A lubricant is a fluid that separates two surfaces moving in opposite direction. Surfaces of metals however finely polished, have a surface that has ridges and valleys when looked at through a microscope. When the two surfaces move in opposite direction, these ridges and valleys interlock and cause resistance of motion called friction.

Friction results in loss of energy, generation of heat and premature equipment failure. The lubricant separates the two moving surfaces totally so that they don’t interlock


Most lubricants used in the automotive industry are made from petroleum products called base oils and enhanced by oil soluble chemicals called additives that enhance the properties of the lubricants.


In the world there are four major additive suppliers and they all happen to be American or partly America owned. They are; Lubrizoil, Chevron Oronite, Afton and Infineum. The first 3 are 100% American and Infineum is jointly owned by Exxon Mobil and Shell International. There are many often small suppliers in Europe, America and Asia. However, the big four have the muscle to develop research and get approvals for their technology from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and organizations such as API, JASO, and ACEA.


Base oil is a product of refined crude oil and how is it made?

Residue (2) is then treated to produce a heavy base oil such as is used in gear and differential oils called 150 BS.


Crude oil is a mixture of various hydrocarbons with different boiling points. Hot crude oil is introduced into a fractionating tower and allowed to evaporate and condense in the fractionating tower. The lightest material like LPG (butane) will come out first followed by components used to make petrol, then kerosene and diesel. The residue left is then pushed in a vacuum distillation tower. Because of low pressure, the boiling point of the heavier material is lowered and thus evaporates in the vacuum tower. Diesel that could not come out earlier is the first to come out followed by 80, 150, 500 solvent neutral base oils. NOTE: The larger the number, the heavier the base oil.

The second residue obtained is treated with furfural and asphalts are removed leaving you with a heavy base oil used for making gear and differential oil. Base oils made from crude oils are called virgin base oils. These are the purest base oils used in making lubricants.


The base oils made in the above process are conventional and are normally referred to as API Group I base oils. They constitute over 90% of the base oils used in lubricant manufacture in Kenya.


More modern refining process including hydrogen treatment with catalyst (hydro-treating) produce better quality base oils referred to as Group II or Group III base oils that are used to manufacture oils that give longer drain intervals. The Group III base oils are used for the manufacture of semi synthetic i.e. mixture of Group I and Group III or full synthetic which are purely Group III lubricants.


Africa in general has very little base oil manufacturing capacity and most of the base oils used is imported from Europe, Asia, North or South America.

In Kenya, all the major lubricant manufacturers bring in one ship which is shared amongst them in accordance with one’s order to the supplier which is Shell International. The companies that bring in this cargo are Vivo, Total, Kenol Kobil, Libya Oil and Synergy Lubricant Solutions Limited. Vivo, Total and Libya Oil have their tankages in Shimanzi and therefore their share is pumped in their tanks. We have an agreement with Libya Oil to receive and store our share of the base oil for us. These are some of the purest base oils imported into the country. Base oils are also imported in flexi bags i.e. container of around 20 tons. This is done mainly by the small blenders.


In Kenya, some manufacturers of lubricants import recycled base oils. They also collect and clean used oils which are used for lubricant blending. Whereas there are ways of cleaning used oil to almost the same quality as virgin base oil, the process is more expensive than buying virgin base oil. The recycled base oils used in Kenya are refined by separating the solid material and water from the used oil.

All other contaminants such as brake fluid, engine coolant, grease and transmission oil are still contained in the recycled base oil. They also contain materials that cause cancer.


Brakefluids and engine coolants are made from glycols and glycols react at high temperature with lubricating oil making it to coagulate. This is what happens in the engine when such lubricants are used.  The coagulated oil will block the oil filter and the oil ways in the engine and this could result in premature engine failure. NEVER USE lubricants made from recycled materials in Kenya! 

Constant exposure to used oil or lubricants made from recycled base oils exposes the users to skin cancer and damage to organs.

Use of oils made from recycled material require more frequent oil drain thus using more oil, more oil filters and frequent workshop visits ultimately costing more than using good quality oil made from virgin base oils.


How can I ensure my agricultural tractors are properly maintained for optimal use?

We believe that sticking to the following schedule will ensure that equipment serves you at the optimal level for as long as is possible.

Every 10 Hours

  1. Front axle – Apply the grease gun filled with grease and give two strokes to each nipple.
  2. Air Cleaner – Check the level and condition of the oil bath, replenish or change as necessary.
  3. Hand Brake – Apply the grease gun filled with grease to the nipple on the brake pedal cross-shaft lever.
  4. Engine – Inspect the level of the engine oil by the dipstick, replenish if necessary with an approved oil.
  5. Transmission – Inspect the level of the transmission oil by the dipstick, replenish if necessary with an approved oil.

Every 50 Hours

  1. Hydraulic Power Unit – Remove the magnetic filter, clean thoroughly and replace.
  2. Hydraulic Power Unit Cross-Shaft – Apply the grease gun filled with grease and give two strokes to each nipple.

Linkage and Controls – Apply the grease gun filled with grease to the following      points; foot brakes, hand brake, clutch mechanism, radiator shutters and throttle control.

Every 200 Hours

  1. Steering – Inspect the level of the steering box oil and replenish if necessary with an approved oil.
  2. Engine – Drain the old oil from the engine sump and refill with approved oil.
  3. Fuel Injection Pump – Drain the old oil and refill with fresh approved oil.

Every 400 Hours

  1. Oil Filter – Remove the engine oil filter element and fit a new one.
  2. Water Pump – Apply the oil gun filled with oil and give two shots.

Every 1000 Hours  

  1. Dynamo – Add two drops of engine oil to the lubricating hole in the rear end of the dynamo.
  2. Transmission – Drain the old oil from the transmission and refill with an approved oil.
  3. Hydraulic Power Unit – Remove and clean the pump suction filter.

Modern oils performance are enhanced such that;

  1. Can make it last longer with an anti oxidant.
  2. Can reduce wear with an anti-wear.
  3. Can neutralize acids of combustion particularly in diesel engines – alkalinity additives.
  4. Can reduce the foaming of the oil –
  5. Can reduce contact of gear teeth Extreme Pressure (EP) additive.
  6. Can clean the engine while it lubricates – detergent.
  7. Can break the cleaned material into fine particles that pass through oil filter easily –
  8. Can make oil flow at colder temperatures – pour point depressant.
  9. Can make oil be used both in winter and summer – viscosity index improver (VII)

The list will go on and on as the oil becomes of higher performance.


How do I dispose of my waste oil products?

As we have seen a lubricant is composed of petroleum base oil with many chemical additives. It is therefore important to note these lubricants could be harmful to the body when swallowed or the skin is exposed to it. It is important to keep lubricants properly sealed and away from children. If the skin is exposed to new oil, it should be washed away immediately.

When a lubricant particularly engine oil is subjected to high temperature and high pressure in the presence of metal, more harmful compounds are formed. These are the compounds that cause skin cancer or damage body organs after long exposure. It is advisable always that these oils are washed away from the body with water and detergent immediately. The harmful compounds in used oil are also available in recycled base oils and it is advisable not to use lubricants made from recycled base oils.

Oil spilled on the floor surfaces are slippery and it is advisable that they are washed away properly with detergent to avoid accidents at work place.

If used oil is thrown on the ground, it seeps through the soil into the underground water and contaminates the water thus endangering the lives of people and animals that depend on the water. It also renders the soil unproductive as it kills bacteria that sustain life and as it takes many years for the used oil to biodegrade, it renders the soil unproductive for many years thus endangering food production.

Water thrown in drains contaminates surfaces and underground water. It is worth knowing that the litter of used oil contaminates 1 Million litres of water. As Kenya is water distressed, we should take every precaution to protect water and soil from used oil contamination.

In garages, it is encouraged that used oil is collected in non-leaking containers and any spillage is avoided. The oil so collected should be given to companies that are licensed by NEMA to dispose of the used oil in an environmentally acceptable manner. Remember, if recyclers get this oil they make oil which they either sell directly or as counterfeits using packages of popular brand which might end up in your vehicle.