Oil Bay: Grease: Does all-purpose serve every purpose?

For most shops, chassis lubrication is a footnote in the available suite of services. It has to be done, you won’t get rich doing it and your customers, likely, won’t remark on what a great job you’ve done.

But there is an opportunity to help set your business apart when it comes to keeping your customers’ vehicles well greased. You can help them save money through longer component life and you can make more money.

Mark Betner, heavy-duty lubricants manager for Citgo Petroleum Corp., cites one example of a fleet that has reduced maintenance costs by $3000 over the life cycle of a vehicle by using a premium grease product and applying it correctly.

“And they weren’t doing bad to begin with,” he says. “This wasn’t a maintenance situation where you would come back and say, ‘they were just uninformed or they didn’t know what they were doing.’ ”

While there is some cost savings in that a premium grease has greater staying power and won’t wear or wash out as readily, the main cost savings were realized, he says, through longer component life. “The better products do offer a secondary benefit of lasting longer and reducing consumption, but it’s the longer component life where the real savings occur,” Betner says.

It takes approximately three pounds of grease to properly lubricate a Class 8 chassis and fifth wheel. Betner says the upcharge for doing the service with a premium grease would be no more than about $25 per year. If the customer can save up to $3000 by specifying a premium grease over the course of four or five years, it should be an easy sell.

“A repair shop could just price the additional cost of the premium product into the service, but they would certainly want to make sure their customers understood the additional value they were getting,” Betner says. “Or, they could offer it as an option.”

But it is the exception rather than the rule for a shop to offer grease choices for different vehicle uses, let alone more than one choice for a single application purpose.

“If we did everything perfect, we’d probably see three or four different greases in each shop, but that’s not always practical,” says Stede Granger, OEM technical manager for Shell Lubricants. “So you have to look at everything and take a balanced approach.”

Besides offering a choice of standard versus premium grease, different grease formulations should be available for chassis and suspension components, the fifth wheel and, if your shop services trailers, semi-fluid grease for trailer wheel bearings.

Stocking a single all-purpose grease for all applications may sell maintenance practices short as well as cut customers out of possible cost savings and your business out of possible profits.

“If it were me, I would definitely take a look at using different greases for the fifth wheel, the chassis and wheel bearings,” Granger says. “We encourage our customers to do very proactive maintenance using good products at the right intervals.”

Adds Betner, “It may not be convenient for you to stock two products in the shop. But at the end of the day, if you want that customer back, consider giving them an option that will make a difference for them.”

Grease Grades
Greases are classified by the National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI) by their stiffness. The most common type of grease used in servicing heavy-duty trucks is rated No. 2. “The NLGI has put out a set of specifications that define how thick a grease is,” Granger says. “The bigger the number, the more stiff the grease is.” The ratings range from No. 000 for the lightest grease to No. 6 for the thickest. A grease rated No. 00 would be a semi-fluid formulation used for trailer wheel bearings.

In addition to stiffness, greases are further differentiated by the unique formulations of their respective manufacturers, and most every lubricant maker offers a premium option.

“Premium grease products have improved base oil properties that help promote longer lubricant life in addition to higher degrees of rust and corrosion protections,” says John W. Geyer, CLS, industrial marketing specialist, Industrial Marketing Sector, Chevron Corp. “Premium products usually are offered in larger product families that have various NLGI grades available to meet many applications without having to switch products. Premium greases with the proper combination of oil viscosity and additives can provide you with serious advantages depending on your specific requirements.”

Automatic chassis lubrication systems create another consideration. While these systems are still relatively rare, if one comes into your shop it may require another grease formulation. While No. 2 grade grease is preferred for chassis lubrication, it may be too thick for automatic lubrication systems to handle. For these systems, No. 0 or No. 1 grades typically are required.

Shop Delivery
In addition to which grease to use and where to use it, shops need to consider how it gets there. Grease delivery systems range in sophistication from a centralized, shop-wide system to a technician with a pail and a plank of wood.

“When it comes to stocking grease products, it’s critical to consider the delivery of the product to the application,” Geyer says. “For example, if you are using a grease product that is a NLGI No. 2 grade with a very high base oil viscosity and you are using a centralized grease system that has long piping/hose runs, pumpability or mobility of the grease may be an issue.”

For an unheated shop in a cold climate, the problem worsens. For this scenario, Geyer recommends using a product with oil viscosity between 150 and 220 centistrokes (cSt), a measure of viscosity. Higher viscosity greases, typically 320 cSt and greater, can be used year-round in heated facilities or shops located in warmer climates.

Geyer says that when selecting grease products, it is important to note the distinction between its viscosity and NLGI grade.

“The key idea is that not all NLGI grades contain the same oil viscosity,” he says. “The NLGI grade refers to the thickness of a grease, not the oil viscosity.”

So while much of the aftermarket treats grease as all the same, the shop that recognizes that all-purpose does not serve every purpose has an opportunity to distinguish itself in the marketplace and provide customers with a little added value.

“The sacrifice with an all-purpose grease is that they’re just that,” Betner says. “I often make the analogy that if I were a tool salesperson and I walked into these shops and said, ‘I want you to throw away all of your specialty tools, because I’m going to sell you one tool. It’s called a crescent wrench’ they would laugh at me. Yet we treat grease like that.”

Learn how to move your used trucks faster
With unsold used inventory depreciating at a rate of more than 2% monthly, efficient inventory turnover is a must for dealers. Download this eBook to access proven strategies for selling used trucks faster.
Used Truck Guide Cover