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Engine & Gear Oil - Appropriate Viscosity vs. Outside Temperatures

Oil viscosity vs. temperature

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All lubricants have practical limits when it comes to operating temperatures.

  • Lower temperatures and increased viscosities may restrict lubrication - causing metal to metal contact and damage to the machines
  • Higher temperatures and reduced viscosities may limit lubrication film thickness - causing metal to metal contact and damage to the machines

engine oil

For most machines - like car engines -  the critical point of operation is at startup before reaching operating temperatures. In cold weather lubricants with adequate viscosities at start up temperature are required.

Engine Oil

The table below indicates appropriate engine oil viscosities vs. outside (start up) temperatures. 

Engine Oil
SAE Viscosity
Temperature
-20oF
(-29oC)
0oF
(-17.8oC)
20oF
(-6.7oC)
40oF
(4.4oC)
60oF
(15.6oC)
80oF
(26.7oC)
100oF
(37.8oC)
20W-20              
20W-40              
20W-50              
10W-30              
10W-40              
10W              
5W-30              
5W-20              

Note that machine operating temperatures - and lubricant temperatures - does not change significantly with different ambient temperatures. In most cases operating temperatures of engines are above the temperatures in the table above.

Gear Oil

The table below indicates appropriate gear oil viscosities vs. outside (start up) temperatures. 

Engine Oil
SAE Viscosity
Temperature
-20oF
(-29oC)
0oF
(-17.8oC)
20oF
(-6.7oC)
40oF
(4.4oC)
60oF
(15.6oC)
80oF
(26.7oC)
100oF
(37.8oC)
75W              
80W              
80W-90              
85W              
90              
140              

Note that the tables above indicates average data. For specific information - check manufacturing data. 

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  • en: engine gear oil viscosity temperature limits
  • es: límites de temperatura de la viscosidad del aceite del engranaje del motor
  • de: Motor-Getriebeöl Viskositätstemperaturgrenzen
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  • Engineering ToolBox, (2009). Engine & Gear Oil - Appropriate Viscosity vs. Outside Temperatures. [online] Available at: https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/engine-gear-oil-viscosity-temperature-limits-d_1545.html [Accessed Day Mo. Year].

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