Gear oil is a lubricant made specifically for transmissions, transfer cases, and differentials in automobiles, trucks, and other machinery. It is of a high viscosity and usually contains organosulfur compounds. Some modern automatic transaxles (integrated transmission and differential) do not use a heavy oil at all but lubricate with the lower viscosity hydraulic fluid, which is available at pressure within the automatic transmission. Gear oils account for about 20% of the lubricant market.
Most lubricants for manual gearboxes and differentials contain extreme pressure (EP) additives and antiwear additives to cope with the sliding action of hypoid bevel gears. Typical additives include dithiocarbamate derivatives and sulfur-treated organic compounds (“sulfurized hydrocarbons”).
EP additives which contain phosphorus/sulfur compounds are corrosive to yellow metals such as the copper and/or brass used in bushings and synchronizers; the GL-1 class of gear oils does not contain any EP additives and thus finds use in applications which contain parts made of yellow metals.
GL-5 is not necessarily backward-compatible in synchro-mesh transmissions which are designed for a GL-4 oil: GL-5 has a lower coefficient of friction due to the higher concentration of EP additives over GL-4, and thus synchros can not engage as effectively.