What Does SAE Stand for in Motor Oil?

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SAE stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers. The SAE was founded in 1905 by Andrew Ricker and Henry Ford. At the outset, its sole aim was to provide an umbrella organization for the scattered automotive engineers who usually worked alone in various parts of the country. SAE’s role soon expanded and became an important resource for the auto industry so that engineering and technology developments could be shared.

SAE role continues to expand

As the SAE continued to expand, so did its role in the automotive world. Within a decade of its founding – its initial advocates were automotive publishers Peter Heldt of Horseless Age and Howard Swetland of The Automobile – SAE had grown. By 1916, it had added aeronautical and tractor engineers. In 1916, SAE took the form it has today. Heldt and Swetland believed in personal and professional development and wanted SAE to move in that direction. In that same year, the organization became global but believed in acting local for support through sections.

After World War I and through the postwar years, SAE continued to grow. Adding to its educational role, SAE became an international standards body, providing important consumer standards in oil, for example.

SAE assures global oil standards

The Society of Automotive Engineers provides a number of global standards in many fields including cars and trucks, petroleum, aerospace and others. SAE assures that a key automotive item – oil – is standard across the globe. This means that if you were to buy a quart of 5W-30 oil in Sri Lanka it would be the same as if you had picked up another can of oil in New York. Without an organization like the SAE, it is quite possible that instead of one set of oil standards that is recognized worldwide, there might be hundreds, one for each country, that would drive up the cost of oil and motoring, in general.

SAE currently maintains more than 1,600 standards and practices documents for cars and other road-going vehicles. Though they do not have the force of law, SAE standards have been included by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in its documentation for some of the standards the federal safety agency establishes. The same is true of Transport Canada, NHTSA’s counterpart north of the border.

Oil viscosity standards explained

One of SAE’s important roles has been in establishing and maintaining standardization in petroleum products. That standardization includes a program of testing that assures that products have the same attributes. Oil viscosity is a measure of resistance to flow. A 5W-30 oil exhibits good flow characteristics in winter cold and summer heat. In other words, at -35°F, oil will retain its ability to flow and will refrain from gelling. Oil will also retain its ability to flow and protect an engine at high temperatures (212°F). These are the test points used by SAE.

SAE’s testing program centers on a viscosity number of 30. The 5W-30 identifies the oil as a multi-weight oil that, at -35°F retains the characteristics of a 30 weight oil. The W identifies the oil as Winter grade oil (it will flow better when cold). The 30 identifies it as a 30-weight oil that will flow at high temperature. SAE standards apply to not only multi-grade oils but also single-grade oils well.

The mission of the SAE

The SAE began its life as an attempt to provide scattered automotive engineers with an umbrella organizations that would not only act as a key support but which would also help to keep its members current with the latest information and education. That has been an important part of SAE’s mission.

Equally important, SAE provides consumers with the knowledge that important items like motor oil have the same quality the world over, as well as a means for measuring that quality. SAE has grown into an important organization whose role is essential in today’s multi-faceted world.


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