Revenge of the Nerd - Nissan in the sump with diamonds?

By Mike Kojima

When we launched MotoIQ,  I wrote another article on this subject but it sorta got buried in our initial rush of article releases and since it never appeared on our front page, it languished with almost no reads deep within our tech section.  I think this subject is too interesting to remain buried so this month I am devoting Nerds to  the subject of Nissan's new oil technology.

The new Nissan 370 and the Infiniti G37 with the VQ37VHR engine has been plagued with issues regarding high oil temperatures in severe use since their launch making debate on oil a big topic on internet forums. The conversations on oil temperature issues leads to Nissan's recommendations for Genuine Nissan "ester" based oil and the super expensive oil service.

Posts on forums indicate that some Nissan dealers are charging up to $300 for an oil change for the special oil that is mandatory for use on the 370z and its VQ37VHR. Is this oil expensive? Yes, does it have significant value? Yes, is it mandatory for your warranty or to insure long engine life? No. Is it important if you are the type of driver that wants the best for your engine in terms of fuel economy, life and performance? Yes. Is the "special" oil market hype intended to enrich Nissan's coffers? It’s up to you to decide, we will attempt to explain what's going on with the oil so you can decide for yourself.

Regular DLC coating is very slipper but does not attract oil
Standard DLC coating is very slippery and reduces friction considerably but does not attract oil

Nissan's oil was developed in a push to greatly reduce friction in an engine's valvetrain. The valvetrain is the second biggest contributor to the total amount of an engine's mechanical friction, the piston rings being the biggest contributor. Usually on most engines the valvetrain produces 15-20% of the total friction of an engine. An engine with a complicated valvetrain like the VQ37VHR is probably on the high end of this figure.

The latest info that we have derived from Nissan white papers on the VQ37VHR's VVEL drivetrain is that contact pressures and stresses in the cam follower area are very high when the engine is working at wide open throttle at high rpm and the VVEL system is at maximum lift and duration.  These high stresses heat the oil significantly. This is why any 370Z or G37 goes into limp mode for high oil temp in just a few laps on the track with a fast driver.  Normally the high lift and duration modes are only a small part of the engine's duty cycle so it's not an issue, but for track driving they are the norm.

Nissan's special oil and their newly developed hydrogen free DLC coating on cam followers reduces the amount of friction produced by the valvetrain by a huge amount.  This can make a considerable difference in fuel economy,  power output and perhaps even heat generation.

What is Nissan's special oil? The oil was developed to complement Nissan's Hydrogen free DLC coating used on the cam followers in the QR25DE engine, the VQ35HR and the VQ37VHR engines. DLC stands for Diamond Like Coating, which is an amorphous layer of carbon crystals with hard smooth properties much like diamond. Most valvetrain friction is created by the interface between the cam follower and the cam lobe. DLC is very slippery stuff and Nissan uses it to reduce valvetrain friction to improve fuel economy, reduce emission and increase power.

Nissan hydrogen free dlc combined with nano particle ester oil is very slippery because of the molecular attraction
Nissan's hydrogen free DLC coating has a strong molecular attraction towards Nissan's special nano particle ester oil.  This reduces friction to unheard of levels.

Nissan figured that eliminating the hydrogen molecules in the DLC coating would make it an attractor of polar molecules like those found in hydroxyl compounds. A hydroxyl molecule is highly polar hydrocarbon molecule. The polarity makes it a good solvent so it mixes well with other fluids, like oil. Nissan chose ester hydroxyls, part of the alcohol family, probably because the properties of esters in motor oil are well understood as esters have been used as friction modifiers in motor oil for decades. Nissan chose an ester called PAO; an ester often found as a friction modifier in oil. By adding PAO so it would be around 10-15% of the oil, when combined with the hydrogen free DLC coating, Nissan created oil that would be attracted to the cam follower on a molecular level.

In studying the various technical white papers and patents for Nissan’s super oil, we are not exactly sure of its exact composition in terms if its is considered a synthetic or not. Nissans patents and technical documentation are very broad when describing the make up of the super oil, probably to protect against patent infringement and to make it hard for a competitor to make the exact same stuff. We can ascertain that the technology is compatible to most known base oils, be they synthetic, mineral or a blend and we do know that esters are synthetic compounds so at least the oil is probably considered a semi synthetic at the least. The Nissan oil's bottle lable says petroleum oil under contents, a bottle of Mobile One doesn’t say this. The Nissan oil smells like PAO ester oil used in AC systems charged with 134A.

The next unusual thing about Nissans oil is its innovative use of nano technology. To help lubricate areas of extreme pressure and friction in the engine, the biggest of which is the interface between the cam lobe/VVEL finger follower and cam follower, engine oils have traditionaly used what are called extreme pressure friction modifiers. These typically are compounds that have a slight molecular attraction to metal and usually have a slippery metallic element to them. These are compounds such as zinc diphosphate, molybdenum dithiophosphate and molybdenum dithiocarbamate. These friction modifiers work pretty well for preventing metal to metal contact in an engine but they have some issues. One is that they don’t burn completely when they get past the piston rings and valve guide seals and create ash; this can end up being a hard but sticky deposit in your engine’s combustion chamber and valves that can stick rings and valves, raise compression to cause detonation, and create porous hydrocarbon traps in the combustion chambers, valve and ports that screw up emissions and reduce flow, hurting power. These chemicals can also contaminate catalytic converters making them lose their effectiveness. These friction modifiers also are prone to shearing down and wearing out over time, losing their effectiveness.

Nissan, in their search for improving oil's frictional properties, figured out a way to substitute ultra hard nano particles for the normal chemical friction modifiers adding some interesting molecular twists. Again due to the convoluted nature of Nissan’s white papers and patents, its hard to guess exactly what the nano particles are but they are definitely an ultra hard industrial abrasive or bearing type ceramic and probably at least in part, nano particles of industrial diamond!

 Nissan's hydrogen free DLC coating uses molecular attraction and the bearing action of likely attracted nano particles to reduce friction to previously unheard of levels, Nissan's treatment is significantly slicker than super slick coatings like titanium nitrate and standard DLC coating as shown in this chart.

Why would Nissan put abrasives or chunks of bearing material in its oil? Well, you have to consider some things about nano technology. The unit of measure here is called a nanometer or one billionth of a meter, that’s pretty darned small. A nanometer sized particle is much too small to be seen by the naked eye. For instance, a water molecule is somewhat less than one nanometer. A typical bacterium is just less than 1000 nanometers and a hair is 100,000 nanometers thick. In the world of physics, weird things happen when particles are this small. The particles of the diamond/ceramic are so small they mix with the oil and stay suspended as they are hardly affected by gravity and molecular forces called van der waals forces keep them apart. They also are undetectable to the naked eye and the oil still looks clear.

Nissans super oil is around 0.5% nano particles by weight. The particles are probably around 10 nanometers in diameter, really very small! A certain percentage of the nano particles have to be carbon based, preferably single crystal synthetic diamond. The carbon content helps make the nano particles attracted to the low hydrogen DLC coating. Instead of making a slippery metallic film on bare metal parts like traditional friction modifiers, the nano particles act like atomic level miniature ball bearings, preventing metal to metal contact and reducing friction to previously unheard of levels. These nano particles are ashless if they find there way into the engine, making the oil low deposit forming for lower emissions. The Nissan super oil does most of its friction reduction in the valvetrain but it still helps in other parts of the engine, particularly in areas were metal to metal contact might occur.

Nissan's ester nano particle oil also reduces friction in these areas
Nissan's ester nano particle oil reduces friction in these parts of the engine as well, wherever there is the potential for metal to metal contact, it will help.

In lab testing of test coupons, the Nissan Super oil with hydrogen free DLC coating had the friction reduced by 60-75 percent over conventional oil with no coating. This equated to a around a 40% reduction in total valvetrain friction in a real motor and a 20-25% reduction in total friction of the motor! This is a significant result which should show real gains in fuel economy and probably something like 1-1.5 hp per cylinder at high rpm over an uncoated valvetrain with conventional oil. If this is worth something to you then yes, the expense of the oil is worth it! Now the DLC coating still works at reducing friction with regular oil just not as amazingly well. Not using the Super oil will not cause you engine to wear out prematurely or anything like that but it probably will wear slightly more, particularly in the valvetrain, probably at a level that doesn’t matter much.

Nissan's hydrogen free DLC coating and ester nono particle oil reduces friction 25%
Nissan's nano particle oil when combined with low hydrogen DLC coating reduces total engine friction by 25%.  This helps fuel economy, reduces emissions and help free up several horsepower in the 370Z and G37.  The QR25DE engine used in the Sentra SE-R Spec-V and Altima, The Maxima, and the FX56 all use this technology.


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Saturday, October 03, 2009 8:53 PM
So ... Nissan develops a spankin' engine and nowhere on the Monroney does Nissan disclose the engine's best performance is that with its own proprietary oil; no mention at closing by the brain-trust (or lack of) of dealership sales personnel; no mention of the above by Nissan in the 370Z's owners manual, only the following:

Selecting the correct oil

It is essential to choose the correct grade, quality, and viscosity engine oil to ensure satisfactory engine life and performance, see “CAPACITIES AND RECOMMENDED FUEL/ LUBRICANTS” earlier in this section. NISSAN recommends the use of an energy conserving oil in order to improve fuel economy.

Select only engine oils that meet the American Petroleum Institute (API) certification or International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) certification and SAE vis- cosity standard. These oils have the API certification mark on the front of the container. Oils which do not have the specified quality label should not be used as they could cause engine damage.

Bloody wonderful, just bloody wonderful. Nissan, you gotta love 'em.
Sunday, October 04, 2009 7:29 AM
Hehehe MotoIQ ROCKS! Lots of new stuff unheard of from other places. Keep up the hard work.
Sunday, October 04, 2009 8:49 AM

i would really like to try this oil...
Sunday, October 04, 2009 9:18 AM
I posted this in the thread on this topic, but it might have been lost in hustle of adding content to the new site:

PAO is not an ester. It is actually about as opposite from an ester as it gets, since polyalphaolefins are fully saturated hydrocarbons.

The patent application for suspended additives of a-C (H-free DLC) was filed back in 2005. The patent also references the results of friction testing done on DLC-coated lifters reported in the white paper, "Hydrogen-free DLC-Coated Engine Valve Lifter".

The white paper concluded that the use of a PAO base stock with a TMP ester (a common fatty acid ester, part of the polyolester group) had the lowest level of friction torque. The purpose of the paper was to demonstrate the friction reduction achieved with the a-C coating and a synthetic GF-4 engine oil which does not use high levels of phosphorous additives, such as ZDDP. Thus, the new a-C coatings and new grade engine oils offer better lubricity than the old-school ZDDP fortified oils which have been correlated to catalyst degradation.

A conventional oil with TMP esters was also evaluated with positive results, and Nissan now recommends a conventional base stock oil with an ester additive for VQ37VHR engines. There is nothing which suggests the oil sold by Nissan has suspended a-C nanoparticles as described by the 2005 patent application.

Interestingly enough, the VQ35HR also uses a-C coated lifters and never needed any special oil, which casts serious doubt that special oil is needed for the lifters in the VHR engine. The VVEL system is the most obvious change from the HR engine, and responsible for the "ticking" noise some owners hear. There is little doubt in my mind that the VVEL system would need careful selection of engine oil.

If one wanted a good oil with some esters in it, there are lots of oils which use TMP and other esters as additives to conventional and PAO base oils, and they cost a whole lot less than what Nissan is charging. As a matter of fact, the only specific brand and grade of oil Nissan recommends for any of its models is Mobil1 0W-40 for the GT-R, which is a PAO base oil which does use an ester additive.

Be careful when considering an ester base stock engine oil for your street car, as even Nissan found that a TMP concentration of over 3% had solubility and stability issues (as most esters are susceptible to hydrolysis) and a concentration of .4 to 1.5% was ideal.

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, October 04, 2009 9:36 AM

The Nissan white paper I am referring to which is on Nissan's global intranet reference the nano particles. A white paper on the VHR engine implies that the oil is needed due to really high contact stresses of the VVEL drivetrain when its at max lift and duration.

What do you know about Motul 300V that has a high ester content?
Sunday, October 04, 2009 10:11 AM
Motul 300V is an ester base oil. They, like Silkolene and some other boutique racing oils, have chosen to use certain Diesters as opposed to the more common Polyolesters for their base stock. I can't say that I blame them, as diesters typically have higher polarity and offer a higher viscosity index than equivalent polols. However, polyolesters typically resist oxidation at higher temperatures than diesters, but this is negated in most circumstances by the use of antioxidants. Using the correct blends with appropriate antioxidants to scavenge free radicals, the diesters will allow a more shear-stable end product without having to use as much viscosity index improver as an equivalent polyolester product. The main issue with using an ester base oil in anything other than a racing car, is that high amounts of ester are hydrolytically unstable, and form carboxylic acids with water vapor condensing in the crankcase. In addition, they are not compatible with a god number of seal material, especially silicone, and typically cause 10-20% swelling of Nitrile seals. This means the additive package must be mindful of the necessary buffers to mitigate these issues, which means less base stock and more additive. It's a catch-22, unless you have a racing engine where moisture isn't a problem, you have more control over seal type, and all you need is the most thermally stable product available. Otherwise, i don't like products like Motul 300V for anything other than a street car, especially since all the used oil analysis from street driven 350Z's has been horrible with the product.

Sunday, October 04, 2009 10:14 AM
Do'h, should have proof-read that before posting. I meant to type,

"They are not compatible with a GOOD number of seal materials, especially silicone, ...."


"Otherwise I don't like products like Motul 300V for anything other than a RACE car, ...."

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, October 04, 2009 10:22 AM
300V seems to produce really low wear on my race cars in the bore, valvetrain and bearings. Did you do a typo and mean that 300V should only be used in a race car and its not suitable for a street car?

I tried redline at one point which used to be a Polyolester but i had wear issues and switched to mobile one which worked well, the believe the old formulation was a diester. When mobile one started to get cheapened out to become a blend (except for the zero 50 I think) I switched to motul which seems to work even better.

I also run 300V in my turbo modded street cars. What are the issues you have seen with oil analysis and 300V in street cars? Bearing issues from acids?
Sunday, October 04, 2009 10:43 AM
I think Motul 300V is a great RACE oil, but I wouldn't use it in a street driven car which sees time between oil changes, especially if it's not driven often.

For the 350Z, Cu, Fe, and Sn were all well above the standard deviation of wear measured from other used oil analysis for all three of the Motul 300V analysis that were run. Consider the following excerpt from Lubrication Fundamentals 2nd Edition(2001), which posts a table in regards to issues with ester base oils and modern engine oil formulations:

seal compatibility issues (which I already note)
hydrolytic stability issue (also already noted)
metal corrosion and anti-rust (this hasn't been mentioned by me, yet.)

Corrosion is the result of any chemical change to the surface of a metal, which polar molecules can do. In fact, the extreme pressure additives in your gear oil do this very thing to "harden" the metal surfaces and protect against wear. The result is they often pit softer yellow metals. Many esters will have corrosion affects with metal surfaces, and also produce iron oxides as a result of their chemical bonds with certain steels. Hence, they need to be carefully moderated in quantity and have suitable additives to buffer their undesirable properties. Of course, additives can fall out of suspension, which is why you don't see Motul being advertised for long oil change intervals like Amsoil does. Again, for a race car, that isn't an issue.

As for Mobil1, I don't use any of their products, but they have several good blends. All of them use a PAO base oil. The issue has become how much of it is PAO, By nature, all PAO oils must use a carrier oil to suspend the additives, and ideally the carrier oil would be an ester. Some of their grades use a Group 3 synthetic as carrier oil, and in pretty high concentration. There are those who don't consider G3 oils as true synthetics, and I wouldn't argue with them, and as such M1 has been the subject of a lot of internet scorn. They still make several grades which are mostly a PAO base with alkylated napthenic and ester additives, and M1 0W-40 is one of them, and so is their 5W-40 oil. They make some of the most heavily spec'd oils in the world, but for a race car, their OTS product isn't the best on the market. They do sell a racing oil now, in 0W-30, which if anything like their old M1-R oil, will be fantastic and very expensive.

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, October 04, 2009 12:12 PM
Since i change my oil frequently, is 300V still going to be an issue with my High Performance Turbo street cars?

The race cars get the oil changed every 5-6 hours. The do sit for months without being started or driven sometimes though. Wear is exceptionally low. For instance the Dog car had no measurable bore wear and leaked down less than 1% after 2 seasons of racing and the bearings were fine even though I had suffered a total loss of oil pressure due to a fractured oil pump gear when going down the infield straight at Fontana.

The gear failed at around 8k rpm and the engine went for several seconds with no oil pressure until I heard the exhaust note change as the HLA's collapsed. I tore down the motor to inspect it was was surprised to find no damage and little wear. I even reused the bearings and that motor is still in the car! One of my friends who races rotaries, told me that the apex seals last 4-5 times longer with 300V.

What do you think the best street car oil is? I change my 300V every 2000 miles or less in the turbo cars. On my daily drivers I run mobile one and change the oil every 3000-5000 depending how hectic work is.

Interestingly my new Tundra requires 0W20 for warranty reasons and that stuff is like water! I am not too comfortable running that in my tow truck but the oil fill cap says you must run it for the warranty! When I did my first oil change, the old oil ran out just like water. It was way thinner than oil at operating temp.
Sunday, October 04, 2009 12:25 PM
The polar affinity of esters, and their high-temp resistance to oxidation, are the two primary reasons they make for such a good base oil in racing use. Sounds like it served you well, especially since the polar affinity prevented the loss of oil film when you had zero oil pressure.

For street cars, I don't have a recommendation, other than to do your own UOA testing and see what it looks like for how you drive and your model of engine. In the Z, cars which sit for weeks between being driven and use high ester oils like motul or redline, have all had much higher tin and iron wear than when they used another brand. I imagine Pb wear would have been higher as well, if Nissan used more lead in their VQ bearings. As it is, there are a good number of oils which have provided MUCH better UOA results for this kind of duty, but the only one I can recall off the top of my head is Rotella T-Syn 5W-40.

Of course, if you're also changing the oil every 2k miles, I doubt you'll ever have a problem with your oil, no matter how hard you drive those cars. I wouldn't ever consider a long oil change interval using Motul 300V. It's just not the usage supported by the chemistry of that oil.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009 6:35 AM
Power Nissan in Torrance charges $90. for the 370z oil change. I don't know who's charging $300. but that is a complete rip off. I'm thinking about just heading down to Costco and loading up on Mobil 1 and doing it myself from now on.
Friday, October 09, 2009 11:18 PM
If your going to go out and purchase your own oil might as well head down to Nissan and pick up a case of this new stuff...I am sure a high percentage of that $90 dollars is just labor/disposal fee's.
Monday, November 16, 2009 2:33 PM
Good Read! I run the mobile one 0w-40 on my DD rotary and most likely will soon be switching to Motul if I was not selling for the new nismo 370z soon.

Will this sounded like a line a Korean women once gave me trying to sell me Gogi Juice in the supplement store I was running at the time.

"but this is negated in most circumstances by the use of antioxidants. Using the correct blends with appropriate antioxidants to scavenge free radicals" LOL made me laugh my butt off.
Friday, February 05, 2010 9:43 PM
Is Nissan using Buckyballs in their oil?
Saturday, March 20, 2010 10:46 AM
Clear as mud to me, after all this. If we have 370Zs and we want to do a fair amount of enthusiastic driving, but short of actual racing, do we need to use Nissan's magic oil, or would Mobil 1 be OK, or Royal Purple (popular with rotaries)?

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