From my desk at the huge chemical plant where I worked, I could see the parking lot for the engine room. This plant was unique, and it was an “old time” chemical plant, more like today’s steel mills than today’s chemical plants. The engines in the “engine room” were eight huge 2000 hp 1500kW steam engines that drove gas compressors. Sitting at my desk, there were several times when at about 3:40 PM, a person started his car, and there was a huge cloud of smoke. This was in the 1980s; car engines shouldn’t smoke, and the cloud aroused my curiosity.

Well, one of the times when I was working with the engine room maintenance gang, we were waiting for equipment, and we waited, and we waited. And while we were waiting, we gabbed about a lot of trivial things, the weather, local sports, etc. I finally asked the guys about the smoking car and who owned it. They started laughing and said, “That’s’ Crazy George”. One of the lead mechanics went on to say that George was “putting one over on the company”. He was stealing a quart of engine oil every week.

Automotive engine oils are extremely sophisticated lubricants with a high proportion, probably 16% to 18%, of additives. What happens when you put a STEAM ENGINE oil with less than 1% additives in your car engine? You get badly worn valve guides and piston rings and lots of smoke!

Next time you hear some uneducated person say “oil is oil,” you can quote an expensive lesson.

Excerpt from Failure Analysis Made Simple: Bearings and Gears
by Neville W. Sachs
Published by, 2015
pages 9-10

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