So far I have strictly devoted the Whistler’s Tune website to religious topics. But it occurred to me recently that there are some things that I have learned over the years by trial and error that I would also like to pass on to my readers. I know that those who were attracted to HWA are by their very nature continually seek out “truths” that many have not yet discovered, whether it be in the nutrition field, money management, or just in day-to-day living. So that is why I have decided to pass on a few things that I feel are “gems” of wisdom undiscovered by the masses in general. Keep in mind that one man’s diamonds are another man’s rhinestones! A few of those gems are in the area of car maintenance.
Topic B – Health Maintenance
Car maintenance has always been something that has held my interest – ever since I was a teenager. I realized that this was one very practical area where a little knowledge could save me a lot of money over the years. Being a full-blown penny-pincher, it is my second nature to seek diligently for ways to save money in every thing I do.
I even took “Automotive Maintenance and Repair” in college as an elective (I aced the course) with this in mind and fondly look back on it as the most useful course that I took in college. Over the past 20 years I have listened to anywhere from 2 to 5 hours of car repair “call-in” radio programs each week, and slowly but surely a little bit of car knowledge has rubbed off on me.
Currently I own and maintain 4 vehicles, and maintain an additional 2 that relatives own. Several of these cars are very high mileage vehicles – the highest mileage one being a 1992 Camry with 226,000 miles on the odometer.
Purchasing and maintaining the family vehicle can be one of the greatest financial drains on the budget that the average family will ever encounter. And some of my greatest savings have been in realm of buying and maintaining my vehicles. While I only do light mechanical work, what I do in the area of preventative maintenance is where I excel.
For example, I have found that it is to my advantage to always buy used vehicles, but only ones that are rated very highly by Consumer Reports. That is why I have favored Toyotas over the past decade. Also, I prefer Toyotas as they are cheaper to buy than Hondas, and the engine doesn’t self-destruct if the timing belt happens to break – whereas the Honda engine does.
[MARCH 2006 UPDATE: The April 2006 Annual Auto Issue of Consumer Reports verifies what I have been saying all along about Toyotas and Hondas. Let me quote from an article on current automobile reliability, page 15 [emphasis mine]: “We found that Toyota and Honda models have significantly fewer problems than cars from other automakers…Overall, eight-year-old Toyotas are about as reliable as three-year-old Fords and Chryslers and two-year-old Volkswagens. Toyotas have about half the problems of Volkswagens when new and only a quarter of the problems when five years old…Among the U.S. automakers, Ford consistently showed lower problem rates than Chrysler and GM for older vehicles.” The newer Toyotas now have engines that can be damaged if the timing belt breaks – but this should not be a problem because they now use timing chains, which are much less likely to break than a timing belt, and give more warning if they are getting excessively worn. Toyotas and Hondas are still the wisest choice! And believe it or not, BMWs and Mercedes-Benz are less reliable than the average car over the last 5 years.]
I have also learned, as mentioned above, that maintaining those vehicles religiously can save me a lot of money. That is why I have switched over to synthetic oils in the engine, transmission, differential, power steering, etc. And believe it or not, it costs me no more to use the better products than it did to use the standard oils! That is because I only need to change them ¼th as often.
I know what you’re thinking: you change your oil every 3,000 miles and use a premium oil – that should be just as good as using a synthetic oil. But guess what - it’s not nearly as good. You could be changing your oil only every 25,000 miles/ 1 year and be draining out cleaner oil when it’s time for the change than you are now at 3,000 miles! Sound impossible? Then carefully read articles #1 and #2 below that examine this issue from every prospective, and I think you may well have a change of heart.
These exact same 2 articles are what got me off regular oils and on to synthetics just in the past 2 or 3 years. Plus it didn’t hurt that I had a friend at work who had been using the same brand of oil that I decided upon, and had been having excellent results for 10 years or more.
What about using products such as Slick 50 in your engine – is that a good idea? Find out in article #3.
Looking for an excellent cleaner to keep your valves and intake and exhaust system clean as a whistle? Check out article #4.
I hope you enjoy and will benefit from the below articles.
Index of Topic A Articles (subject to updates from time to time):
Exposing the Myth of the 3,000 Mile Oil Change
Excerpted with Permission from "The Motor Oil Bible" eBook
Copyright 2000 Michael Kaufman ("The Motor Oil Bible" Author)
PART 1: ARE OIL CHANGES REALLY NECESSARY?
I believe the whole point of using a premium synthetic oil is peace of mind. I like knowing that I can trust the oil in my car to protect my engine. I like knowing that 300,000 miles down the road, I won't necessarily have to start looking for another vehicle (unless I'M ready). I also like knowing that when 20,000 miles rolls around, I still have a few thousand miles left to find time to change the oil.
Now, you're probably saying to yourself, "This guy is nuts! There's no way that an oil could possibly last for 20,000 miles."
Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to take a little time to, first of all, prove that I'm not in need of psychiatric care. And secondly, I hope that you'll allow me to explain why I believe that a premium synthetic oil CAN last for 20,000 miles or more.
I used to be a pretty regular 3,000 mile oil changer. I had a very hard time believing that any oil could possibly last longer than 5,000 or at best 7,000 miles. Changing at 3,000 miles was very safe and "assured" me of no mechanical breakdowns.
When I started looking at synthetics, my perspective changed a little. I figured, if I was going to go out and buy a $20,000 new car, I wanted to get the most for my money. Just protecting against breakdown for a couple hundred thousand miles wasn't enough. I don't take my car to the mechanic and hope he doesn't break it. I take my car to the mechanic so that he can make it better.
The same can be true of your oil. Let's talk about oil changes first. If it's necessary to change oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, then so be it. We should just do it, and accept that it's an integral part of keeping our vehicles from breaking down.
But, if it's not necessary, why do it? Just because our Dad did? My Dad used to listen to 8-track tapes too. Now we've got these nifty little CD's that sound clear as a bell and last pretty much forever. Am I going to listen to 8-track tapes? Probably not.
I don't change my oil every 3,000 miles anymore either.
There are only a few basic reasons why it is necessary to change your oil, and they all, in the end, have to do with decreased protection of your engine and decreased performance. If these elements can be minimized, then there would be little or no reason to change the oil.
PART 2: MOTOR OIL BREAKDOWN: WHAT REALLY CAUSES IT?
First off, all oil breaks down. That generally will include basestocks and additives. Without focusing on performance characteristics, the most significant difference from one oil to another is how quickly breakdown occurs. Although there are many factors that contribute to the breakdown of an oil, heat is one of the most important. Depletion and decreased effectiveness of oil additives is also important, but that will be discussed later.
Petroleum oil begins to break down almost immediately. A high quality synthetic, on the other hand, can last for many thousands of miles without any significant reduction in performance or protection characteristics. Synthetics designed from the right combination of base stocks and additives can last almost indefinitely with the right filtration system.
As alluded to above, the first major difference between petroleum and synthetic oil is heat tolerance. Flash point is the temperature at which an oil gives off vapors that can be ignited with a flame held over the oil. The lower the flash point the greater tendency for the oil to suffer vaporization loss at high temperatures and to burn off on hot cylinder walls and pistons.
The flash point can be an indicator of the quality of the base stock used. The higher the flash point the better. 400 degrees F is the absolute MINIMUM to prevent possible high consumption.
Today's engines are expected to put out more power from a smaller size and with less oil than engines of the past. Therefore, the engines run much hotter than they used to. That puts an increased burden on the oil.
Even the best petroleum oils will have flash points only as high as 390 and 440 degrees F. Some actually have flashpoints as low as 350 degrees. For today's hot running engines, this is not nearly enough protection. Just about any synthetic you come across will have a flashpoint over 440 degrees. Premium synthetics can have flashpoints over 450 degrees with some even reaching as high as 500 degrees. That's a big difference.
As a result, I think that it's quite obvious that these high-tech oils offer a substantial benefit when it comes to potential breakdown due to burn-off. Nevertheless, even though synthetics are MUCH less prone to burn-off than are petroleum oils, there is still some burn-off during extremely high temperature operation.
Thus, it becomes important to discuss the manner in which petroleum and synthetic oils burn off. As a refined product, petroleum oil molecules are of varying sizes. Thus, as a petroleum oil heats up, the smaller, lighter molecules begin to burn off first.
Since the ash content in many petroleum oils is higher than synthetics, deposits and sludge are left behind to coat the inside of your engine. Detergent and dispersant additives are used to keep these deposits to a minimum, but only so much can be done. Unless you're changing a petroleum oil every 2,000 to 3,000 miles some deposits are going to be left behind.
In addition, as smaller particles burn off, the larger, heavier molecules are all that is left to protect the engine. Unfortunately, these larger particles do not flow nearly as well and tend to blanket the components of your engine which only exacerbates the heat problem.
Synthetic oils, on the other hand, because they are not purified, but rather designed within a lab for lubrication purposes, are comprised of molecules of uniform size and shape. Therefore, even if a synthetic oil does burn a little, the remaining oil has the nearly the same chemical characteristics that it had before the burn off. There are no smaller molecules to burn-off and no heavier molecules to leave behind.
Moreover, many synthetics have very low ash content and little if any impurity. As a result, if oil burn-off does occur, there is little or no ash left behind to leave sludge and deposits on engine surfaces. Obviously, this leads to a cleaner burning, more fuel efficient engine.
As a side note (as it really has little bearing on when to change your oil), synthetics do a much better job of "cooling" engine components during operation. Because of their unique flow characteristics, engine components are likely to run 10 to 30 degrees cooler than with petroleum oils. This is important, because the hotter the components in your engine get, the more quickly they break down.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARCTIC FREEZE?
This is an issue that some people really don't think about when it comes to oil changes. Most people understand that at cold temperatures, an oil tends to thicken up, and many people know that synthetics do a better job of staying fluid. However, many people don't realize why petroleum oils tend to thicken up. More importantly, though, they don't realize that this thickening process can wreak havoc on their oil.
You see, because most petroleum oils contain paraffins (wax), they tend to thicken up considerably in cold temperatures. Therefore, in order to produce a petroleum oil that will perform adequately in severe cold temperatures, additives called pour point depressants must be used in high quantities. These additives are designed to keep the wax components of a petroleum oil from crystallizing. This maintains decent flow characteristics in cold weather for easier cold starts.
In areas where the temperature remains below zero for any period of time, these additives are used up very quickly because petroleum oils are so prone to wax crystallization. As a result, the oil begins to flow less easily in cold weather temperatures. Of course, the result is harder cold starts and tremendously increased engine wear. Thus, the oil must be changed in order to provide the cold weather engine protection which is necessary.
Synthetic oils, on the other hand, contain no paraffins. Therefore, they need NO pour point depressant additives. In addition, even without these additives, synthetics flow at far lower temperatures than petroleum oils. For instance, very few petroleum oils have pour points below -30 degrees F. Many synthetic oils, without any pour point depressants, have pour points below -50 degrees F. That's a big difference. There is, in fact, one oil on the market that has a pour point of -76 degrees F.
Since synthetics do not have any pour point depressants, there is no chance of these additives breaking down or being used up over time. There are no additives to break down. Therefore, synthetic oils maintain their cold temperature flow characteristics for a very long time. As a result, there is one less reason to change the oil if using synthetic as opposed to petroleum.
In addition, another part of cold weather driving that is extremely tough on an oil is condensation. Because it is so cold, it takes a fairly long drive to get the engine warm enough to burn off the condensation that occurs inside the engine. As a result, vehicles routinely driven short distances in cold weather will build up condensation within the oil. If left to do its dirty work, this water would cause acids to build up within the oil and corrosion would begin within your engine.
So, there are additives in the oil which are designed to combat these acids. Generally, the TBN value of an oil will be a good determination of how well and for how long an oil will be able to combat these acids. Most petroleum oils have TBN numbers around 5. Most synthetics have TBN levels over 8 or 9. Premium synthetic oils (especially those designed specifically for extended oil drains) will have TBN numbers around 11 to 14. This allows for much better acid control for a much longer period of time, thus decreasing the need for an oil change due to cold temperature condensation.
PART 3: WHAT ABOUT ADDITIVE DEPLETION?
First of all, I need to make it abundantly clear that I am not speaking of "Miracle Oil Additives" such as Duralube, Prolong and the like, when I refer to oil additives. I am speaking of the additives that are in your oil right from the original bottle that you pulled off the shelf.
Many people swear by these "extra" Miracle Additives, but I am a firm believer in independent lab results. Every independent test I've seen regarding special oil additives such as those mentioned above has given no indication that they provide ANY measure of increased engine protection. In fact, in some cases they may even increase engine wear.
However, this is a whole other story that deserves a complete article. So, for the sake of remaining on topic, I am going to return to the article at hand and leave you to study this oil additive issue a little further on your own.
It is true that the additives in many oils begin breaking down after only a few thousand miles. What needs to be recognized is that there are different quality "grades" of additives just as there are different quality grades of just about any other product that you buy. There are also different combinations of additives that tend to work for better and for longer when combined than when used individually.
Making a blanket statement that additives in oil die after only 2 to 3,000 miles is like saying that automobile tires will only last for 30,000 miles. To be sure, there are plenty of tires on the market that can only last for 30,000 miles, and then they're toast. But, there are many tires on the market nowadays that will last over 75,000 miles.
The same scenario holds true for motor oils. Many oil companies are using the same additives in their oils as all of the other companies because they are cheap. That's why the oil costs less. You get what you pay for. If they were willing to spend the money on top-quality additive packages for their oils, every synthetic on the market would be recommended for extended drain intervals, and they would all be more expensive. The technology has been around for years. The problem is that oil companies make more money selling a cheaper grade oil and making sure that you change it more often.
1. VISCOSITY RETENTION -- Shear stable viscosity index improvers help premium synthetic motor oils maintain their viscosity in the range appropriate to each grade over extended drain use. Conventional oils formulated with easily sheared viscosity index improvers often drop out of viscosity specification relatively quickly -- sometimes even before the end of a 3,000-mile oil drain interval. Viscosity loss leaves oils incapable of protecting engines from metal to metal contact and wear in high temperatures.
NOTE: It was mentioned earlier that petroleum oils tend to thicken due to burn-off. The statement above is not contradictory to that. It just indicates that petroleum oil is vulnerable to two opposing types of breakdown, which, in the end, render the oil basically useless for lubrication purposes.
2. CONTAMINANT CONTROL -- Dispersants keep contaminants, including combustion by-products, suspended in oil. The rate of dispersant depletion depends on the motor oil's additive treat-rate and the oil's contaminant load. Premium synthetic motor oils are formulated with high additive treat rates specifically to allow extended drain intervals.
3. ACID CONTROL -- Total Base Number (TBN) describes the acid neutralization ability of an oil, with higher TBN oils providing longer lasting acid neutralization. Most passenger car motor oils are formulated with TBN of 5 to 7. Many synthetic motor oils are formulated with 9-11 TBN or higher. The result: longer and better acid neutralization capability allowing for extended drain use.
PART 4: HOW DOES OIL CONTAMINATION OCCUR?
There is also the issue of contamination. Oil will be contaminated in three major ways. One will be through debris that comes in through the air intake. Once it makes it through the air filter, it ends up in your oil. Once in your oil, it starts damaging your engine.
The second source of contamination will be metal shavings from the inside of your engine. The lesser the quality of the oil, the higher percentage of these shavings because there will be more metal to metal contact inside the engine.
The third source of contamination will be from combustion by-products. Combustion by-products will generally raise the acidity of your oil, which causes corrosion in your engine. In addition, they will be left behind as the engine oil burns off and will collect on the inside of your engine as deposits. To maintain the viability of your oil as well as protection of the engine, the contaminants have to be removed/neutralized.
One of the best ways to help with this process is to keep most of the contaminants from ever getting inside the engine in the first place. That's where your air filter comes in. Conventional paper air filters are pretty worthless. How many times have you removed your air filter for replacement only to find that you could write your name in the dust that collected around the air intake? That's just the stuff that was left behind. Imagine the amount that actually ended up inside the engine.
Part of the problem is that traditional paper filters do not fit all that snugly in the air intake compartment. They've improved, but they're still not great. More importantly, though, they let way too much debris shoot right through the filter element itself. As a side-note, they do not provide for very good air flow either.
You see, as a compromise to allow enough air flow for your engine to run "properly", surface type air filtration media have to allow certain sized particles to flow through. If they made the filtration media any more tightly woven, not enough air would pass through quickly enough to keep your vehicle running.
As a result, most paper filters won't catch anything smaller than about 20 to 40 microns with any real efficiency. In most cases, the more expensive the filter, the lower the micron level of filtration - and the lower the better, of course.
20 to 40 microns is pretty small. A human hair is about 100 microns in diameter. The problem is that 60% of engine wear is caused by particles between 5 and 20 microns (most likely because there is so much more of it). If you don't keep that stuff out, it'll eat away at your engine.
Consider an alternative air filtration device which is more like a sponge (actually, it's foam). Because foam is "squishy" it can be made slightly larger than the air intake compartment so that when installed it fits very snug with no room for air to bypass the filtration unit.
In addition, it has millions of "tiny" channels through which air can flow, but these channels are not straight channels. They twist and turn through the filtration media. Air can pass through easily because these "tiny" channels are actually much larger than the channels through the paper filter we just discussed. This is possible because the paper filter only has one chance to get the dirt. This foam media has multiple opportunities to catch the dirt.
You see, as the air travels through these winding channels, it can turn this way and that with ease. However, the dirt particles that the air is carrying travel in a straight line until they hit something. Obviously, at every turn, the debris within the air hits a "wall". You say, "Well, that's great, but why doesn't that dirt just bounce off the wall and keep right on going?" Good point. I tell you what, why don't we put a tacky substance in the foam so that when debris hits these "walls" it's stuck there like a fly to one of those sticky tapes. You say, "Yeah, that would work!"
Not only will it work, it will work far better than the paper air filter discussed above. Because of the depth-type nature of the foam filter AND the added tack oil, it will remove most particles larger than 5 to 10 microns. Thus, most of the harmful stuff is stopped before it ever reaches the inside of the engine.
Now, we've established that such a filtration media would seal up the intake compartment, should have better air flow, and we've established that it has more opportunities to catch the dirt, so probably less dirt makes it into the engine. The next question should be, will it hold as much dirt as the paper filter?
Well, of course it will. It's much thicker than a paper filter, and, because of the nature of the foam media, has a virtually limitless surface area over which to collect dirt. In fact, the more dirt it collects, the better the filtration (with minimal reduction in air flow). It's also much more durable than paper, so it NEVER needs to be replaced. Just wash it once a year, re- oil it and put it back in the vehicle.
PART 5: ENGINE WEAR PARTICLES CAUSE OIL CONTAMINATION
Ok, so we've taken care of the air intake, but what about metal particles from engine component wear? Well, there are a couple of things going on here that lead to better protection from a synthetic oil. One aspect that proves to be very important is cold weather starts. Now, all of us have heard about cold weather starts for years from oil additive manufacturers. We've all heard, "Just put our additive in your crankcase and it will form an impenetrable layer over engine components that will protect your engine against wear, especially at start-up. In fact, it's so good, you could even drain the oil from your engine and drive it around the track a million times at 60 mph."
Hogwash. Just about all of the companies that have made claims like this over the years have been brought up on charges by the FTC. They're full of it. However, they were right about one thing. Cold weather starts are killing your engine. Consider this:
The pour point of an oil is 5 degrees F above the point at which a chilled oil shows no movement at the surface for 5 seconds when inclined. That's tech talk which basically means that the pour point of an oil is the point at which it ceases to be "pourable". This measurement is especially important for oils used in the winter.
A borderline pumping temperature is given by some manufacturers. This is the temperature at which the oil will pump and maintain "adequate" oil flow and pressure within an engine. This is not provided by a lot of the manufacturers, but generally seems to be about 20 degrees F above the pour point. So, the lower the pour point the better.
Most petroleum oils have pour points in the range of -15 to -35 degrees F. That means that their borderline pumping temperature is, at best, around -15 degrees F and probably closer to 5 to 10 degrees F. So, if you're running a petroleum oil, don't expect to go out and start your car at 0 degrees and have it purr like a kitten. It's going to spit and sputter and kick and scream for a few minutes.
Why do you think that is? It's not getting any oil up into the engine. It's like trying to suck molasses through a tiny straw in an Alaskan January. There's literally nothing keeping the metal components in your engine from tearing each other apart. Every time you start your engine in conditions like this, your engine dies a little bit more.
Synthetic oils, on the other hand, routinely have pour points around -40 degrees or colder. Some have pour points as low as - 60 to -70 degrees F. Granted, there are very few of us who will ever have to start our car at this temperature, but imagine how well these oils lubricate at -20, if it they still flow at -70.
Now, I know that some of you live in areas where you almost never see temperatures under freezing. For you folks, the pour point of your oil may be a little less important, but it still serves to prove a point about the protection differences between petroleum oils and synthetics.
In addition, lets get back to that impenetrable barrier over your engine components that oil additive manufacturers sputter about all the time. Although, there is no scientific testing that proves this will really occur in actual automotive applications when using an oil additive, synthetic oils do provide something similar to this.
Generally, a thin film of synthetic oil will remain on engine components for days after it was last run. Petroleum oils tend to drain back down to the oil pan very quickly, leaving no oil film to protect your engine at start-up. Many auto techs and backyard mechanics can attest to this after doing engine tear-downs. Those using synthetic oil generally will have a thin film of oil left on components even if the engine has been sitting for awhile.
It's certainly not impenetrable, and I wouldn't go draining your oil after installing 6 quarts of synthetic just to see if your engine still runs, but it does serve a purpose. Your engine should virtually NEVER see metal to metal contact, whether in hot or cold climates. That's something that a petroleum oil can't do.
In addition, because of the higher film strength and better lubricity characteristics of synthetic oils, they routinely perform better on standardized ASTM wear scar tests. This would indicate a higher level of engine protection and would certainly lead to fewer engine wear particles in an engine. Hence, fewer contaminants in the oil to necessitate changing it.
PART 6: COMBUSTION BY-PRODUCTS CAUSE ENGINE DAMAGE
Only one type of contaminant left to discuss: combustion by- products. These little buggers can wreak havoc in an engine. Not only can they form deposits on the inside of an engine which will rob it of performance and, ultimately, life expectancy, they will also tend to raise the acidity of the lubricant.
Higher acidity levels in your oil can lead to severe corrosion and break-down of engine components. In turn, this break-down leads to more oil contaminants and the necessity for an oil change.
Three things keep these contaminants in check: the TBN of the oil, high efficiency oil filtration and tight ring seal. The most important of these three is ring seal. If the number of combustion by-products entering your oil can be reduced, there will be less necessity to remove or neutralize them.
Poor ring seal allows combustion by-products to pass from the combustion chamber into the crankcase where they contaminate the oil. Tight ring seal keeps them out. Synthetic motor oils encourage a tighter ring seal than petroleum motor oils do.
As we discussed earlier, TBN (total base number) is a measure of how well a lubricant can neutralize acidic combustion by-products. The higher the TBN, the better the protection against these acidic by-products and the longer that protection will last. Hence, the possibility of longer oil drain intervals with oils that have high TBN values.
Oil filtration is the last component that must be discussed when making the case for extended oil drains. The next section in this series addresses this critical component.
PART 7: EFFICIENT OIL FILTRATION RECOMMENDED
Now, on to oil filtration. Even having taken care of all other issues relating to oil contamination, there is still a certain amount of dirt and debris in your oil which must be taken care of. Hence, there is a necessity to maintain adequate oil filtration in order for a lubricant to remain viable. Even though the extra dispersancy additives keep dirt and debris surrounded and impede contact with engine components, those contaminants must still be removed. This is where your oil filter comes into play.
First of all, the statistics previously mentioned regarding engine wear haven't changed. 60% of all engine wear is caused by particles between 5 and 20 microns. Unfortunately, most oil filters on the market today are lucky to remove even a small percentage of particles under 30 to 40 microns. This, again, leaves most of the harmful debris in your oil.
The actual filtration efficiency of a particular filter really depends upon the filter manufacturer, and it is sometimes very difficult to get any specific numbers from them regarding their filters' actual filtration efficiency.
MICRON LEVELS NOT GREAT FOR COMPARISON
If you do any research on your own, you'll find that most manufacturers no longer use micron levels to rate their filters. This is a result of some manufacturers' shady representation of their filters using micron ratings. You see, some filter manufacturers would indicate that their filters would remove x micron particles and leave it at that ("x" being whatever arbitrary number they chose to print). Of course, consumers would take this to mean that all particles larger than this micron level would be removed, which is not necessarily the case.
The truth is that chicken wire will remove 5 micron particles. It will even remove 1 micron particles. BUT, it will not do so with very good efficiency. The key is, how efficient is the filter at removing x micron particles. If you don't know how efficient it is at a certain level, the micron rating means nothing.
So, most companies have gotten away from micron ratings (to avoid the confusion) and have gone to an overall efficiency rating. In other words, an industry standard test is used in which oil is contaminated with a certain number of particles of varying micron sizes. At the end of the test, there is a measurement taken to determine the total percentage of ALL of these particles that were removed by the filter. That percentage is then stated as the overall filtration efficiency of the filter.
Some companies use a single pass test, others use a multiple pass test. Both are perfectly valid and will give you an excellent way of determining how well a filter will do its job, but you should not try to compare results from a single pass test to results of a multiple pass test. You'd be comparing apples and oranges. In either case, high efficiency filters will rank in the low to mid 90's for filtration efficiency. Off-the-shelf filters will rank in the mid 70's to mid 80's for filtration efficiency.
IF MICRON LEVELS ARE TO BE USED
Nevertheless, you may still want to compare filters using micron ratings. If this is the case, the following is a good rule of thumb. A filter is considered nominally efficient at a certain micron level if it can remove 50 percent of particles that size. In other words, a filter that will consistently remove 50% of particles 20 microns or larger is nominally efficient at 20 microns.
A filter is considered to achieve absolute filtration efficiency at a certain micron level if it can remove 98.7% of particles that size. So, if a filter can remove 98.7% of particles 20 microns or larger, it achieves absolute efficiency at that micron level.
Most off-the-shelf filters are based upon a cellulose fiber filtration media. Most of these filters are, at best, nominally efficient at 15 to 20 microns. They won't generally achieve absolute efficiency until particle sizes reach 30 microns or higher.
High efficiency oil filters have filtration media made of a combination of at least two of the following: glass, synthetic fibers and cellulose fibers. Those that use all three are generally the best in terms of filtration. Those that use only two will fall somewhere in between. The best of these high efficiency filters will achieve absolute efficiency down to about 10 microns and will be nominally efficient down to 5 microns or so.
HOW IMPORTANT IS BETTER EFFICIENCY?
The fact is, you would probably be amazed at how much engine wear could be eliminated simply by using more advanced oil filtration. In paper 881825 the Society of Automotive Engineers indicates that a joint study was performed between AC Spark Plug and Detroit Diesel Corp. The study found that finer oil filtration significantly reduced the rate of engine wear.
According to the paper, the tests regarding engine wear within a diesel engine were performed using four levels of oil filtration. They chose filters whose efficiency rating was very high for particles of 40 micron, 15 micron, 8.5 micron and 7 micron sizes.
The same was done for gasoline engines, except that the relative sizes were 40 microns, 30 microns, 25 microns and 15 microns.
To make a long story short, the researchers had this to say:
"Abrasive engine wear can be substantially reduced with an increase in filter single pass efficiency. Compared to a 40 micron filter, engine wear was reduced by 50 percent with 30 micron filtration. Likewise, wear was reduced by 70 percent with 15 micron filtration."
By combining this type of oil filtration with the superior protection and cleanliness of a premium synthetic oil, you will virtually eliminate engine wear.
EFFICIENCY IS NOT THE ONLY IMPORTANT FACTOR
Of course, filter capacity and quality of construction are also important considerations. If a filter has low capacity and high efficiency, it will clog up quickly. As a result, your oil will begin to bypass the filter completely and will become contaminated very quickly. Filters with high efficiency and low capacity should definitely be changed at 3,000 to 5,000 miles or 3 months - without question.
Filters which have high capacity but low efficiency will last longer without becoming saturated, but will not protect your engine as well. Of course, filters with low capacity AND low efficiency are at the bottom of the barrel and should be avoided. Generally, you can call a filter manufacturer and ask them specifically what their filtration efficiency and capacity ratings are for your filter. They should have that information.
If they give you a micron rating, ask them how efficient their filters are at removing particles of that micron size. You might also ask them at what micron level their filters are nominally efficient (50% removal) and at what level they achieve absolute efficiency (about 99% removal). If they can't or won't provide you with a straight answer, I wouldn't purchase their filters.
If they give you an overall percentage efficiency rating, ask them if that is for a single pass test or a multiple pass test. That will be important if you are to compare those ratings with other manufacturers so that you'll be comparing apples to apples.
I DON'T WANT TO DEAL WITH ALL OF THAT
For those of you who just want to know what's best, here's a breakdown of the top 3, in my opinion. Mobil 1, Pure One and AMSOIL provide the greatest filtration efficiency in the tests I've seen. Mobil 1 and Pure One both achieved 93% overall filtration efficiency on the SAE HS806 test. AMSOIL scored a 94%.
In regards to filtration capacity, the AMSOIL outscored them by a wide margin. In a comparison of filters recommended for the same application, the AMSOIL could hold 21 grams of particulate matter. Comparable filters from Mobil 1 and Pure One held 18 grams and 15 grams respectively. So, the AMSOIL filter held 17% more than the Mobil 1 and 40% more than the Pure One.
The AMSOIL also appears to have a little heavier construction, but everyone seems to have different criteria they use to judge this. You'd have to cut the filters apart for yourself to make your own judgments in this matter.
The AMSOIL company recommends changing their filters at 12,500 mile or 6 month increments. Based on their numbers, this seems reasonable. They have better capacity and stronger construction which should allow them to achieve longer change intervals. Since AMSOIL filters have been recommended for these intervals for about 20 years, it seems reasonable that they know what they're talking about.
Mobil 1 and Pure One recommend changing their filters at your vehicle manufacturer's recommendations. That generally means change the filter at each oil change which amounts to changing the filter every 3,000 to 7500 miles depending upon driving conditions. Because of the lower capacity of the Pure One filters, I'd recommend changing them closer to 3 to 5,000 miles. The Mobil 1 would probably last 5,000 to 7500 miles with good results.
As a side note, you can determine if your oil is bypassing your oil filter by touching your filter after at least 45 minutes to an hour's worth of driving. If the filter is hot, you're probably in good shape. If it's not, the oil is likely bypassing the filter, and it is time for a change.
WHAT ABOUT THE PRICE?
Let's assume you drive 25,000 miles per year. The Pure One is about half the price of the AMSOIL or Mobil 1 in most cases, and runs about $5.00 for a filter for a 96 Ford Taurus 3.0L. However, I recommend that it be changed more often due to a lower filtration capacity. With changes at 5,000 miles you're looking at 5 filters x $5 = $25. If you decide to play it a little safer and change at 3,000 miles (which I'd recommend), you're looking at about 8 filters x $5 = $40 for the year.
The Mobil 1 and AMSOIL filters will run you roughly $10 for a filter for that same application. If you take the Mobil 1 to the high end at 7500 miles, that amounts to about 3 filter changes or $30. Playing it a little safer at 5,000 miles puts you at 5 filter changes or $50 for the year.
If you use AMSOIL's recommended filter changes (12,500 miles), that amounts to 2 $10 filters or $20 for the whole year. Seems to me this is the better buy. You get slightly better filtration efficiency and fewer filter changes for less money. Can't see how it gets any better than that.
WHAT ABOUT OIL STARVATION?
Of course, the first question that comes to mind when most people hear of high efficiency filtration is oil starvation. How can an oil filter remove particles that much smaller and still provide adequate oil flow to critical engine components?
Well, again I refer back to the high efficiency foam air filter we talked about earlier in this eBook. You'll remember that it is designed to have a much thicker filtration media that will trap particles throughout the entire media instead of only on the surface as with a paper air filter.
This is also how high efficiency oil filters work. Instead of trapping all of the oil contaminants on the surface of a paper (cellulose) type filtration media, high efficiency oil filters have a depth type media which will trap contaminants throughout the entire filtration media. This, combined with the different type of materials used for the filtration media allows high efficiency oil filters to remove more and smaller particles without restricting oil flow - just as high efficiency foam air filters remove more and smaller particles without restricting air flow.
There is also the option of using magnetics to help with filtration. Some filters are magnetically charged so that they hold all engine wear particles within the filter, no matter what the size. These are not necessarily a bad idea, but they do not remove other oil contaminants which are not metallic in nature. Therefore, if possible, you might want to consider some combination of magnetic filtration AND high efficiency filtration media.
PART 8: SYNTHETIC OILS OFFER GREATLY EXTENDED DRAINS
There you have it. If this "little" article doesn't at least get you thinking about switching over to synthetics, I'm not sure what will convince you. I know that this article is a little less technical than it could be. There are many other differences between petroleum and synthetic oils which were not touched on here, but if we had covered those too, this article would have been 50 pages long. Most of the information presented here was meant to deal strictly with the concept of extended drain intervals and why they're possible. If you'd like to learn more about the technical aspects of automotive lubrication and filtration, you might want to consider purchasing "The Motor Oil Bible".
There are a couple of companies out there that are probably good for extended oil drain intervals. I'll speak more about the specific companies in the next chapter. However, since many people use Mobil 1 and believe it to be the best synthetic available (mainly because it is the most recognizable name), I thought I might spend a little time touching on that particular company.
In my opinion Mobil 1 oils are most likely good for 10,000 to 15,000 miles, but the company does not make that recommendation. I have known of many people who do very well running Mobil 1 for these intervals, but it has not been designed specifically for extended drain use. Moreover, the company probably would not back you if you had any mechanical problems resulting from such extended drain use, since they only recommend "manufacturer recommended change intervals".
In light of the information above, I would like to leave you with a few notes of importance. If a synthetic oil is not specifically recommended for extended drain use, and you choose to attempt extended drains, you do so at your own risk. Extended drain synthetic oils must be formulated with special long-life additives and blended base stocks so as to maintain their lubricating properties for an extended period of time.
In addition, in order to get the full benefit from extended drains, it is most beneficial to be using high efficiency oil and air filtration as well. If you are using traditional filtration methods, you will likely have to change your oil more often and will end up with reduced engine protection. If you're going to do it, do it right. It will cost you less in the long run, and probably in the short run to
PART 9: VERY FEW COMPANIES OFFER EXTENDED DRAINS
Now, you may be saying to yourself, "This is all great, but there is something I just don't understand. If there are oils out there that will last for 25,000 miles - and have been for over 25 years - why am I still being told to change my oil every 3,000 miles? Either someone is lying or someone just doesn't have all of the facts.
Well, I believe that it is a little bit of both. You've probably heard that 3,000 mile oil changes are necessary from friends, family, possibly your mechanic and definitely your local quick lube operator. The problem is, most of them are just reiterating what they've been told for years - and it has served them fairly well.
Most of them simply do not understand lubricants nearly as well as they think they do. Even those mechanics who are brilliant when it comes to automotive engines are not necessarily experts on lubrication. Lubrication technology is much more involved than most of them think.
Nobody can know everything, but in order to give people the most accurate advice, it pays to make sure that you have all of the relevant information.
I believe that there are even a large number of quick lube operators that don't know nearly as much about lubricants as they'd like to think. However, I also believe that some of those same quick lube operators that are telling you to change your oil at 3,000 mile intervals might very well be using synthetic oil for extended oil drain intervals in their own vehicles.
It's sad, but true. Oil companies and many quick lube operations know that synthetic oils are capable of extended drain intervals but are too afraid of lost revenue to admit it. In fact, here are a few quotes from different people in the automotive and lubrication industries which should illustrate what I mean:
According to GM's Mike McMillan,
"Certainly there is technology available to raise the standard and extend
the drain interval without compromising engine durability or removing the
performance cushion ...
Most other auto manufacturers seem
to agree with Mr. McMillan. In the May 1996 issue of Lubes 'n' Greases
representatives from the three major
In "GM's Tough Agenda for Lubes," Lubes 'n' Greases reports that extended drains are a customer service issue. "...We're very concerned about engine durability and oil drain intervals particularly as they impact reducing the amount of maintenance our customers are required to perform. Customers want to minimize their vehicle maintenance time and changing engine oil is their single biggest remaining maintenance item. Addressing that issue is very important to us."
Even quick lube operations know that the technology exists to extend oil drains well beyond the 3,000 mile mark. Some are embracing extended drain technology as a way to increase customer satisfaction as well as company profits by working WITH the improvements in lubrication technology, instead of against them.
Dennis Brooks, Vice President of SpeeDee Oil Change and Tune-Up, implied as much in a statement he made in the November 1996 issue of National Oil & Lube News, a respected periodical in the lubricants industry.
In regard to the extended drain issue Brooks said, "I believe there will be greater potential to move into selling a higher percentage of synthetic oil."
Others in the quick lube industry, however, are running scared. Jim Sapp, Convenient Automotive Services Institute (CASI) president, is quoted in the same article as saying, "For years, Jiffy [Lube] has preached the 3,000 mile or three month oil change interval. And fortunately for us, many motorists take it as gospel. But we need to do more as an industry ... It's not inevitable that intervals will expand to the point where we can no longer stay in business." In other words, it IS possible to continue to keep motorists in the dark about extended drains.
In the October 1996 issue of Lubes 'n' Greases, Quaker State CEO Herbert M. Baum suggests, "We need to go on the offensive. Stop fighting with each other and go forward as a group; fight for regular oil changes. We have to build business as a group, and it's the role of our associations to promote the use of our products."
You see, extended drains are happening and have been scientifically proven for nearly 30 years to be safe as long as the oil used has been designed for extended drain use. As of May 2000, I know of only three motor oil manufacturers that actually recommend extended drain intervals for their oils: AMSOIL, NEO and Red Line.
Other synthetic oils are likely to last longer than 3,000 to 5,000 miles (probably closer to 7 to 10,000), but the manufacturing companies do not recommend, nor will they back such practices with any sort of warranty.
AMSOIL recommends and guarantees up to 35,000 miles or one year for most automotive gasoline applications and has recommended slightly shorter 25,000 mile changes since the early 70's. NEO has also been in business since the early 70's and recommends 25,000 miles or one year intervals. Red Line gives a range of 10,000 to 18,000 miles as the recommended change interval, depending upon your driving habits.
Of these three oils, AMSOIL sells for the best price at as little as $5.70 per quart for their 25,000 mile oils or just over $8.00 per quart for the Series 2000 35,000 mile oil. Red Line follows at an average of $7.50 to $8.00 per quart for all of their oils. NEO appears to be the most expensive at close to $10 per quart.
If used for their full recommended drain interval, all of these oils are more economical than an off-the shelf synthetic oils that you find at the local K-Mart, Walmart or Meijer. These typically run about $3.50 to $4.00 per quart but should be changed 3 to 5 times as often.
Copyright 2000 Michael Kaufman ("The Motor Oil Bible"
Synthetic Oil: Rx for Long Engine Life
(from Specialty Cars Magazine)
by Curt Scott
[Publishers Note: Since specialty car enthusiasts and street rodders often tend to be zealots when it comes to optimum care and maintenance of their cars, and also because so many of these cars utilize smaller, harder working engines, we at Homebuilt Publications felt that the following article would be of particular interest to Specialty Cars readers. Our own interest in the subject is personal as well as professional, since we have firsthand experience with the benefits of synthetic lubricants.]
One of our cars is a 1979 GM sedan whose odometer and maintenance records reveal over 200,000 miles of driving, with never a missed-beat of its 350 cu. in. gasoline engine, and which has never once required an engine repair... not even a minor one! It still runs as well as the day it was new, it's sparkling clean inside, and all cylinders check out to original compression specs. For all but the first 12,000 miles it has thrived on a strict diet of premium synthetic motor oil, changed only once every 25,000 miles. When we began research for this article, no one had to convince us that synthetics offer distinct advantages.]
Many of the things we take for granted as conventional aspects of twentieth-century life were unimaginable only a few decades ago. For instance, who would have foreseen in the 1940's, that in the 1980s, tiny electronic marvels called transistors would have effectively replaced the unreliable vacuum tube, or that a single, miniature silicon chip could duplicate the functions of an entire, roomsized digital computer, or even that hundreds of different exotic and classic automobiles would eventually be reborn and replicated in a new material called fiberglass, for assembly by the owner?
So it is with the rapidly emerging synthetic lubricant market. Those naysayers who only a decade or so ago prematurely dismissed synthetics as "snake oil" are now among the staunchest devotees of laboratory manufactured lubricants. Among these believers are top lubrication engineers, race car drivers, vehicle fleet operators, and millions of private motorists around the world. What factors have contributed to the growing enthusiasm for synthetic lubricants? Simply put, synthetically produced lubricants have demonstrated beyond doubt that they are far superior to their conventional petroleum counterparts in fulfilling the many and varied tasks demanded of oil by today's modern engines and power trains.
Indeed, synthetic lubricant technology is swiftly progressing to a point where it is possible that engine wear may no longer continue to be the major limiting factor in the expected life span of motor vehicles. An examination of synthetic engine lubricants, along with a review of both laboratory and real world comparative test results, will assist the reader to understand the differences and the advantages offered by these state-of-the-art motor oils.
The first question demanding an answer is: “Just what is synthetic oil”? Technically speaking, synthetic lubricants are made by chemically combining, in a laboratory, lower-molecular-weight materials to produce a finished product with planned and predictable properties. Don't be confused by this technical double-talk. What this means is that synthetics are custom-designed products in which each phase of their molecular construction is programmed to produce what may be called "the ideal lubricant."
This process departs significantly from that of petroleum lubricants, whose physical components, both desirable and undesirable, are inherited from the crude oil from which they are refined. Crude oil possesses thousands of varieties of contaminants, depending upon the oil's geographical and geological origins, which no amount of refining can entirely remove. Corrosive acids, paraffins and other waxes, heavy metals, asphalt, naphthenes and benzenes, as well as countless compounds of sulfur, chlorine, and nitrogen, remain in the finished product. Equally as important, petroleum oil molecules, as contrasted to uniform-sized synthetic oil molecules, vary significantly in size, shape, and length.
When your engine heats up, the smaller molecules evaporate, while the larger ones tend to oxidize and become engine deposits. As a result, refined petroleum lubricating products differ widely in their overall quality and performance. The presence of and the resulting drawbacks of the undesirable constituent elements lie at the very root of the considerable performance differences between synthetic and petroleum-based motor oils.
As an adjunct to the narrative, it is important to point out those products that are sometimes confused as synthetics: currently marketed graphite motor oil is a “petroleum-based” oil with a graphite compound added for additional lubricity (slipperiness), and is not synthetic. There are also numerous aftermarket oil “additives” on the market, offering claims of increased lubricity through the use of graphite, Teflon, or metallic compounds. One is even supported by the bold declaration that it will "repair and seal" cylinder-wall wear and restore lost performance. Hmmm. Once again, while these products may or may not perform as claimed, they are not synthetics, and it may be safely stated that no additive or additive package is capable of conferring to petroleum oil the performance advantages of a premium synthetic oil.
Consequently, as petroleum-based products, they will invariably break down as petroleum oils do under the conditions of stress and heat produced by an internal combustion engine. Public bewilderment and even skepticism have also occurred in years past, as unscrupulous, fly-by-night marketers advertised and promoted with exaggerated claims, oils and additives as "synthetic" which were of dubious quality, and in some instances were low-quality petroleum products merely labeled "synthetic." The names and addresses of the major, reputable manufacturers of synthetic automobile lubricants are listed at the end of this article for those who desire further technical information. Because Amsoil products are sold only through authorized distributors, the company suggests that you call their headquarters for the name of a dealer near you, or consult your local telephone directory Yellow Pages under "Oils, lubricating."
We should note also that many of the performance attributes of synthetic engine oils are also provided by a host of other synthetic lubricants, such as automatic transmission fluids, chassis and bearing greases, and gear lubes. Unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this article to detail the various benefits of the synthetic products.
Contrary to what many may believe, synthetic lubricants are
not a recent development. As early as
the 1930s, Standard Oil of Indiana conducted research into synthetic oil. More serious development and production was
commenced by the Germans during WWII, as their conventional lubricants
congealed and froze on the Eastern front and stalled their advances into the
Then in the 1960s history repeated itself, and it was again
cold weather that spurred further development work as the U.S. Army needed
better lubricants for
The U.S. Department of Energy lists no fewer than sixteen performance parameters for any modern automotive motor oil. These are:
-Low temperature fluidity (low pour point)
-Low volatility...i.e. resistance to evaporation and resultant oil thickening...good oil economy, additional engine protection
-High temperature oxidation resistance (of the oil itself)
-Lubricity...the oil's slipperiness
-Thermal stability...resistance to performance loss due to temperature change
-Compatibility with engine metals, elastomers (i.e. "rubber" seals), oil filter elements, paints, and finishes
-Wear protection and film strength
-Freedom from deposit formation...good dispersant and detergent characteristics
-Compatibility with other engine oils and additive packages
-Extended drain capability
-Water stability...propensity to remain separate of water molecules
-Corollary effects on an engine's octane requirements
-Ambient-startup protection...ability to protect against oil starvation during initial startup
-Compatibility with catalytic emission control systems
-Compatibility with alcohol-containing fuels
Chief among the areas in which the pre-planned and predictable properties inherent in premium synthetic lubricants significantly surpass those of premium petroleum oils are: low temperature fluidity... and thus improved ambient startup protection; low volatility (higher boiling point...greater resistance to evaporation); high-temperature thermal stability; oxidation resistance; lubricity; fuel economy; film strength, and wear protection; extended drain capabilities; water stability; and high natural detergent characteristics (resulting in a cleaner engine with less additive content).
For purposes of comparison, we have taken a well-known synthetic engine oil, Amsoil 10W-40 synthetic, and contrasted its characteristics with those of several prominent 10W-40 conventional motor oils. Below is a condensed summary of the results of several closely- monitored field and laboratory tests:
Amsoil Synthetic Petroleum
1. Effective lubrication range -60 to +400 F 0 to +300F
2. Viscosity increase after 9% 102 to 400%
single-sequence (64 hour)
Olds III-D Test
3. Wear (mg. weight loss, Falex test) 1.1mg 3 to 6 mg
4. Fluidity @ -40F flows freely solid
5. Volatility (evaporation @ 300F 1% 28%
for 22 hrs)
6. Crankcase Temperature (Track Test) 240F 290F
7. Flash Point (D92 test) 470F 400F
8. Oil consumption (50,000 mile test) 42% less than -
9. Intake valve deposits (50,000 miles) 32.1 grams 75.5 grams
From this data it is readily apparent that synthetic lubricants have substantially broadened the horizons of engine lubricant protection. Simply by comparing the lubrication-temperature-range comparison, the limits of petroleum lubricants become evident. On both ends of the relevant temperature spectrum, synthetics demonstrate conclusively the ability to significantly extend the thermal regions in which the engine is protected. This has a special significance for those automotive powerplants which normally work harder and produce higher internal and lubricant temperatures....that is to say: high-performance engines, smaller high-RPM engines, air-cooled engines, turbo-charged engines, Diesels and rotaries.
Furthermore, climatic conditions in which synthetics allow operation with full engine protection are for all practical purposes boundless, whereas with a petroleum oil the protective capacity significantly diminishes with temperature extremes. Note particularly the comparative viscosity (oil thickening) increases after the 64-hour Olds III-D test (item 2)...9% for the Amsoil synthetic vs 102-400% for the multigrade petroleum oils; the reduced wear (item 3); and the reduction in crankcase temperatures (item 6). These favorable results are quite typical of virtually all similar test comparisons between petroleum- and synthetic-based motor oils.
Low-temperature fluidity ("flowability") becomes an important consideration where winters are severe. Because synthetics are constructed "building block by building block", contaminates present in petroleum oil which contribute to low-temp thickening are entirely absent in synthetics, and fluidity is stable to as low as -65F.
Petroleum oils have an inherent percentage of paraffin crystals from their crude oil origins. As temperatures drop, these crystals enlarge and cause the oil to congeal. In extremely cold weather, petroleum oils become a solid mass, thus impeding cold starts, and when the engine does fire up, causing a period of engine operation without adequate lubrication until the lubricant is warmed enough to allow proper oil flow. Furthermore, because of synthetics' better ring-sealing characteristics, fewer contaminants generated by fuel combustion are allowed to escape into the oil pan. Thus the low-temp fluidity and film-strength properties of synthetics both contribute significantly to engine (and battery/starter/alternator) life in colder climes.
In one cold cranking test conducted by Mobil, at -30F, with Mobil 1 in the crankcase, the engine turned at an average speed of 152 RPM, and started; using 10W-30 and 10W-40 premium petroleum oils, the same engine cranked at 45 and 32 RPM respectively... and failed to start. Mobil states that its Mobil 1 (5W-30) all-season synthetic may be used in any engine where 5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40, or single-viscosity oil is normally recommended by the manufacturer; its new "Formula 15W-50" synthetic is designed to replace and outperform those SAE 15W-40 and 20W-50 conventional oils preferred by some drivers for use in high-performance powerplants.
Ambient-start oil starvation is, at any temperature, a major cause of engine wear. Expert estimates vary as to how much abrasive wear is attributable to lubrication-starvation during initial startups, but it is generally conceded that a disproportionate share of an engine's abrasion and wear is caused during those few moments after initial cranking during which the oil has not yet reached full circulation. NEO Oil Company, a well-established and highly respected producer of synthetic lubricants, has recently developed an extended-life lubricity additive for its synthetic motor oils specifically designed to remain on the bearing surfaces after the engine shutdown and thus deliver additional lubrication and wear-protection for initial startups.
On the other end of the thermal spectrum, synthetic oils are also renowned for their high-temperature thermal stability. Superior high-temp stability ensures an engine lubricant's capacity to protect vital engine components during very-high-temperature operation, such as hot summer driving, sustained high-speed driving, repetitious stop and go metropolitan driving, driving in mountainous terrain, pulling a trailer, or any driving with a small harder-working piston or rotary engine. Underhood temperatures also take a quantum leap with the use of power options, especially air conditioning, and because of emissions devices and emissions-related engine redesign.
It is important to note that, even though the dash gauge may register only a 200F or so water/coolant temperature, the temperature of the sump and of all the assorted bearing surfaces significantly exceed the water temperature, and often surpass 500F on the piston ring and cylinder wall areas. These high-temperature surfaces serve to rapidly decompose petroleum oil and additives, as well as contribute to their shorter service life, while the synthetic is largely unaffected.
Beyond the protection afforded an engine during these particular instances of high-operating temperatures, high-temp thermal stability moreover permits an engine oil to deliver overall extended service life (significantly longer drain intervals) in all driving conditions, because it prevents the phenomenon of sludge and carbon deposit formations on critical engine parts (valves, valve guides, oil channels, lifter assemblies, piston rings, et al.) due to oil thickening, a problem commonly attributable to petroleum oil breakdown at high temperature.
As these deposits accumulate in the oil circulatory system, oil flow drops, thus accelerating engine wear. To the user of synthetics, the benefits are (1) reduced wear of critical engine components; (2) significantly reduced sludge and varnish... a cleaner engine; (3) reduced engine drag due to uniform viscosity; and (4) increased fuel economy due to reduced component wear.
Mobil Oil recently reported the results of simulated hot-weather performance with its Mobil 1 synthetic as evaluated by a standardized, grueling engine test known as the Olds III-D. In this test, an Oldsmobile 350" V8 engine is run for 64 hours at a 100-hp load and 300F crankcase oil temperature. This test is designed to measure an oils ability to resist oxidation and evaporation (and consequent thickening) at high temperature. (If it seems odd that oil would thicken at high temperature, consider the analogy of heating a pan of cold syrup on a stove. At first it would become quite thinner, but if left for, say, several hours, the resultant evaporation would cause the syrup to become progressively thicker.) In order to qualify for the American Petroleum Institutes top "SF" rating, a motor oil must pass the III-D test.
This means that it can thicken to no more than 375% of original viscosity at the end of 64 hours of continuous running. Mobil states: "To test the extra stability provided by the Mobil synthetic oil, we decided to run the III-D for 128 hours...double its normal length...and without oil drain. The Mobil 1 synthetic easily passed the test under these brutal conditions, thickening only an insignificant 20%. For comparison, a high-performance premium conventional oil was tested under identical conditions. That test had to stop at 96 hours; the oil had turned solid. Another premium conventional oil forced the test to stop at 112 hours, well before the end of the scheduled double length." Amoco conducted an identical double-sequence III-D test on its Ultimate 5W-30 synthetic; it also passed the test with flying colors, thickening only 18%.
"Film strength" refers to the amount of pressure required to force out a film of oil from between two pieces of flat metal. The higher the film strength, the more protection is provided to such parts as piston rings, timing chain, cams, lifters, and rocker arms...wherever the lubricant is not under oil-system pressure. Synthetics routinely exhibit a nominal film strength of well over 3,000 psi, while petroleum oils average somewhat less than 500 psi. The result is more lubricant protection between moving parts with synthetics.
Viscosity is a crucial consideration when improvements in fuel economy are desired. It stands to reason that the freer an engine turns, the less fuel it will require to accomplish a given amount of work. Studies have demonstrated conclusively that engine drag is directly related to the viscosity of the motor oil. Generally speaking, the lower the viscosity, the better the fuel economy of the engine. In formulating lower-viscosity oils, it has become clear that synthetics are the base stock of choice. This is because it is possible to produce a synthetic oil of a given low viscosity without incurring the excessive oil consumption (due to evaporation) and resultant thickening of the same low-viscosity petroleum oil.
Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy in its pamphlet entitled "An Assessment of the Effects of Engine Lube Oils on Fuel Economy", states: "It is evident that low-viscosity oils will help minimize engine friction losses in the prevalent hydrodynamic region and thereby achieve better fuel economy. In addition, such oils help to reduce friction during ambient (cold) start by increasing the oil flow rate to critical engine parts. However, low viscosity engine oils, blended from conventional petroleum base stocks, may have problems with high oil consumption and engine wear.
There is also the possibility of decreased catalytic-converter life and efficiency due to the increased levels of phosphorus in the exhaust gas from the oil additives. One solution is to mix some synthetic oil with the mineral (petroleum) oil, or use a synthetic base stock entirely. This low viscosity, low-volatility character of synthetics has become increasingly important because many automobile manufacturers are now recommending lighter-weight (chiefly 5W-30) oils for use in their products, and because the trend toward smaller engines creates substantially more heat and stress on the oil used. In these smaller, high-output powerplants, enough heat is generated to cause a lighter petroleum lubricant to evaporate and significantly increase viscosity within weeks of its introduction into the crankcase.
High temperature stability, as well as oxidation-resistance, is of absolutely paramount importance when it comes to turbocharged engines. Because it must both lubricate and cool the turbo unit, the oil MUST be specifically formulated to withstand the turbo's extremely high operating temperatures. Oil film temperatures often exceed 450F in the turbo unit during operation, and can surpass 650F(!!!) during a short period immediately following engine shutdown...both figures far exceeding the thermal limits of petroleum oil. Synthetics, with their capacity to maintain proper (low) viscosity and lubricity under these high heat and stress conditions, and with their natural resistance to oxidation, have risen to the fore.
It is also important to note that the high-temperature-stability properties of synthetics are designed primarily into the base-stock oil itself, rather than being achieved primarily with additives. The advantage with this approach is twofold: (1) Additives, which may account for as much as 25% of the volume of a can of premium petroleum oil, by themselves have little or no lubricating properties per se. Thus the more the additive content in an oil, the less lubrication is available to the engine; and (2) Most additives tend to volatilize (evaporate) and deteriorate with heat and age and use, so that the overall effectiveness of the lubricant itself is significantly diminished within only a few thousand miles of driving.
It is also important to note that, contrary to what many take for granted, higher viscosity in and of itself does not translate into better engine protection. Extensive testing has shown the opposite to be in fact true. As long as a lower-viscosity oil is formulated to resist evaporation and provide high film strength, this lighter oil will actually deliver more complete protection to the engine parts, since its more rapid circulation delivers both better lubrication per se, and far better cooling characteristics...a critical advantage, given that oil flow furnishes up to 30% of an engine cooling requirements.
Prior to the introduction of synthetics, however, the problem of evaporation (and the resultant thickening of the remaining oil) was addressed primarily by increasing viscosity. In short, don't be concerned with the relatively lower viscosity ratings of some synthetics. Synthetic lubes are a whole new ball game.
The remarkable ability of synthetic oils to reduce internal operating temperatures is far too important to ignore, since high operating temperatures contribute directly to premature failure of mechanical components and gaskets and seals. Coolant (i.e. water/antifreeze) cools only the upper regions of an engine. The task of cooling the crankshaft, main and connecting rod bearings, the timing gear and chain, the camshaft and its bearings, and numerous other components must be borne entirely by the oil. There are three identifiable reasons why synthetics do a better job of cooling an engine: (1) Because of both the oil's lubricity (slipperiness) and it's stable viscosity, less friction-- and thus less heat-- is generated in the first place; (2) The molecular structure of the oil itself is designed to more efficiently transfer heat, even compared against the thermal conductivity properties (ability to absorb and dissipate heat) of an identical-viscosity petroleum oil; and (3) As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the more rapid oil flow of these lower-viscosity synthetics contributes significantly to the efficient transfer and dissipation of heat.
Because of all these factors, oil-temperature decreases of from 20F to 50F are quite common with the use of synthetic oil. One might even say that the heat-reduction properties of synthetics are synergistic...by helping to reduce its own temperature, the synthetic oil is simultaneously enhancing the lubricant's overall performance characteristics.
The advantage of extended drain intervals is one of the salient benefits of synthetic motor oils. In a landmark copyrighted article on synthetic motor oils which appeared in Popular Science magazine several years ago, the champion long-oil-drain performance of all was related by Ray Potter, Chief of Lubrication Research at Ford Motor company for many years until his retirement several years ago. "Ten years ago", Potter related, "I was an un-believer like Saul of Tarsus, who in his early years went about breathing fire, death, and indignation on the Christians, before Paul saw the light. So was I at the Scientific Laboratory of the Ford Research and Engineering Laboratory. Two companies asked if I was interested in synthetic oils, and I told them they were too expensive. But one of them sent some anyhow and we put it in the engine house and forgot about it.
"Then one day one of the boys in the dynamometer room called and said they were short of oil and had an engine that would be dropped from scheduled testing unless we put something in it. I remembered the synthetic oil and gave him that. They ran it for 192 hours and called and told me I had better come over and take a look, so I looked and I had never seen anything so clean in my life. I said let's put it (the oil) back in and run it another 192 hours. That's where the petroleum oils sludge up badly. But when they had run it again, it was as good as when we looked at it before. So I said, 'Let's run it again', and that was the first triple sequence I ever ran. We put the oil through 576 hours and that marvelous little Ford engine sat there running like a sewing machine and we pulled it down and it was fantastic."
It is readily apparent that the performance and protection advantages exhibited by synthetic engine lubricants in laboratory tests suggest that their public acceptance will substantially increase in the future. But what about "the real world"? Does their performance parallel the test results and the claims of their manufacturers? The answer appears to be "Yes."
In the same Popular Science article on synthetic oils,
veteran race car driver Smokey Yunick was quoted:
"When you disassemble an engine that's been run on petroleum oil, if you
examine the rings and cylinder bores with a glass you'll see ridges and
scratches--that's the wear going on.
With polyol (a variety of synthetic), when you
take the engine apart everything has the appearance of being
chrome-plated. In the engine we ran at
Another example of the capacity of synthetic oil to deliver
exceptional engine protection and performance is a recently completed
demonstration involving the Amsoil Corporation of
Initially the demonstration was to have required that each taxi, equipped with a Chevrolet 229 CID V6 engine, have its oil and filter changed every 3,000 miles. But Amsoil insisted that an alteration of the test procedure be instituted. The company's intent was to push its synthetic oil to the extreme and evaluate how it compared to the petroleum oils drained at the originally specified, 3,000 mile intervals. The twelve Amsoil-lubricated vehicles were thus divided into three groups of four taxis each.
Group 1 (Amsoil) would double the control interval, with oil and filter drain at 6,000 miles; Group 2 (Amsoil) would quadruple the control interval, with oil and filter drain at 12,000 miles; and Group 3 (Amsoil) would not change the oil for the duration of the test; thus multiplying the (petroleum) Control Group's drain-control interval by twenty times. In place of changing the oil, these (Group 3) cars would be equipped with Amsoil's ByPass oil filter, claimed by the company to keep (synthetic) oil analytically clean for up to 25,000 miles of driving, without replacing the element. The by-pass filter element was changed at 12,500 mile intervals for the duration of the test.
Following the year-long demonstration, each of the engines was disassembled, both to determine the levels of sludge, varnish, and rust that had accumulated inside the engine, and to carefully measure the amounts of wear experienced on critical engine components. Pictured on the previous page are representative samples of various components of the test engines. In the first example, the pistons and intake valves of the petroleum Control Group (oil and filter changes every 3,000 miles), are illustrated. The lower set of photos represent the same engine components from an Amsoil Group 3 vehicle. Note the substantially reduced varnish and sludge deposits on the synthetic-oil lubricated components, and the remarkably good overall condition of the Amsoil Group 3 piston rings and valves.
To summarize the findings and conclusions, the test facility responsible for the demonstration submitted this statement: "The data presented in this report indicates that the Amsoil synthetic SAE 10W-40 passenger-car motor oil formulation...provided protection of the test engines from excessive wear and deposit formation, far beyond the normal 3,000-mile change interval." In fact, the level of protection was such that those engines in which the original synthetic oil was run for the entire duration of the (60,000-mile) test showed less wear than did the Control Group vehicles using premium, 10W-40 petroleum oil and 3,000-mile drain intervals.
Many users of synthetics have reported that their fuel octane requirements have been lowered after switching to synthetics. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that, because synthetic oils produce fewer combustion-chamber carbon deposits, due at least in part to its superior piston-ring-sealing properties, pre-ignition due to such deposits is correspondingly decreased. Also, at least in theory, spark plugs and valves should perform better and last longer for these same reasons.
Renowned race-car driver Bobby Unser stated in an article in The Family Handyman magazine: "I've had tremendous success with synthetics, both grease and oil, in all my cars. In several instances where we have compared petroleum-lubricated engines with those which used synthetics, the latter were cleaner, with less carbon and sludge. And the engines produced more horsepower, which meant better mileage and longer life."
Of particular relevance to VW-based kit car owners is a letter received by NEO oil company from a grateful customer in Paramount, California; excerpts as follows: "Thought we'd take a moment to write regarding the performance of your NEO synthetic motor oil...we decided to try your oil in our shop van, an early VW with a late model 1600cc, dual-port engine...Our findings, to say the least, are impressive!
With absolutely no changes other than to drain out 2 1/2 quarts of a very good racing-grade 30-weight oil and the replace it with an equal amount of your 10W-40 synthetic, we noted “an immediate 50F drop” (emphasis ours) in average cylinder head temperature (from 350F to 300F), and a corresponding drop in oil temperature, from (former) highs of 275-290, now down to 230-240 degrees...Great news for VW owners, since high operating temperature is probably the number one cause of premature engine failures...Also significant, we have reduced our oil consumption from one pint every 300-350 miles (depending on load conditions), down to NIL. In fact, as of this writing, we've put 6363 miles on the van and have added only 3 pints! As we stated earlier, we are quite favorably impressed with your product and are recommending it wholeheartedly."
Still another letter from a synthetic-oil user reads in part: "...My GM owner's manual recommends cleaning the PCV filter every 15,000 miles and replacing the (PCV) valve every 30,000. My odometer now registers well over 100,000 miles, and both components are still immaculate, like new, even though I've never had to clean the filter or replace the valve. Hell, except for a quick inspection prior to writing this letter, I've long since stopped checking them altogether. These guys have apparently never heard about Mobil 1..."
Finally, we asked a respected petroleum engineer why auto manufacturers don't specify synthetic oils for use in their products. His response was both candid and revealing: "Auto manufacturers must, by necessity, stick to the 'generic' SAE standards in recommending oil grades and viscosities...and synthetics are way ahead of SAE standards. The top SAE motor oil classifications (SD, SE, SF, etc.), rather than being benchmarks of excellence, are merely 'highest common denominators'. The highest SAE rating (currently 'SF'), for example, is determined not for the state-of-the-art performance of the better synthetics, but rather for the best possible performance of petroleum oils *currently achievable by a majority of petroleum oil producers (emphasis ours).
It is not surprising then that synthetics pass these qualifications effortlessly. What is needed is an entirely additional set of SAE standards for synthetics. Such a grading system would, in effect, start where current SAE (petroleum-oriented) specs leave off. If such a premium grading system were adopted by the Society (SAE), then you'd see the automakers universally recommending lighter oils in grades and with recommended drain intervals completely beyond the reach of petroleum products..."
So, given all of this information, what do we know about the performance characteristics of synthetic oils? We can say that they have significant performance and protective advantages over their petroleum counterparts, across an extremely wide range of operating temperatures. We have observed that synthetic oils, as a result of their stable viscosity and low volatility, are capable of providing superior protection to smaller, higher-RPM engines currently predominating the automotive market. We have seen that in "real-world" demonstrations, synthetic oils display extended drain capabilities far in excess of the recommended drain intervals of conventional petroleum motor oils. And finally, we have seen that synthetic lubricants demonstrate a remarkable ability to curtail sludge, varnish, and wear, in any engine.
"But", you say, "if synthetics are so good, why aren't even more motorists using them?" First and foremost, many folks simply aren't aware of synthetics. Others who are aware are deterred by the higher purchase cost, without investigating the advantages. Even many professional mechanics haven't kept abreast of the advances that have occurred in the field of synthetic lubricants, and frequently tend to dismiss them without bothering to check the wealth of current literature and impressive test results regarding them.
Secondly, garages and dealerships often hesitate to recommend any extended-drain lubricant, perhaps because their livelihood is to a large degree dependent upon frequent servicing and repairs. We learned of one (probably commonly-occurring) instance where a dealership mechanic told a customer: "You can't use synthetic oil in you car...the engine wasn't designed for it!" Still another reason is that many of the advantages and cost savings provided by synthetic lubricants are difficult to quantify, and thus difficult for many consumers to appreciate.
For instance, how does one place a precise value upon such benefits as..."cleaner engine; longer engine life; fewer repairs; lower operating temperatures; fewer oil and filter changes; less oil consumption; lowered octane requirements; longer battery/starter/alternator/spark plug/turbo unit/PCV component life; increased fuel mileage; the convenience of exceptional four-season performance with a single motor oil...and so on." On the other hand, it is quite simple to compare the purchase costs of conventional vs. synthetic, and to ignore the real cost-and-performance comparisons in actual operation.
Do you prefer to save $12 or $15 per oil change by using a petroleum oil, even knowing that it should be changed six or seven times as frequently as a premium synthetic? Or are you more interested in the bigger picture, irrespective of the fact that many of the very real benefits of synthetics cannot be precisely quantified in terms of dollars and cents? All available evidence indicates that synthetic engine oils offer performance advantages *not achievable with any refined-petroleum product*.
Does all of this mean that synthetic motor oils are superior to conventional petroleum oils? If you value your automobile engine and would like to keep it in peak, trouble-free operating condition year after year and far beyond its normal expected life, our conclusion is "Yes, without question."
[We at Specialty Cars would like to extend special thanks to Peter L. Clark of Amsoil, Earl Kirmser of Earl Kirmser Inc./Mobil Oil, and Paul Baker of Neo Oil company. Without their unselfish cooperation and technical assistance, production of this article would not have been possible.]
Synthetic Motor Oils: Are They For Every Engine?
After reading the accompanying article, many may feel that it is to their advantage to switch to a synthetic engine lubricant. There are, however, several things a prospective synthetic user should know in order to make the proper decision.
First, in order to obtain optimum cost and performance benefits, it is important that your engine does not consume or leak an excessive amount of oil. Because of the generally higher purchase cost of synthetics, constantly replacing lost oil can become expensive. This is not to say that oil consumption or leakage will increase with the use of synthetics, only that replacement of lost oil is more costly. The view was once widely held that any high-detergent-action oil would increase leakage, by dissolving "false seals" formed by engine sludge. Not so, say most experts, who explain that motor oil detergents and dispersants are designed only to prevent or inhibit sediment formation, and have little or no effect at all on previously established crud deposits.
Second, most engine and lubricant manufacturers recommend that synthetic oil not be used during the "break-in" period of an engine. The reason for this is that synthetics, possessing extraordinary lubricity and lubricant film strength, do not permit the metal wear necessary for the seating of piston rings. A change to synthetic motor oil should wait until you new or rebuilt engine has completed the break-in period of six to eight thousand miles.
Warranty-period compliance is a question with many motorists, and there is currently no one answer to cover all contingencies. With the development of extended-drain motor oils, both synthetic and petroleum, most of the major automobile manufacturers have relaxed their once-rigid compliance requirements. On an individual case basis, the usual procedure is to determine first the cause of engine failure. If the cause is found to be a factory flaw, warranty compliance is generally not questioned. In any event, oil-related engine failure during the warranty period is a rare circumstance indeed. If the failure should be found to be oil related, most oil producers will stand behind their product and cover any repair cost.
Many extended warranty plans, however, are offered at new car dealerships, sponsored not by the manufacturer, but by third-party vendors. There's a Latin phrase to cover the issue: Caveat emptor...Let the buyer beware. In the worst-case scenario, they may search for any excuse to void their warranty. Our advice is to avoid extra-cost extended warranties. Not only are they expensive at the outset; pressure is often applied by the new car dealer for you to have all of your service work done in-house at dealership rates. Save your bucks and take a cruise.
Finally, if you know that your engine has significant sludge or varnish buildup, common among petroleum-lubricated engines with higher mileage or that have had infrequent oil changes, it is sometimes recommended that it be flushed with an engine cleaner before switching to synthetics. This process helps to remove those deposits that have accumulated as a result of the decomposition of the previously-used petroleum oils, and enables the synthetic oil to better perform the functions of keeping the engine clean and reducing wear.
Since all of the major synthetic motor oils available today are entirely compatible with petroleum oils, there is no need to flush a relatively clean engine in order to switch to a synthetic. Some synthetics producers, however, do caution against mixing different brands of synthetics with one another, since their compositional origins may be quite different.
How Well Do Oil Filters Match Up to the Performance of Synthetics?
Oil filtration is an essential ingredient in the overall equation of engine lubrication. The impurities and wear metals circulating in the oil must be affectively contained to prevent engine wear and crud-deposit buildup. But all oil filters are not created equal, and care should be taken to ensure that the oil filter you use provides proper protection for your engine.
There are three basic types of engine oil filters: pleated-paper spin-on filters, full-depth spin-on filters, and by-pass (supplementary) filters. Each is designed for specific filtration tasks.
The original-equipment type pleated paper filter (AC, Fram, Purolator, et al.), in which a rigid sheet of filtering paper is folded accordion-style and inserted into a metal housing, is by far the most common variety of automotive oil filter. Because of the large volume of oil-decomposition sludge produced by petroleum motor oils, a paper filter should be changed along with the oil every three or four thousand miles when using petroleum oil. By using synthetics this change interval may unquestionably be substantially increased since these congestive byproducts are greatly reduced, if not entirely eliminated. Both Mobil and Amoco confidently endorse change intervals of 25,000 miles for both the filter and their synthetic oil.
In any event, this type of filter should be replaced periodically, not exceeding twelve months. The reason for this recommendation lies not with the filter clogging, but with the limited life of the paper element itself, since with both age and use it tends to deteriorate and eventually fail. Paper-element failure and inferior filtration capabilities are particularly prevalent in the case of cheap, discount filter brands. This is no area to scrimp on quality. If you choose to use a paper filter, stick with a brand whose quality you know you can trust.
The full-depth type, spin-on filter is identical in external appearance to the pleated-paper filter, and is installed in the same manner. The filtering medium is a thick "blanket" of fiber, which filters throughout its entire depth (hence the name), contrasted to the surface filtration method of a pleated paper filter. Amsoil's depth filter utilizes a dense, cotton linter element, that according to the company, filters particles down to roughly 1/6 the size of those allowed to recirculate through a paper filter.
The bypass filter is a supplementary filtering system, designed to "super-filter" from the oil most of the remaining impurities and particles that have been allowed to pass through the spin-on filter. A by-pass unit possesses the ability to filter minute contaminants and particles from the oil, in some cases measuring down to well under one micron, compared to a spin-on (depth-type) filters 4 or 5 microns, or a spin-on (pleated paper) filter's 25-40 microns. Bear in mind that virtually all engine/piston ring deposits and a substantive amount of wear result from minute crud particles that have routinely recirculated through the full-flow paper filter. A top quality by-pass filter can virtually eliminate oil-suspended debris, at the same time extending and enhancing the benefits of synthetic oil.
One such unit, the Oberg Filter, (distributed by Baker Precision Bearing, 2865 Gundry Ave., Long Beach, CA 90806), employs a reusable, ultra-fine stainless steel filtering element, and uses an adapter plate for simple and straightforward installation either in place of, or in addition to, the spin-on filter. Fram offers an automotive by-pass filter in its product line that features a pleated-paper element and easy "spin-on" replacement similar to original-equipment-type units. Ask for the Fram "PB50" with mounting hardware.
Amsoil's by-pass unit is connected to the oil pressure sending unit and returns oil to the pan, thus requiring some mechanical ability or the services of your mechanic for the initial installation. The company states that its by-pass unit, which employs a user replaceable, pressed-fiber element, refilters all the oil in an engine every five minutes, and keeps it analytically sparkling clean for the (recommended maximum) element life of 25,000 miles! It even extracts and contains any water that has (inevitably) condensed into the oil...which if allowed to remain in circulation will often result in the formation of corrosive acids. It's a real trip to find clean, like-new synthetic oil on your dipstick after twenty or twenty-five thousand miles without an oil change.
It should be noted that optimum filtration is of particularly critical importance with both Diesel (naturally-aspirated) and turbocharged (gasoline or Diesel) engine, since their abnormally-high yield of combustion contaminants, if left to circulate in the lubricant, serve to adversely affect the performance and service life of any oil.
Also, since the immediate objective of filtration is clean oil, don't overlook your air filter. A clogged or failed air cleaner can be a major source of abrasive oil contaminants and engine wear. Choose a good brand, check it periodically, and replace it promptly when it becomes dirty. (Personal note: Even better are the oiled foam filters, such as those sold by Amsoil. They are washable and re-oilable, and never need be replaced. These do a MUCH better job of keeping fine dirt particles from reaching the engine, and ultimately the oil.)
Slick 50 and other engine oil additives
Slick 50 and other engine oil additives supposedly reduce engine wear and increase fuel efficiency. You may have heard the commercial or seen the ad:
Multiple tests by independent laboratories have shown that when properly applied to an automotive engine, Slick 50 Engine Formula reduces wear on engine parts. Test results have shown that Slick 50 treated engines sustained 50 percent less wear than test engines run with premium motor oil alone.
There are about 50 other products on the market which make similar claims, many of them being just duplicate products under different names from the same company. The price for a pint or quart of these engine oil additives runs from a few dollars to more than $20. Do these products do any good? Not much. Do they do any harm. Sometimes.
What's in these miracle lubricants, anyway? And, if they're so wonderful, why don't car manufacturers recommend their usage? And why don't oil companies get into the additive business? And where are these studies mentioned by Petrolon (Slick 50)? Probably in the same file cabinet as the tobacco company studies proving the health benefits of smoking.
The basic ingredient is the same in most of these additives: 50 weight engine oil with standard additives. The magic ingredient in Slick 50, Liquid Ring, Microlon, Matrix, QM1 and T-Plus from K-Mart is Polytetrafluoroethylene. Don't try to pronounce it: call it PTFE. But don't call it Teflon, which is what it is, because that is a registered trademark. Dupont, who invented Teflon, claims that "Teflon is not useful as an ingredient in oil additives or oils used for internal combustion engines." But what do they know? They haven't seen the secret studies done by Petrolon (Slick 50).
PTFE is a solid which is added to engine oil and allegedly coats the moving parts of the engine.
such solids seem even more inclined to coat non-moving parts, like oil passages
and filters. After all, if it can build up under the pressures and friction
exerted on a cylinder wall, then it stands to reason it should build up even
better in places with low pressures and virtually no friction.
This conclusion seems to be borne out by tests on oil additives containing PTFE conducted by the
In defense of Slick 50, tests done
on a Chevy 6 cylinder engine by the
The FTC and Slick 50
In 1997, three subsidiaries of
Quaker State Corp. (the makers of Slick 50) settled Federal Trade Commission
charges that ads for
"Every time you cold start your car without Slick 50 protection, metal grinds against metal in your engine."
"With each turn of the ignition you do unseen damage, because at cold start-up most of the oil is down in the pan. But Slick 50's unique chemistry bonds to engine parts. It reduces wear up to 50% for 50,000 miles."
"What makes Slick 50 Automotive Engine Formula different is an advanced chemical support package designed to bond a specially activated PTFE to the metal in your engine."
In fact, the FTC said, "most automobile engines are adequately protected from wear at start-up when they use motor oil as recommended in the owner's manual. Moreover, it is uncommon for engines to experience premature failure caused by wear, whether they have been treated with Slick 50 or not."
Zinc: good for the common cold & your engine
Another type of additive is zinc dialkyldithiophosphate. Zinc-d is found in Mechanics Brand Engine Tune Up, K Mart Super Oil Treatment, and STP Engine Treatment With XEP2, among others. The touting of zinc-d as a special ingredient in engine oil additives is a little like the Shell ads which touted "Platformate."
(Most gasoline has similar additives but under different names.) Zinc-d is an additive in most, if not all, major oil brands. The wonder oils just put more of the stuff in a 50 weight engine oil. It would be useful if your engine were ever operated under extremely abnormal conditions where metal contacts metal: "the zinc compounds react with the metal to prevent scuffing, particularly between cylinder bores and piston rings....unless you plan on spending a couple of hours dragging your knee at Laguna Seca, adding extra zinc compounds to your oil is usually a waste.... Also, keep in mind that high zinc content can lead to deposit formation on your valves, and spark plug fouling" (Rau).
If zinc-d is so good for your engine, why haven't oil manufacturers been putting more of it in their standard mix of oil and additives? Actually, oil companies have been decreasing the amount of zinc-d because of research evidence which indicates that it seems to adversely affect catalytic converters, causing them to deteriorate.
The bottom line is that outside of the testimonials of happy and satisfied customers and the guarantees of company executives about the wonderful effects that studies have shown will follow the use of their products, there isn't much support for using oil additives. Of course, there are those millions of customers who buy the stuff: aren't they proof that these things really work? Not really. They're proof that this stuff really sells!
some additives may not contain anything harmful to your engine, and even some
things that could be beneficial, most experts still recommend that you avoid
their use. The reason for this is that your oil, as purchased from one of the
major oil companies, already contains a very extensive additive package.
This package is made up of numerous, specific additive components, blended to achieve a specific formula that will meet the requirements of your engine. Usually, at least several of these additives will be synergistic. That is, they react mutually, in groups of two or more, to create an effect that none of them could attain individually. Changing or adding to this formula can upset the balance and negate the protective effect the formula was meant to achieve, even if you are only adding more of something that was already included in the initial package (Rau).
On the other side of the engine block are those additives which will cleanse your engine, not coat it. Stuff like Bardahl, Rislone and Marvel Mystery Oil claim they can make your engine run quieter and smoother; they can reduce oil burning. These are products which contain solvents or detergents such as kerosene, naphthalene, xylene, acetone or isopropanol. If used properly, I suppose these products will strip off your Teflon and zinc protective coatings! But unless you have a really old and abused car, you probably have no need of stripping away sludge and deposits from your engine. Thus, you probably have no need for these wonder cleaners. And, if you overuse such products you can damage your engine by promoting metal to metal contact.
Also, if you use a synthetic oil, such as Mobil 1, you are advised not to use any engine treatments or additives. Mobil claims that
The use of an engine oil additive is not recommended, either by Mobil or by virtually any vehicle manufacturer. In fact, it may void your new-car warranty.
Finally, you may have seen the commercial where two engines are allowed to run without any oil in them and the one which had the special oil additive keeps on ticking after the other engine has conked out. This may be appealing to the car owner who never changes his or her oil or who runs his or her car without oil, but it should be of little interest to the person who knows how to take care of their automobile.
Should you invest in something like Tufoil? It is touted as being "a super-suspension of micro-miniature PTFE particles and soluble Molybdenum, permanently suspended in oil." And, it will not clog filters or oil openings, according to the manufacturer. Or, how about Lubrilon, which contain a nylon polymer that will coat your metal parts? Or Bishop's Original Permafused Lubrication™, which also coats your metal parts with an anti-wear lubricant film? It's your money, but I think you'd be better off if you just changed your oil and oil filter regularly. And don't forget to change the fuel and air filters at the recommended intervals. We can't say for sure that these new products do no good, but what good they might do is probably not necessary or of much value for the average vehicle owner who takes proper care of the vehicle.
· · · "Snake Oil! Is That Additive Really A Negative?" Fred Rau, Road Rider,August 1992.
· · · QUAKER STATE ADS FOR SLICK 50 ARE FALSE AND MISLEADING, FTC CHARGES July 16, 1996 FTC press release
· · QUAKER STATE SUBSIDIARIES SETTLE FTC CHARGES AGAINST SLICK
Agreement Safeguards $10 Million in Redress to Consumers July 23, 1997 FTC press release
· · · Super21 Fuel Additive by Rob Altenburg
“Snake Oil! Is That Additive Really A Negative?”
About the Author
Author: Fred Rau
Publisher: ROAD RIDER
Date: August 1992
Republished without permission - but I wasn't the first one - it's commonly available on the net.
Information for this article was
compiled from reports and studies by the University of
Nevada Desert Research Center, DuPont Chemical Company, Avco
Lycoming (aircraft engine manufacturers),
Road Rider does not claim to have all the answers. Nor do we care to presume to tell you what to do. We have simply tried to provide you with all the information we were able to dredge up on this subject, in hopes it will help you in making your own, informed decision.
4. You Can't Tell The Players Without A Program
On starting this project, we set out to find as many different oil additives as we could buy. That turned out to be a mistake. There were simply too many available! At the very first auto parts store we visited, there were over two dozen different brand names available. By the end of the day, we had identified over 40 different oil additives for sale and realized we needed to rethink our strategy.
First of all, we found that if we checked the fine print on the packages, quite a number of the additives came from the same manufacturer. Also, we began to notice that the additives could be separated into basic "groups" that seemed to carry approximately the same ingredients and the same promises.
In the end, we divided our additives into four basic groups and purchased at least three brands from three different manufacturers for each group. We defined our four groups this way:
1. 1. 1. Products that seemed to be nothing more than regular 50-rated engine oil (including standard additives) with PTFE (Teflon TM) added.
2. 2. 2. Products that seemed to be nothing more than regular 50-rated engine oil (including standard additives) with zinc dialkyldithiophosphate added.
3. 3. 3. Products containing (as near as we could determine) much the same additives as are already found in most major brands of engine oil, though in different quantities and combinations.
4. 4. 4. Products made up primarily of solvents and/or detergents.
There may be some differences in chemical makeup within groups, but that is impossible to tell since the additive manufacturers refuse to list the specific ingredients of their products. We will discuss each group individually.
5. The PTFE Mystery
Currently, the most common and popular oil additives on the market are those that contain PTFE powders suspended in a regular, over-the-counter type, 50-rated petroleum or synthetic engine oil. PTFE is the common abbreviation used for Polytetrafloeraethylene, more commonly known by the trade name "Teflon," which is a registered trademark of the DuPont Chemical Corporation. Among those oil additives we have identified as containing PTFE are: Slick 50, Liquid Ring, Lubrilon, Microlon, Matrix, Petrolon (same company as Slick 50), QMl, and T-Plus (K-Mart). There are probably many more names in use on many more products using PTFE. We have found that oil additive makers like to market their products under a multitude of "private brand" names.
While some of these products may contain other additives in addition to PTFE, all seem to rely on the PTFE as their primary active ingredient and all, without exception, do not list what other ingredients they may contain.
Though they have gained rather wide acceptance among the motoring public, oil additives containing PTFE have also garnered their share of critics among experts in the field of lubrication. By far the most damning testimonial against these products originally came from the DuPont Chemical Corporation, inventor of PTFE and holder of the patents and trademarks for Teflon. In a statement issued about ten years ago, DuPont's Fluoropolymers Division Product Specialist, J.F. Imbalzano said, "Teflon is not useful as an ingredient in oil additives or oils used for internal combustion engines."
At the time, DuPont threatened legal action against anyone who used the name "Teflon" on any oil product destined for use in an internal combustion engine, and refused to sell its PTFE powders to any one who intended to use them for such purposes.
After a flurry of lawsuits from oil additive makers, claiming DuPont could not prove that PTFE was harmful to engines, DuPont was forced to once again begin selling their PTFE to the additive producers. The additive makers like to claim this is some kind of "proof' that their products work, when in fact it is nothing more than proof that the American legal ethic of "innocent until proven guilty" is still alive and well. The decision against DuPont involved what is called "restraint of trade." You can't refuse to sell a product to someone just because there is a possibility they might use it for a purpose other than what you intended it for.
It should be noted that DuPont's official position on the use of PTFE in engine oils remains carefully aloof and noncommittal, for obvious legal reasons. DuPont states that though they sell PTFE to oil additive producers, they have "no proof of the validity of the additive makers' claims." They further state that they have "no knowledge of any advantage gained through the use of PTFE in engine oil."
Fear of potential lawsuits for possible misrepresentation of a product seem to run much higher among those with the most to lose.
After DuPont's decision and attempt to halt the use of PTFE in engine oils, several of the oil additive companies simply went elsewhere for their PTFE powders, such as purchasing them in other countries. In some cases, they disguise or hype their PTFE as being something different or special by listing it under one of their own tradenames. That doesn't change the fact that it is still PTFE.
In addition, there is some evidence that certain supplies of PTFE powders (from manufacturers other than DuPont) are of a cruder version than the original, made with larger sized flakes that are more likely to "settle out" in your oil or clog up your filters. One fairly good indication that a product contains this kind of PTFE is if the instructions for its use advise you to "shake well before using." It only stands to reason that if the manufacturer knows the solids in his product will settle to the bottom of a container while sitting on a shelf, the same thing is going to happen inside your engine when it is left idle for any period of time.
The problem with putting PTFE in your oil, as explained to us by several industry experts, is that PTFE is a solid. The additive makers claim this solid "coats" the moving parts in an engine (though that is far from being scientifically proven). Slick 50 is currently both the most aggressive advertiser and the most popular seller, with claims of over 14 million treatments sold. However, such solids seem even more inclined to coat non-moving parts, like oil passages and filters. After all, if it can build up under the pressures and friction exerted on a cylinder wall, then it stands to reason it should build up even better in places with low pressures and virtually no friction.
This conclusion seems to be borne
out by tests on oil additives containing PTFE conducted by the
Remember, PTFE in oil additives is a suspended solid. Now think about why you have an oil filter on your engine. To remove suspended solids, right? Right. Therefore it would seem to follow that if your oil filter is doing its job, it will collect as much of the PTFE as possible, as quickly as possible. This can result in a clogged oil filter and decreased oil pres sure throughout your engine.
In response to our inquiries about this sort of problem, several of the PTFE pushers responded that their particulates were of a sub-micron size, capable of passing through an ordinary oil filter unrestricted. This certainly sounds good, and may in some cases actually be true, but it makes little difference when you know the rest of the story. You see, PTFE has other qualities besides being a friction reducer: It expands radically when exposed to heat. So even if those particles are small enough to pass through your filter when you purchase them, they very well may not be when your engine reaches normal operating temperature.
Here again, the scientific evidence seems to support this, as in tests conducted by researchers at the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station involving Petrolon additive with PTFE.
The Petrolon test report states, "There was a pressure drop across the oil filter resulting from possible clogging of small passageways." In addition, oil analysis showed that iron contamination doubled after using the treatment, indicating that engine wear didn't go down - it appeared to shoot up.
This particular report was paid for by Petrolon (marketers of Slick 50), and was not all bad news for their products. The tests, conducted on a Chevrolet six-cylinder automobile engine, showed that after treatment with the PTFE additive the test engine's friction was reduced by 13.1 percent. Also, output horsepower increased from 5.3 percent to 8.1 percent, and fuel economy improved from 11.8 percent under light load to 3.8 percent under heavy load.
These are the kind of results an aggressive marketing company like Petrolon can really sink their teeth into. If we only reported the results in the last paragraph to you, you'd be inclined to think Slick 50 was indeed a magic engine elixir. What you have to keep in mind is that often times the benefits (like increased horse power and fuel economy) may be out weighed by some serious drawbacks (like the indications that "There was a pressure drop across the oil filter resulting from possible clogging of small passageways"). Oil analysis showed that iron contamination doubled after the treatment, indicating that engine wear increased.
6. The Plot Thickens
Just as we were about to go to
press with this article, we were contacted by the public relations firm of
Trent and Company, an outfit with a prestigious address in the Empire State
Building, New York. They advised us they were working for a company called QMI
What we got was pretty much what we expected. QMI's oil additive, according to their press release, uses "ten times more PTFE resins than its closest competitor." Using the "unique SX-6000 formula," they say they are the only company to use "aqueous dispersion resin which means the microns (particle sizes) are extensively smaller and can penetrate tight areas." This, they claim, "completely eliminates the problem of clogged filters and oil passages."
Intrigued by their press release, we set up a telephone interview with their Vice-President of Technical Services, Mr. Owen Heatwole. Mr. Heatwole's name was immediately recognized by us as one that had popped in earlier research of this subject as a former employee of Petrolon, a company whose name seems inextricably linked in some fashion or another with virtually every PTFE-related additive maker in the country.
Mr. Heatwole was a charming and persuasive talker with a knack for avoiding direct answers as good as any seasoned politician. His glib pitch for his product was the best we've ever heard, but when dissected and pared down to the verifiable facts, it actually said very little.
When we asked about the ingredients in QMI's treatments, we got almost exactly the response we expected. Mr. Heatwole said he would "have to avoid discussing specifics about the formula, for proprietary reasons."
After telling us that QMI was being used by "a major oil company," a "nuclear plant owned by a major corporation" and a "major engine manufacturer," Mr. Heatwole followed up with, "Naturally, I can't reveal their names - for proprietary reasons."
He further claimed to have extensive testing and research data available from a "major laboratory," proving conclusively how effective QMI was. When we asked for the name of the lab, can you guess? Yup, "We can't give out that information, for proprietary reasons."
What QMI did give us was the
typical "testimonials," though we must admit theirs came from more
recognizable sources than usual. They seem to have won over the likes of both
Team Kawasaki and Bobby Unser, who evidently endorse
and use QMI in their racing engines. Mr. Heatwole was
very proud of the fact that their product was being used in engines that he
himself admitted are "torn down and completely inspected on a weekly
basis." Of course, what he left out is that those same engines are almost
totally rebuilt every time they're torn down. So what does that prove in terms
of his product reducing wear and promoting engine longevity?
Mr. Heatwole declined to name the source of QMI's PTFE supply "for proprietary reasons." He bragged that their product is sold under many different private labels, but refused to identify those labels "for proprietary reasons." When asked about the actual size of the PTFE particles used in QMI, he claimed they were measured as "sub-micron in size" by a "major motor laboratory" which he couldn't identify - you guessed it - for "proprietary reasons."
After about an hour of listening to "don't quote me on this," "I'll have to deny that if you print it," and "I can't reveal that," we asked Mr. Heatwole if there was something we could print. "Certainly," he said, "Here's a good quote for you: 'The radical growth in technology has overcome the problem areas associated with PTFE in the 1980s'"
"Not bad," we said. Then we asked to whom we might attribute this gem of wisdom. DuPont Chemical, perhaps?
"Me," said Mr. Heatwole. "I said that."
QMI's press releases like to quote the Guinness Book Of Records in saying that PTFE is "The slickest substance known to man." Far be it from us to take exception to the Guinness Book, but we doubt that PTFE is much slicker than some of the people marketing it.
7. The Zinc Question
The latest "miracle ingredient" in oil additives, attempting to usurp PTFE's cure-all throne, is zinc dialkyldithiophosphate, which we will refer to here after as simply "zinc."
Purveyors of the new zinc-related products claim they can prove absolute superiority over the PTFE-related products. Naturally, the PTFE crowd claim exactly the same, in reverse.
Zinc is contained as part of the standard additive package in virtually every major brand of engine oil sold today, varying from a low volume of 0.10 per cent in brands such as Valvoline All Climate and Chevron l5W-50, to a high volume of 0.20 percent in brands such as Valvoline Race and Pennzoil GT Performance.
Organic zinc compounds are used as extreme pressure, anti-wear additives, and are therefore found in larger amounts in oils specifically blended for high-revving, turbocharged or racing applications.
The zinc in your oil comes into play only when there is actual metal-to-metal con tact within your engine, which should never occur under normal operating conditions. However, if you race your bike, or occasionally play tag with the redline on the tach, the zinc is your last line of defense. Under extreme conditions, the zinc compounds react with the metal to prevent scuffing, particularly between cylinder bores and piston rings.
However - and this is the important part to remember - available research shows that more zinc does not give you more protection, it merely prolongs the protection if the rate of metal-to-metal contact is abnormally high or extended. So unless you plan on spending a couple of hours dragging your knee at Laguna Seca, adding extra zinc compounds to your oil is usually a waste. Also, keep in mind that high zinc content can lead to deposit formation on your valves, and spark plug fouling.
Among the products we found containing zinc dialkyldithiophosphate were Mechanics Brand Engine Tune Up, K Mart Super Oil Treatment, and STP Engine Treatment With XEP2. The only reason we can easily identify the additives with the new zinc compounds is that they are required to carry a Federally mandated warning label indicating they contain a hazardous substance. The zinc phosphate they contain is a known eye irritant, capable of inflicting severe harm if it comes in contact with your eyes. If you insist on using one of these products, please wear protective goggles and exercise extreme caution.
As we mentioned, organic zinc compounds are already found in virtually every major brand of oil, both automotive and motorcycle. However, in recent years the oil companies voluntarily reduced the amount of zinc content in most of their products after research indicated the zinc was responsible for premature deterioration and damage to catalytic converters. Obviously this situation would not affect 99 percent of all the motorcycles on the road - however, it could have been a factor with the newer BMW converter - equipped bikes.
Since the reduction in zinc content was implemented solely for the protection of catalytic converters, it is possible that some motorcycles might benefit from a slight increase in zinc content in their oils. This has been taken into account by at least one oil company, Spectro, which offers 0.02 to 0.03 percent more zinc compounds in its motorcycle oils than in its automotive oils.
Since Spectro (Golden 4 brand, in this case) is a synthetic blend lubricant designed for extended drain intervals, this increase seems to be wholly justified. Also, available research indicates that Spectro has, in this case, achieved a sensible balance for extended application without increasing the zinc content to the point that it is likely to cause spark plug fouling or present a threat to converter-equipped BMW models.
It would appear that someone at Spectro did their homework.
8. Increased Standard Additives (More Is Not Necessarily Better)
Though some additives may not contain anything harmful to your engine, and even some things that could be beneficial, most experts still recommend that you avoid their use. The reason for this is that your oil, as purchased from one of the major oil companies, already contains a very extensive additive package.
This package is made up of numerous, specific additive components, blended to achieve a specific formula that will meet the requirements of your engine. Usually, at least several of these additives will be synergistic. That is, they react mutually, in groups of two or more, to create an effect that none of them could attain individually. Changing or adding to this formula can upset the balance and negate the protective effect the formula was meant to achieve, even if you are only adding more of something that was already included in the initial package.
If it helps, try to think of your oil like a cake recipe. Just because the original recipe calls for two eggs (which makes for a very moist and tasty cake), do you think adding four more eggs is going to make the cake better? Of course not. You're going to upset the carefully calculated balance of ingredients and magnify the effect the eggs have on the recipe to the point that it ruins the entire cake. Adding more of a specific additive already contained in your oil is likely to produce similar results.
This information should also be taken into account when adding to the oil already in your bike or when mixing oils for any reason, such as synthetic with petroleum. In these cases, always make sure the oils you are putting together have the same rating (SA, SE, SC, etc.). This tells you their additive packages are basically the same, or at least compatible, and are less likely to upset the balance or counteract each other.