain unit, is, “There’s no policeman out there. The danger is the will-fit guys who will just measure the thread size on the engine fitting and use a similar housing. The fact is, cheap might fit, but not work.”

“Using a quality filter is becoming more critical. The ’02 engines produce more contamination. We have to get it out of the engine in every way we can.”

Micron ratings need to be evaluated carefully. While there are good tests, Shenk maintains this is a risky area. “They might give you a micron rating. That can be a dangerous thing. Unfortunately, they can say it’s a 20-micron filter when it only takes out 50 percent of particles that size.”

Penny Shumaker, filter marketing consultant at Caterpillar, agrees: “Although the Multipass test for micron ratings is a good comparative test, a filter should be judged on field performance, quality and consistency, not ‘micron ratings,’ as these numbers can be misleading or easily abused.”

Micron ratings are expressed in terms of “nominal” and “absolute” standards. John Clevenger, manager of global product management at Fleetguard explains just how complex micron ratings actually are and how some manufacturers might be able to disguise actual performance. “You need to know the percentage of the size particle the filter actually removes,” he says. “The industry absolute standard means the filter must be able to remove 98.7 percent or more of the particles at the stated micron size – say 10-microns.” On top of that, for a heavy-duty truck engine filter, “The test must be done at a heavy-duty flow rate, typically gallons per minute.” Obviously, a filter not tested to the absolute standard or at the proper flow rate will under-perform on the engine even if it removes a significant percentage of particles of a given size under some conditions.

And, what happens if the filter isn’t good enough? Says Clevenger, “If you don’t have the right quality filters, you won’t have something blow up. The problem shows up in upper engine component wear first – the valve bridges and rockers – and not typically until 300,000 miles. Most people would never make the connection.”

The Right Filter
There are a couple of good starting points in the search for just the right oil filter. Of course, you can buy the OE filter. Amazingly, this is not always simply a matter of buying the engine manufacturer’s branded design. Clevenger says the OE product “is always private branded.” This means a filter manufacturer, not the engine manufacturer, actually makes it. Talk to your filter manufacturer and the engine OEM. You may find that your filter manufacturer actually makes the OE filter. This means that the filter they make that is specified for your engine application is likely to be identical.

The third possibility is to “Ask the engine OEM for filtration performance specifications,” such as “particle efficiency.” Why might such standards be worth reviewing? He says one example is gaskets: “As oil performance requirements have increased, oils have gotten more aggressive toward gasket materials. The less expensive materials are prone to failure.” In other words, leaks on the road. In any event, with all the specifications, you could compare the details with specifications provided by your filter manufacturer, and find one that passes all the tests. Unfortunately, he points out, “Not every OEM may want to share this information.”

In this event, there is a simpler way of approaching the problem. Clevenger says, “You get what you pay for. If you buy a reputable brand, you’ll be OK.”

What’s the difference between a good filter and a not-so-good one? His view of the situation is that “All the major manufacturers in the U.S. get their media and components from the same sources.” So, media of the same basic type may not be any different. The biggest differences often come in terms of filter design. For example, putting more media into the filter means a higher particle efficiency because the oil flows more slowly through each square inch of the filtration medium, whatever it is. Clevenger says not to be too afraid of paying a reasonable price, or putting up with a price increase when the design changes. “The filter manufacturers know you can’t afford to gouge people.”

Shenk says with Mack’s OE filters, “We try to protect our OE filter for a short grace period after introduction. Then, I make the specifications available to the major filter companies. What you need is for them to put it on the filter can that the filter meets Mack spec’s. Or, you need them to certify in writing that their filter meets our spec’s.”
If you have certification, “Then, if we see filter-related wear in an engine, we challenge the filter manufacturer,” he adds.

Thus, a good starting point might be talking to your manufacturer’s representative to see if he has been in touch with the engine maker and knows their spec’s. This indicates a good faith effort to produce a filter that will satisfy factory requirements.

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