Question of the Day: Is it OK to use a multigrade oil in a Lister 6/1?


Mali Project, Matt on left Visits Sebastian's Project, Seb on right

Mali Project, Matt on left Visits Sebastian’s Project, Seb on right













Subject: listeroid oil weight

Question from Robert B.

Is there any reason I can not use 5w30 oil in the winter for easier starting? I have been sick lately and just can’t hand crank it like I used to.

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Do read the comments before you form your opinion and choose the best answer.  Remember… I’m always the student, and always subject to needing another lesson, so do consider the other opinions here.   

George’s Answer:

No doubt you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask, but here’s a dose of reality for some…My little camping Coleman generator is hard to start with anything but 0-30 multigrades in it when it’s really cold!  So if you can’t start it what good is it?

The Listers can be a bear to start when it’s cold, as well…  a glow plug helps, but with the drag of a gen head, and other loads, it can be hard cranking when it ‘s cold.  I think 5Wxx or even 0Wxx multi grades can be an  option to get you thru cold weather but there are things I’d note before doing so, most multi grades I see are detergents, and this means you will suspend stuff in the oil to carry it to the filter.. many of us don’t have conventional filters, and ferrous material can be trapped in the detergent and run thru those all-important softer metals in bushings. With this understanding, I run neo magnets in my sump, and if I have lots of them, I put lots of them in there.  If the magnet traps it, it doesn’t run through the bushings.

Another thing to think about, the EPA doesn’t care how much equipment you ruin, and this older equipment can benefit from the oils that were blended for use in older stuff. I’d consider looking for additives that have a tad bit of zinc or other proven anti wear agents  to help protect the most important thing in your engine.. the crank pin, no doubt, other parts will benefit as well.

To re-cap….several things I think necessary in an old splash system Lister clone.. fit magnets in the sump, some people even fit a screen with coarse cloth fiber material under it, all at the bottom of the deep sumps (if you have one) any particles in the oil will eventually drop out between runs, and get trapped. Do note that not all clones have deep sumps..  

Always check the top bushing on your crank pin at regular intervals, look for contamination and pitting, change the shell if you see trouble.. remember the bottom shell can look perfect when the top shell is well destroyed or contaminated. Ferrous metal embedded in the soft bushing materials WILL eventually cut into your crank pin. Change the bush if you see a potential problem. With most things, inspections and engine performance are good guides as to your need to change methods or oil. 

Now you have my opinion..  I like the multi grades as they can make a  cold weather start possible.  A multi grade non detergent would be nice.. do they make such an animal?

As with all things, planning ahead is best, make your decision as to what you’ll use  for that coldest of weather, and have it on hand. 



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14 Responses to Question of the Day: Is it OK to use a multigrade oil in a Lister 6/1?

  1. Butch(OH) says:

    George, If there is a multigrade non-det I have never run across any. Another thing to think about is the CS crankcase oil takes a very long time to get warm. Unless the engine is running long hours at high loadings a person will do his engine no disfavor by running straight 10W Non-Det oil in cold weather. We have run into problems with 15W-4o diesel oils in new or rebuilt engines causing rings to not seal and making for lots of vapor out the breathers and exhaust slobbering especialy on the later air cooled engines. One of my English advisers said “why man! why not try the correct oil?? which is 10W, the oil you are running is for warm weather and heavy loadings. ”

    Has worked every time so far.

    • George B. says:

      There’s a lot of opinions out there Butch.. I agree the non detergents are likely better, but the multi grades are not something that has caused me trouble. We have such different installs, engines inside, engines outside. but one thing for sure, these big and heavy engines,…. it’s hard to find oil too warm in any of them! If you have one outside in the winter you your way.. 10W single grade might be great!

  2. bob g says:

    something to keep in mind guys is this

    rod brg design has changed over the years,
    early non detergent engines used a thicker babbit material on the shells
    or at least that is how they were spec’s at the time. the idea was if something got in there, it would embed into the thick babbit and not lap the crank journal.

    with the advent of oil filtration and higher hp the design of the brg changed, they went to harder and thinner babbit layers, harder to take the stress of more hp and thinner because it is easier to make the babbit stronger if it is thin and filtration negated the need to embed the particles that might find there way between the shell and the crank.

    the problem today is this

    for every engine built to use non detergent, non filtered oil, there are probably 10k that are made to use detergent oil and a filter or two.

    when we consider where this product comes from and the fact that brg manufacture is somewhat a more specialized industry, we might reasonably conclude that the listeroid rod brgs are made by brg companies who’s primary focus in life is making brgs for engine’s that will be using filtered detergent oils.. in which case we might further conclude that they would simply make the brgs for the listeroid to fit the dimension but not necessarily fit the design? it is conceivable that brgs of modern thin babbit design are sold to the assemblers and they put them in and out the door it goes.

    because of this, if it were me, i would not recommend the use of a detergent oil, i would not want stuff to remain in suspension and end up partially embedded in the thin babbit lining and then work as a lap to grind my crankshaft down.

    furthermore, because the listeroid is so damn cold in the crankcase, relatively speaking, i would be all over the use of 10 weight non detergent oil in the winter months

    the listeroid shells i have seen all have been thin babbit design, so anything that we can do to make sure the engine is clean to start with, add magnets and some sort of filter system as George states would seem not only prudent but the bare minimum if one plans on running the engine and doing real work.

    then there is that thing about the top feed oiling design that drive me crazy… if it were me i would do away with that right up front. i would go with plain upper shells and a hollow dipper. both of which have proven to greatly increase the life of the con rod bottom end.

    one final thought, i might even consider using a 10weight synthetic oil in cold weather if it were found to make for easier cranking. even if it meant i had to use an oil that is detergent. an engine that might get some grit damage is probably better than one i can’t start in the winter?

    bob g

    • George B. says:


      Yours is a great post!

      If you read the description of many if not most of the popular Indian made bushings designed for the Lister CS, and clones, they often reference a soft white metal. I think many if not most do allow ferrous and other harder metals to readily embedd in the material.

      Having talked to a few 3/1 owners who were lucky enough to find engines that had worked for years before their purchase, some were repported to have been found with the bottoms of the sumps packed tightly with a think sludge, and harder stuff below. some think that the engines may never have seen an oil change just oil added. The truth in the matter is likely a guess, but I do know from missionary reports, that in some african engines, the cure for a low oil level, was to add another clean smoothrock to that deep sump!

      Among the many questions I have is just how long a detergent keeps particles in suspension over non detergent? I’ll assume that when the machine stops, Gravity visits either oil, and particles having mass will be encouraged to fall out, and make their journey towards the bottom of the sump where they will likely stay.

      The risk of using detergents over non detergents may be much higher WHEN operators don’t routinely change lub oils, when they don’t have magnets fitted, when they don’t make time to check the upper crankpin bush and change it at the first sign of contamination. When contamination is found, one needs consider changing his plan.

      We know that not all particles are ferrous, a particle of concern for me is silica sand, and here we know this is a variable both in how much migh be found under that coat of inside paint, and how much time the first owner might spend looking for it, and ridding the engine of it.

      Another thing for sure, I have told of first hand experience with engines that were eating idlers or cam gears, and how the JK-Son Bronze Idler effort that Joel Koch intially funded worked out.. Several engines that ate several stock gears ran 3000 or more hours with bronze gears. I don’t claim that bronze is better, or even necessary IF everything in the engine is proper, line bores, and proper distances and relationships between crank, cam, and idler center lines, proper materials and all. I can say I think the bronze Idler DID mitigate problems for Joel’s customers, and there might be other benifits…

      With a Bronze Idler, we might shed less ferrous metals from a common source of ferrous particals brought into the lube oil. Still there will be others that are cocksure that there is never a reason to consider a bronze gear. I think we have proved the worth of the bronze Idler, but here again, there were a number of bronze gears made, and JK-Son made the only proper one I saw.. Others looked to have been made of a naval brass, and perhaps just called bronze?

      If anyone finds a good article on detergents and how effectivly they suspend partices, and for how long, I’d be interested in reading same and learning more. till then, I’ll run the detergent stuff in cold weather if I have the need, my needs are low compared to the off gridder 🙂

  3. George B. says:

    This is a good conversation, and with all things it’s about compromize, a splash type engine would certainly be considered such in this day and age.. KISS, but there are better ways to do it.

    My first choice to deal with cooler climates is to have a purpose built generator shed.. Not all people can afford the room, a trash burner in a corner where it’s really cold. The engine lives longer out of the days temperature swings where we can pump a lot of water into the engine via condensate.

    I guess we need mention how different the environment is, and how long winter is. I’m in a more moderate climate, the need for a 10 weight is a few months a year if you are out of doors.

    Butch mentions slobbering oil and more. I have run multigrades without that problem, but specific engines and environments seem to give us different results.

    One thing Butch mentions, and did Bob say it as well? These are cold beasts in winter, the crank case may not get warm enough during a run to charge batteries to drive off the moisture from the crank case. This may be as much of a concern, as that moisture allows other unpleasant things to happen in your engine. this is one reason for that thermostat, but if that engine is outside in a vermont winter, there’s a chance you won’t make enough heat to burn the ice off the lower part of the engine base.

    If I am having trouble finding oil, and I can’t crank the engine, I’ll have no trouble running a multi grade to get me to warmer weather. BUT…. running the single weight non detergent oil is likely the more correct answer.

    Most of us who have access to junked products, old floppy drives, and junked microwaves.. plenty of magnets for the sump, I’m not sure how many of them would be too many.

    It would be interesting to run two engines, one with non detergent, one full of magnets, and a more modern muilti grade. The first question we might ask, just what other types of particles non ferrous might we run through our bushes, and what is the result?

    • Quinn says:

      With all the talk about multigrade vs. single weight non-detergent oils, I’d like to point out that non-detergent oil is still available, but labeled as “air compressor oil.” I’ve seen quart cans (geez, I’m dating myself), I mean bottles, of Valvoline 20 wt compressor oil on the shelf at the local auto parts store, and I just saw it’s available in gallon bottles at Walmart for $17 and change. Don’t know whether the lack of additives that are intended for a diesel engine would be worse than keeping the particles suspended with a detergent oil, but then againk in 1930, I suspect engine oil was simply a crude oil distillate of a certain viscosity with no additives, so there you are.

      Re: single weight vs. multiweight, remember that the definition of 10-30, for example in a multiweight oil means that at 32 deg. F, the oil will have the same viscosity as straight 10 weight oil, while at 212 deg. F. that oil will be as thick as a 30 weight oil. So I don’t think it’s necessary to avoid the multiviscosity oils which are so freely available.

      As a fuel-economy measure, modern auto engines are now spec’ed for oils as thin as 5-30 so you can go even thinner than 10W if you want to.

      Was it Jack who said he measured the sump oil temp in his engine when it was cold and found it was somehting like 125 deg. F? If your oil never gets warmer than that, then I think the multivisc. oil has it all over a single weight oil. But then, I think water is wet, so what do I know?


      • Quinn says:

        Another reason I’d use a modern multi-visc oil rather than a non-detergent oil without all the additives, is that modern oils have gelling agents added to them, and are, to use the 25-cent word, non-Newtonian pseudoplastic fluids, or simply “shear-thinning” fluids. When subjected to mechanical shear, the fluid flows, but thickens when shear is removed. So the oil tends to stick to bearing surfaces rather than running out over time as older oils will.

      • George B. says:

        Quinn, good post.

        I too think that multigrades are especially valuable in an engine left out of doors. The 125 degrees F is a suprise, Jack must have had it well loaded if it was anywhere near as cold as it can get there. I do remember him saying that the engine needed a home inside that shed. At partial loading, I’d expect the oil to be too cold to bath in. In Areas where we might see Zero F temps, I’d consider 0-30 multi grades.

        If there are multigrades of non detergent types, I guess we could all be happier, no doubt, we might be able to find an addative package to give us what we might think we need.

        We need be aware that Fat Lisa is certain you have no business pouring anything in the crankcase that she doesn’t approve of.

        We need also know that there are those who will naturally think that advances in oil technology are not for older designs like this.. opinions will remain varied..

        I’ll error on the side of a sure start.. and monitor the crank pin for changes I might need to make..

        A reminder and addition to the variables. My sumps are never dirty.. I will flush anything out before an oil change, and my flushing agent will not be wasted, well filtered and dried, it becomes part of a future batch of fuel, not tossed on the ground or allowed to evaporate. The reason I mention this.. If you had an old engine full of sludge that had never seen a detergent oil, you should hesitate to use it. Most DIYers I know couldn’t stand to let that accumulation build up in their machines.

        Here’s where we need mention the EPA, Fat Lisa and her Keepers have laws on the books as to what you can put in a crank case, and even what you can burn as a fuel.

        • George B. says:

          Remember, the EPA is focused on initial emissions, NOT on overall emissions during the useful life of an ICE. They have, and will again help enforce adjustments, the use of fuels, and lubes, that will provide better initial emissions, but sacrifice both the equipment and unacceptable emissions later.

          One example.. is that lawn mower you hear in the neighborhood, it can no longer run at a proper constant speed, and you see a puff of smoke every time it screams and then attempts to die,.. over and over.. The Owner has no way of adjusting it because the all knowing and all caring EPA demanded that adjustments be removed! The fuel so bad that it’s coated the main jet, and no way of cleaning it.. The owner pissed off, how did his new mower go to hell so quickly? And yes, he’ll run it till it blows up before he buys another piece of junk mandated by the EPA.

          Don’t expect to see the EPA look at overall emissions of the junk they help create, it would be an embarrasment..

          If they do consider emissions later on in the life of the product, they will add a $200 emission system to a weed eater..

  4. Nate says:

    Incase anybody here has never been, lots of information on oil and a good forum at this link

  5. Tim says:

    Here’s one. The Lister Manual states 20w. Would that not be the correct oil to use? Back when these were built I would bet they were designed to run what the company suggested. Or am I wrong?

  6. Bill OConnell says:

    Hi George:
    Havent talked with you in over a year. My 12/2 omega is running great. I got it coupled to a stamford 13 K alt. It puts out 8.5 Kw no more! Running 4hrs under load crankcase only a bit warmer than hand touch. Using non detergent 30 W. How about a magnet block heater under crankcase when running to boost oil temp?

    thanks Bill O

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