The mechanisms of failure of lubricated steel surfaces were investigated. The focus was on two phenomena, namely, the effects of lubricant reactivity and the effects of sliding speed. Experiments were performed with the ball-on-flat and the cylinder-on-flat geometries in the manner of the methods used to develop the failure maps of the (OECD) IRG. Contact resistance and coefficient of friction were measured during the tests and surface roughness was measured frequently during the tests. Surface failure could not be predicted by using the ratio λ (the ratio of fluid film thickness to composite surface roughness) except when chemically inert lubricants are used. Even then the adverse influence of temperature rise on fluid film thickness does not adequately explain the low load carrying capacity of lubricated surfaces at high sliding speeds. There is a separate effect, namely, a quicker and more severe surface roughening at high speeds than at low speeds, which causes surface failure. The protective layers on sliding surfaces that form by chemical reaction with the lubricant were found to reduce the surface roughening and increase the load carrying capacity of surfaces to values of λ as low as 0.03.

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