Maintenance & Lubrication for GDI and Hybrid Engines: High Efficiency Protection

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Gasoline engines found in hybrid vehicles require their own specific oil and service requirements. Toyota Motor Co.

Maintenance and lubrication solutions for GDI engines and hybrids.

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen rapid changes in motor vehicle technology. As automakers grappled with ever more stringent fuel economy and emissions targets, the result has been an almost laser focus on improving powertrain efficiency. As a result, today, we’ve got more and more vehicles either using gasoline direct injection (GDI) technology, smaller powerplants, turbocharging, or a combination of all three. Additionally, following Toyota’s lead in the late 1990s, more and more gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles have been hitting the streets. And as these vehicles age, more of them are ending up in aftermarket service bays.

Different requirements

With that in mind, we wanted to convey a sense of what these types of vehicles require from a lubrication and maintenance standpoint, since they tend to differ from traditional internal combustion engine cars and trucks, and we’ve seen some issues arise due to lack of proper maintenance.

For GDI engines, one of the biggest issues concerns Low-Speed Pre-Ignition (LSPI), which was particularly evident in early, first generation vehicles equipped with this technology. Ian Hutchison, Marketing Manager at Wakefield Canada, which produces and distributes Castrol brand products, says that LSPI is primarily caused by a build-up of carbon in the engine combustion chamber. This build-up increases pressure in the cylinders during the compression stroke, which can lead to detonation under light throttle opening, resulting in serious engine failure. Hutchison notes that, this carbon build-up is believed to be the result of using engine oil that’s not compatible with the specific needs of GDI engines. That’s why the industry created ILSAC (International Lubricant Specification Advisory Committee) GF-5 SN Plus, to ensure oils were properly formulated to limit this issue of carbon build up. It has since been followed by GF-6. Additionally, while newer generation GDI engines have adopted technologies to further help mitigate this problem, such as combining port and direct fuel injection (port injection, in widespread use in North American market vehicles since the mid-1980s, allows the fuel to flow over the engine intake valves helping to keep them free from carbon, instead of directly injecting it into the combustion chamber)—properly understanding maintenance and lubrication requirements is key to preventing serious problems.

Additive packages

An essential part to all this, says Hutchison, is making sure service centres, on behalf of their customers, ask their oil supplier how long the additive package remains functional and protects their GDI engine vehicle against the potential risks of LSPI. “Premium brands like Castrol, are designed to protect through the length of the service interval,” he explains, thus mitigating consumers from experiencing any engine damage due to low-speed detonation.

Another factor to consider in Canada, is that our country is deemed to be a severe service environment, with extreme temperature fluctuations from winter to summer. This means many vehicles require shorter oil change and service intervals, compared to those operating in more moderate climates. “Workshops should not be afraid to ask their customers how they use their vehicles and recommend an oil and an oil change interval based on that driving style and the recommendation in the owner’s manual,” explains Hutchison.

Higher quality fuel

Billy Thomas, Technical Training Specialist with Bumper to Bumper, says that another way service centres can help reduce the risk of LSPI and carbon build up, is recommending higher quality, higher octane and detergent-rich fuels. While they might cost a bit more at the pump, if the customer is looking to keep their vehicle for an extended period, it can often help in the long-run, since poor quality fuels tend to contribute more towards injectors becoming clogged, which can lead to drivability issues and greater risk of detonation. Thomas also suggests that service centres provide regular injector and valve cleaning as part of a maintenance program on these engines, as well as regular air, oil and fuel filter replacement.

Mike Urban, who owns and operates Urban Automotive in Oakville, Ontario, concurs. Additionally, he says, motorists should avoid fuels with a high percentage of ethanol content, as well as regularly inspecting spark plugs to ensure they are set within the proper heat range and aren’t fouled with carbon deposits, as a result of a too rich condition or, feature excessive tan or gray/white deposits due to the engine running too lean.

Additionally, because GDI engines (especially those that rely on forced induction such as turbocharging to boost performance), tend to run at hotter temperatures, cooling system maintenance should also be top of mind, including regular coolant flushes and inspection of water pumps, radiators, belts, hoses and fittings.

Hybrid concerns

With more hybrids entering aftermarket service bays, both service centres and their customers need to be aware of their specific lubrication and service requirements. In most full or parallel hybrids, where the electric motor and the gasoline engine can run independently of each other, the latter is often stopping and starting, especially in urban traffic environments. As a result, it can often be difficult for it to reach optimum operating temperature. If neglected, this can lead to premature wear on the engine internals, as well as corrosion due to excessive moisture accumulation, plus reduced powertrain efficiency. That’s why lubricant manufacturers have focused on creating specific oil formulations. At Wakefield Canada, Ian Hutchison notes that while oils such as Castrol’s proprietary specification Hyspec, address the needs of these engines, there is (currently) no industry standard when it comes to lubrication for hybrid powertrains. Which is why it’s so important for service centres to explain to their customer how their vehicle operates and how their driving style and use impacts servicing and maintenance requirements, so they can make informed decisions that will ensure their vehicle remains consistently safe, efficient, and reliable.

Plug-in Hybrids

While plug-in hybrids currently represent a very small percentage of the overall vehicle parc, they can be more prone to engine wear than their regular hybrid counterparts. Part of the reason is that a plug-in may not use the gasoline engine at all when driving around town and may suddenly require it to activate while the vehicle is at speed as the battery becomes depleted. “I’ve personally seen this happen,” explains Mark Lemay, who owns and operates Autoaide Technical Services in Barrie, Ontario, which provides diagnostic services and training for automotive technicians. “When in EV only mode, the vehicle runs out of electric range, and the gasoline engine kicks in when you’re on the highway, it can go from being stone cold to revving at 3,000 rpm or more.” And particularly if it’s cold outside, that can lead to serious engine wear, including worn pistons and damaged valves, which is why it’s important that motorists are aware of how plug-in hybrids operate, and that proper lubrication and service intervals are specified based on driving style and operating environment.



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