Choosing the right fluids for your machine

Choosing the right fluids for your earthmoving machine doesn’t have to be a challenge. The best way to simplify the selection process is to follow the manufacturer’s requirements. Every manufacturer’s product designs are unique, and as a result, their fluid requirements are different, too.


There are more than 100 brands of diesel engine oil available today. There are countless drive train fluids on the market, too, and dozens of hydraulic oils and coolants. With that many options, it’s easy to understand why some construction equipment owners struggle with their fluid purchase decisions.

Many of the larger international manufacturers (such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Caterpillar, Mack, MAN, Cummins and Detroit) have developed specific requirements in addition to those included in the standard industry classification. Manufacturers establishe these requirements because they’re committed to your success. They want to help you get the highest possible return on your equipment investment and the investment you make in maintenance products. Therefore, they recommend fluids that will enhance performance, provide excellent protection, increase uptime, extend component life and reduce operating costs.

Manufacturers identify what they believe are the optimal fluids for their products. But they understand you may have additional needs, so they provide specifications to guide your decisions. Although many brands may meet those specs from a technical standpoint, it’s important to realize that some fluid suppliers blend to the high end of the specifications, while others develop lower-end products. The industry doesn’t differentiate between higher and lower performing fluids though, so it’s up to each equipment owner to discern the differences. Read on to learn more about fluids so you can make well-informed purchase decisions.


In 2002, the American Petroleum Institute (API) released a new classification for diesel engine oil – the CI-4 standard. CI-4 oil was formulated especially for new engines equipped with Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) technology. EGR technology has proven to be one way to reduce emissions. However, it can create problems in an engine. For example, EGR causes the formation of acidic gases. These gases find their way into the crankcase and cause premature valve train, piston ring and liner wear. EGR can also increase combustion soot. With more soot in the lubrication system, oil flow can be impeded and there’s a higher risk of filter plugging problems.

CI-4 oil can do a good job neutralizing acid and dispersing soot. But in many cases, it can also cause excess piston deposits. These deposits have a negative impact on oil control, and ultimately reduce engine component life.

The piston deposit problem is not unique to EGR engines. It also occurs in Cat engines, which use an exclusive ACERT technology to reduce emissions. ACERT technology uses clean air at the point of combustion to lower peak combustion temperatures and minimize NOx (nitric oxide) emissions.

Because CI-4 oil can cause piston deposits in many engine makes and models, most manufacturers have developed additional engine oil specifications. The newest manufacturer specs combine the qualifications outlined in the CI-4 classification with other requirements that optimize performance and durability. In the case of Cat engines, the company has issued a proprietary oil specification called ECF-1 (Engine Crankcase Fluid-1). ECF-1 includes additional piston deposit performance requirements beyond CI-4 and limits the oil’s ash content to 1.5 percent. Other manufacturers have also released specs in conjunction with CI-4, including Mack EON Premium Plus 03 and Cummins 20078-03.

Bottom line: engine oil that meets the CI-4 standard may not deliver acceptable performance and life – no matter what brand of equipment you’re running. So before you buy diesel engine oil, check your manufacturer’s recommendations.


Several years ago, there wasn’t a lot to think about when it came to choosing a coolant. We all used the standard green variety. But now coolant comes in many colors and configurations.  If you have a mixed fleet, your coolant inventory may include pink, orange, red, green and other brightly colored products – each with its own life expectancy and supplemental additive requirements.

Using multiple coolants can make maintenance management very complicated. That’s why some owners standardize with a single formula. If you’re ready to choose a single coolant for your fleet, don’t be tempted to go with a low-cost conventional product. You may save a little money in the short term, but over time, your total costs will be much higher. A premium extended-life coolant will last much longer than a conventional one. And you won’t have to bother with supplemental coolant additives every 250 hours. As a result, you’ll greatly reduce the cost of additives, increase uptime, reduce labor costs and minimize the challenges – and costs – associated with coolant disposal.

Simplify your maintenance program; get rid of the green stuff and stock an advanced-formula coolant for the whole fleet. It pays to standardize with a long-life product that provides the highest possible protection at the lowest total cost.

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There’s a lot to think about when choosing fluids for your construction equipment. But in the final analysis, the most important choice you can make is not the brand you buy; it’s the supplier you select to do business with. Make sure you’re working with someone you trust – someone who knows your equipment and understands the application it’s working in – someone who’s well versed in new technologies and committed to your success. The ultimate partner will not try just to sell you fluids. He’ll work with you to make good fluid decisions so you can do more work, over a longer life, and at a lower total cost.