by Robert Sanborn on September 13th, 2006, who was a member of the STLE Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers for 15 years.
With all of the negative articles about oil additives, which have been written and supported extensively by special interest groups, its time to tell the real truth about oil additives. In most cases they perform a positive function and with regular use can provide a number of benefits to vehicles and equipment.
Tested Additives vs Marketing Companies
First, lets get one thing clear, it’s important to distinguish from oil additives developed by companies that have been extensively tested, and others, usually made by individuals, without such testing and documentation. Anyone can put an additive package together and have a label made. There are many on the market, which have no real testing, even though, they claim they do. This is where additives have gotten a bad name.
On the other hand there are a number of companies that sell additives that have extensive research and development teams that have tested their additive packages. For example, Lubrizol www.lubrizol.com whose revenues were over 4 billion dollars for 2005 specializes in additive packages including aftermarket engine and fuel treatments. Anyone doing this kind of volume is not selling snake oil to millions of dumb consumers—just doesn’t happen. And they are only one of several that are very large. Others include Oronite, Ethyl, Infineum, Bardahl, Wynn’s, SFR, Power Up, STP, Slick 50. This is just a partial list of companies that have well documented additive products.
Motor Oil Contains Additives
In actuality additives are used in most all lubricants, because even the best synthetic base oils cannot protect vital parts alone, as it’s the additives that do all of the work. Let’s concentrate on the internal combustion engine in looking at the need for additives. According to the American Petroleum Institute the powerful watchdog for the oil companies, “The temperatures and types of service under which an engine is operated vary markedly. Moderate-speed driving on short trips or stop-and-go driving in traffic uses only a fraction of the available engine power. Because the cooling systems must be capable of meeting the cooling requirements of the engine at high speeds, they may overcool the engine in short-trip driving. In such light-duty service engines and motor oils warm up slowly and often do not reach proper operating temperatures.
Under these conditions automatic chokes will provide the engine with the rich air-fuel mixture it needs to operate smoothly at cold temperatures, but this richness will result in incomplete combustion. Soot and partially oxidized hydrocarbons undergo further oxidation in the crankcase, forming sludge and varnish deposits. These may clog oil screens or plug oil rings, interfering with oil circulation and control, or they may cause hydraulic valve lifters and valves to stick. Corrosive acids are formed that cause wear on piston rings, cylinders, and occasionally on piston skirts. Steam from combustion condenses on cylinder walls and drains into the crankcase. Water, often in combination with acidic gases, may cause valve lifters to rust and stick. It may also create rust deposits on piston pins, rocker arm shafts, and valve stems. Liquid fuel leaking past the piston rings dilutes the oil and reduces its lubricating value. These are some of the effects of engine operation at cold temperatures.
In contrast legal speed limit driving and long trips allow the engine and oil to warm p properly. The choke is open, and the carburetor is feeding the cylinders with a lean, clean burning air-fuel mixture. As a result there little or no incomplete combustion to produce soot other residue. Under these conditions water compensation is not a problem, nor is dilution of the motor oil by raw fuel.” Additives have been developed to address these problems as most of us qualify much of time for driving in severe service conditions. Furthermore, the API goes on to say “Under some conditions it is impossible to maintain a continuous oil film between moving parts, and there is intermittent metal-to-metal contact between the high spots on sliding surfaces. Lubrication engineers call this boundary lubrication. Under these circumstances the load is only partially supported by the oil film. The oil film is ruptured, resulting in significant metal-to-metal contact. When this occurs, the friction generated between the surfaces can produce enough heat to cause on or both of the metals in contact to melt and weld together. Unless counteracted by proper additive treatment, the result is either immediate seizure or the tearing apart and roughening of surfaces.
Boundary lubrication conditions always exist during engine starting and often during the operation of a new or rebuilt engine. Boundary lubrication is also found around the top piston ring where oil supply is limited, temperatures are high, and a reversal of piston motion occurs.
Extreme pressure conditions can develop between heavily loaded parts from lack of lubrication, inadequate clearance, extreme heat, and sometimes as a result of using the wrong type or grade of lubricant for the operating conditions of the engine. Since motor oils do not contain extreme pressure agents this is an area that aftermarket additive manufacturers focus a lot of attention. In modern engines the valve train with its cams, valve lifters, push rods, valve stem tips, and parts of the rocker arms operate under conditions of extreme pressure because they carry heavy loads on very small contact areas. Unit loading, which may be as high as 200,000 pounds per square inch, is many times greater than the loads on the connecting rod bearings or on the piston pins.” Motor oils rarely contain extreme pressure additives, thus premature wear could take place. The preceding has laid the groundwork for the need for additives.
Additives to take care of the deposits and sludge, called detergent/dispersant additives, anti-oxidants to delay the effects of oxidation. Anti-foaming additives are important as if foaming occurs in a motor oil the film strength is reduced allowing wear. And since base oils alone cannot withstand the metal-to-metal contact inside an engine, anti-wear agents are needed. With acids there is also a need for corrosion inhibitors; and in reducing friction in hydrodynamic lubrication such as on the cylinder liners, where metal-to-metal contact does not occur, friction modifiers or lubricity additives are desired to improve engine efficiency and improve mileage.
Motor Oil Contains Additives, but are they Enough?
If additives are a necessity to reducing wear in an engine and are contained in motor oils, then that must be the end of the story right? Not quite. Few people know that the oil companies do not make the specifications for motor oil. They are required to make their motor oils to meet the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) specifications. Motor oil specifications are established by the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee, which consists of the Big Three domestic car manufacturers as well as the Japanese car manufacturers. ILSAC defines the performance characteristics and the chemistry of the oil it will accept for use in its engines; and then the American Petroleum Institute (API) makes sure the oil sold by marketers displaying that label meets the definition.
This isn’t an easy process as the OEM’s are not best of friends as competitors, thus they have driven the cost of this highly political process into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, just to come up with a new specification. ILSAC comes up with a series of Sequence Tests that a motor oil must pass to receive certification. The public is not aware of the fact that, a motor oil formulation going through the process, can fail a Sequence test two times and not have to re-formulate. If the formulation fails three times on a single Sequence test then it must be re-formulated and start over. To control how many additive companies that can supply the complete packages to meet the new warranty specification, ILSAC has proposed the testing process to cost a whopping 1.5 million dollars for diesel motor oil warranty, and over $500,000 for gasoline engine motor oil. That is assuming you pass on the first try other wise the costs can escalate.
With specifications changing so fast, only a few large companies can recover their cost of development in such a short time. When oil companies advertise they exceed the highest standard available it’s the only one so it’s also the lowest standard. Regardless of how good your motor oil is there is only one standard, currently GF-4 for gasoline engines and CJ-4 for diesel engines. There is no incentive to improve beyond the lowest passing standard because it costs money to add additives that do the work. Motor oil companies often cut additives to the core to exceed the standard by the narrowest of margins to cut costs and maximize revenues. In summary, the oil companies make their motor oils to the OEM’s standards not theirs!
Why Don’t OEMs Recommend Oil Additives?
Two questions are always asked when discussing oil additives and whether they work or not and they are: Why doesn’t the OEM’s recommend oil additives and why doesn’t the oil companies get into the additive business if they are so good.
First, it seems fairly obviously why the OEM’s do not want to recommend oil additives as they have spent millions of dollars protecting their engineering. When I say protecting their engineering I mean using a fluid to insure that the engine, on average, lasts as long as they engineered it to last. They are in the business of selling cars and they know to be competitive it has to last a certain amount of time, but then they want you to purchase a new car. They do not want to have to test other additive products as they have spent money to develop their specification.
This does not mean that oil additives can’t be beneficial as a Sequence Wear Test was run by SFR Corporation with the leading selling motor oil in the United States—once without the additive and once with the leading motor oil and 5% SFR’s additive package SFR 100. The test was run by a large testing facility certified to conduct tests for motor oil warranty approval. The results of these expensive tests showed that the additive package reduced the overall wear of the leading motor oil by 17% and on the exhaust lobe part of the test the results were an outstanding 80-90% reduction in wear using the additive.
When OEM’s are developing their own specifications they are not going to say their specification needs help in performance by using an additive as it’s against their best interest. However, no OEM will state that the use of an additive in itself will void a warranty. The reason is that they must run the battery of tests which costs from $500,000 to 1, 500,000 per test. This doesn’t mean that an additive could not hurt or destroy an engine and that is why the leading additive suppliers have performed extensive testing to validate their product.
If Oil Additives are so Good Why Don’t the Oil Companies Make Them?
Why aren’t the oil companies involved in the additive market? Truth is they are the leaders in the development of aftermarket oil additives. Many of the additives used in the aftermarket industry are actually purchased from the oil companies. The oil companies, with their big budgets, can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of testing to validate additive performance. The public is unaware of this though as most all oil companies run their additive divisions as separate companies under their corporate umbrella. They include Infineum for Exxon/Mobil, Oronite for Chevron/Texaco and then there is Ethyl who is well known for its tetraethyl lead previously found in all gasoline. Shell has their own as does Castrol. Quaker State owned Slick 50 additive company, and I cannot see them buying this company if the product would not have any benefit as the liability would be too great if the products would not perform. Chevron sells Techron today an aftermarket gasoline treatment, Valvoline has marketed aftermarket additives as well as others including the additive leader Lubrizol.
One must realize the following: The oil companies make products to meet the OEM’s requirements not theirs. You could call an oil company up right now and ask if oil could be made better and your response would be similar to this: We have over 150 chemists in this building alone and if motor oil could be made better, we would be the ones to do it. On the other hand we could call their additive division and say we want a heavy duty performing oil that would out perform the current specification and they could fax you a product with hundreds of thousands of dollars of testing documentation.
It all boils down to special interest groups protecting their special interests. The OEM’s and the major oil companies all protect their interests. It’s hard for an oil company not to defend their oil as the best there is, but in reality we know the specification was created by the OEM. This is the main reason why so many articles have been posted about why additives do not work. A magazine writer doing an article on additives will go to a source that he or she thinks is an expert, and thus they call someone up at the oil company. That person reinforces that their oil is the best and doesn’t need additional additives. Even the specialty motor oil marketers such as Amsoil support the notion that oil additives are not needed. They do not want competition from additive companies because in their mind all you need is their oil. Unfortunately, being a (MLM) multi-level marketing company, most all are part-time, thus more laymen in the business than any other oil marketing company. Their dealers go to great lengths supporting articles that additives do not work. What a paradox, because if additives do not work, than why is their motor oil better than anyone else’s. Doesn’t take much thought to figure that one out.
Mobil Admits to Using Additional Additives
To support the issue of additives all one has to do is look at Mobil’s new marketing campaign. They still claim their oil meets GF-4 or the new specification that API certifies, but they are now calling for extended drain intervals. And, if you read anything about Mobil’s new products is that it has to do with additional additives being used, mainly detergents. From their literature it states: Mobil Clean 7500 is a synthetic blend formulation with a boosted level of cleaning performance, 18 percent beyond the level of even our premium Mobil Clean 5000 conventional motor oil, to keep your engine cleaner longer.
Additives are what make motor oil what it is and additives are what make aftermarket additive manufacturers their gains in performance. It’s all based on testing both engine and fleet tests. Additives have been around for years and auto parts stores devote entire rows of products related to additives. Additive manufacturers are seen as nuisances because the OEM’s engineer their products to last on average a certain amount of time and the oil companies make their products to meet the OEM’s needs. So if you want to find out about additives you wouldn’t ask the OEM’s or oil companies but the testing laboratories like Southwest Research Institute and Auto Research Laboratories Inc. that performs thousands of tests each year. I am including some links to additive suppliers and testing companies so that you can see the tremendous amount of data that is available from large substantial companies.
Written by Robert H. Sanborn, who was a member of the STLE Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers for 15 years.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 13th, 2006 at 9:28 am and is filed under D-Sol Diese Fuel Conditioner All Season, D-SOL Diesel Engine Fortifier, D-Sol Diesel Fuel Conditioner Summer, FAQ's, Gaszol Gasoline Engine Fortifier, Gearzol Diffierential Oil Fortifier, H-Zol Hydraulic Oil Fortifier, ProTecta Engine Oil Booster, ProTecta Engine Treatment, ProTecta Fuel System Treatment, ProTecta Synthetic Transmission Treatment, SFR 100. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
19 Responses to “Do Oil Additives Really Work”
E. Baker Says:
The article states “Since motor oils do not contain extreme pressure agents this is an area that aftermarket additive manufacturers focus a lot of attention.” Essentially all modern motor oils contain extreme pressure additives, such as ZDDP.
Actually ZDDP is not an extreme pressure agent but an anti-wear agent and will not take great pressure. Due to new motor oil specifications ZDDP is dead in the water and no longer used to any degree in gasoline or diesel engines.
Brandon Ethridge Says:
I’m sure we all have seen the ZMax commercials that claim their product “SOAKS INTO METAL” which means that all the metal parts are always lubed. They say that they use LinKite with there product. What do you think of that claim and what is special about LinKite? In your opinion, what is the best engine oil additive that one should put in their car? And, do you support metal based additives?
Marketers come up with great descriptive phrases such as “soaks into metal” however with the density of metal this is not possible. What they are referring to is that if you looked at the metal under a microscope the surface would have hills or valleys and Z-Max soaks into the valleys or depressions in the metal to clean. In our testing we found that the LinKite is an aggressive detergent that does a nice job of cleaning and thus could be effective for older engines that have accumulated deposits. However, when it comes to extreme pressure protection Z-Max barely made it over dry or no lubrication at all. In my testing I have found that Z-Max scores near the bottom in boundary lubrication protection. Also, due to the aggressive nature of the solvent based formula leaking seals is a strong possibility in older vehicles.
The best engine oil additive to put in your car is one that contains a multi-fucntional approach. Only multi-functional additives that contain extreme pressure agents, detergents and dispersants, corrosion inhibitors, and anti-oxidants can address the needs of motor oil completely. There are only a few on the market that do this. I would be prejudice in recommending a product as I am still engaged in the additive industry, however make sure testing data is available for the product that you may choose.
Finally, in regards to metal based additives they work better than any other chemicals available on the market today but you need to be careful as with new regulations by the EPA heavy metals can be hazardous to the environment. My testing has revealed outstanding lubricant films can be developed by soft metals. They form a sacrificial film between engine parts and are highly effective. There are only a couple of metals left that can be used that are non-hazardous. The OEM’s in aligning with the EPA have limited the amount of ash (a by-product of metals under heat) sulfur, and phosphorus. The only products I know on the market today that are metallic and meet GF-4 gasoline engine oil warranty compatibility and CJ-4 new dieesl engine oil warranty is SFR products.
Don Warrick Says:
I have a 2005 Cadillac, Deville, with the North Star. Each time I take my car in for servicing, I am told that additives are not necessary. I am not given a reason as to why? Can you help me to understand? I have used your products in other makes of car, with great results. What makes the Cadillac North Star engine different?
What is known about the testing of Lucas Oil Products?
Don: There is nothing different with the North Star engine in that it uses motor oil. Motor oil contains additives and it’s the additives that do the work. Using aftermarket additives can benefit your car in a number of ways. Such as extending the oil change time, improved detergency for a cleaner longer lasting engine, and reduce wear. Many times OEM’s and their dealers will advise against the use of additives because they do not want their cars lasting longer than engineered for. They do not have the means to test all of the different oils and additives out their so they usually push one brand of motor oil. Oil analysis has shown that the use of SFR will extend the life of the North Star Engine.
In regards to Lucas we tested this product in terms of its ability to reduce wear under pressure or even extreme pressure. The results are posted on our website at http://www.sfrcorp.com. Unfortunately it tested near the bottom of all of the additives that we tested.
Brandon E Says:
What SFR products incorperate metal based additives?
Brandon: Most of the SFR oil fortifiers that are synthetic are metallic.
Linda Crawford Says:
Well I went ahead and bought some of your additives.
My gas mileage averages about 19mpg just before an oil change and would increase to 23 mpg after an oil change. The last time I had my oil changed I added SFR to my oil. My mileage increased to 28 mpg.
My next next fill up I added the gas additive. I thought I had made a mistake when I calculated my mileage because it increased to 39.5 mpg! It turns out it was not a mistake.
It’s almost time for an oil change and I’m still getting 27.8 mpg. The best way to test something is to try it. I’ve kept mileage figures on my car since shortly after I bought it, and SFR has subsantially increased my mileage. I’M A BELIEVER!
Linda, glad to hear that you got such an impressive mileage increase. The 39.5 seems very high however if your engine had some deposits and the SFR cleaned it, its possible though hard to sustain. The key to mileage is using a fully fortified oil with friction modifiers like SFR and to regularly use a fuel additive as fuel quality is at an all time low in quality. The combination should help you maintain a nice improvement over the original 19 mpg that you reported. Thanks for the comments and let us know if you have any other questions or comments.
I have a question about the logic of your product.
Supposedly these additives somehow build up around moving parts and reduce friction therefore extending the life of your engine. But wouldn’t it stand to reason that if the additives will adhere to places with lots of friction and pressure that it would build up excessively in areas that don’t have friction or pressure. Wouldn’t that then possibly (probably) create restriction in oil flow and therefore decrease the effectiveness of the oil?
Ryan: Great question, it does seem that a build up could occur with additives that might create a problem in tight tolerances in an engine. This however isn’t the case in most situations. SFR products use metallic nano-sized particles which only can adhere to the metal surface of an engine through acidic properties. The metallic additive provides a sacrificial film that reduces wear on the steel or iron parts of the engine. Electron microscope inspection of metal parts reveals a layer only on the surface of the engine or other metal application. The additives are unable to stack on top of each other as there is not enough adhesion for this to occur The density of the additive on the metal is extremely thin and is measured in angstroms. This is the function of extreme pressure additives, which will take loads on an extreme pressure test ASTM-D2783 to its maximum measurement amount of 880 kg. SFR’s synthetic products will meet this load, whereas motor oil will only range from 160-200 kg. The adhesion properties are also going to be controlled by how soft the metal is. Many major companies have filed patents for metallic additives including Ford Motor Company with copper, and Lubrizol with zinc and other metals. Studies have shown a small layer, again measured in angstrom become resident, however this phenomenon does not grow into layers that could cause potential damage. For further information on this subject refer to STLE the Society of Tribologist and Lubrication Engineers as several papers have been written on this subject.
Randy Tate Says:
Very interesting thread. I have a couple of classic or ‘near classic’ cars…..and my everyday transport 2005 Honda Civic.
What about International Lubes ‘Bio Tech’ engine supplement? I am a big fan of their Tranny supplements and the automatic transmission rebuild industry SURE seems to agree.
Obviously their is no internal combustion in an auto box….but it’s a bit intriguing none the less to me.
David Hellinger Says:
What really works in getting better fuel mileage to the gas and oil? It is really confusing. What oil is the best for wear and friction? Thank you
What really works in getting better fuel mileage to the gas and oil? It is really confusing. What oil is the best for wear and friction? Thank you
In an internal combustion engine you have the gasoline explosion portion effecting efficiency as well as the friction of the engine and its moving parts. In recent years injectors have become popular in providing the fuel in a mist so that combustion is most efficient. Currently OEM’s like Ford, and General Motors are producing 12 and 16 hole injectors so that the fuel comes out in a fine mist for the best burning. Unfortunately fuel quality has diminished. GM has taken fuel samples from across the U.S. and have found that since 1996 detergents in gasoline have diminished by almost 50%. Partial plugging of injectors can take place as low as 5000 miles. Many people turn to higher Octane fuel to maintain mileage, but then that comes at a cost. Keeping injectors clean will maximize fuel economy and reduce the need for higher octane. Dirty injectors cause hesitation and surging. The fuel doesn’t burn efficiently and mileage is compromised. ProTecta Complete Fuel System Treatment by SFR Corporation cleans up to 95% of new injector condition in only one tank full.
Engines have as much as 28% friction loss with all of its moving parts so treating an engine with extreme pressure and anti-wear agents can reduce cylinder friction thus improving mileage through better efficiency. Engine Treatments are popular in this area. ProTecta Engine Treatment by SFR is a synthetic based product that reduces friction.
Finally, on your question about motor oil only purchase latest warranty specifications. For gasoline engine it is GF-4 or SM and for diesel engines its CJ-4. Always look on the bottle and look for Energy Conserving. The API (American Petroleum Institute) regulates motor oils and licenses them. Manufacturers must prove mileage improvement to put the Energy Conserving logo on the bottle. Hope this helps.
Jose Melim Says:
Please advise the major advantages of SFR 1 and other additives, like Lubri-Lab.
Jose: I am not familiar with Lubri-Lab and we do not make a product named SFR1 so please advise.
Martin C Says:
I have 2 vehicles. I used the engine, tranny and gas treatment in a 03 Dodge G/Caravan and noticed mpg improvement from 20/21 to 23/24. Your gas treatment works fro much longer than 5000 miles though. I used 4 bottles of gas trtmnt at 5k, 5k, 10k and 30K intervals and still getting 23- 24 mpg. the second car is a 06 Lexus IS 250. I used the engine trtmnt and 1 bottle of gas trtment @ 25K. It now has 50K and I just drove from New Jersey to Florida and averaged 36 mpg. The trip computer actually calc 40+ but after filling up twice, i used 29.508 gls and drove 1061 miles. By the way, I got stuck in a traffic jam in NJ for an hr. after filling up. That alone probably burnt 1 gl. Total miles about 1200 and I still have 3/4 tank left.
neville link Says:
please send some information on sfr
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