You've probably all heard
warnings that when you start your engine, you're grinding metal on
metal, resulting in about 85% of total engine wear.
First, this kind of engine wear isn't responsible for
engine failures. Second, bearings aren't running dry - oil remains
after you've turned off your engine. Finally, the wear that's taking
place has far less to do with metal-to-metal contact from lack of oil
than with byproducts of combustion. Those acidic gases condense and
etch cylinder walls and piston rings. Once oil pressure comes up, the
problem is taken care of. That's part of the reason you should run a
cold engine a few seconds before driving off.
It's this kind of wear that PTFE (better known as Teflon)
additive makers used to claim their products would prevent. However,
because PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene) doesn't bind with metal
parts, this kind of wear isn't prevented by those additives.
As I've said before, oil already has its own
additives, and NOBODY aside from the additive makers recommends
putting more of anything into your engine.
The base for most additives is 50-weight engine oil.
To the base, the company might add PTFE, zinc dialkyldithiophosphate,
or varying combinations and amounts of what's already in oil. There
are also products that are made up primarily of solvents and/or detergents.
PTFE now, is a popular ingredient for oil additives,
and the brands that contain it are among the bestsellers, including
Slick 50. Despite its popularity, PTFE is by no means a proven
ingredient for use as an engine lubricant. DuPont's fluoropolymers
division originally took stand that PTFE was not useful in internal
combustion engines. DuPont went so far as to refuse to sell PTFE to
any company that was planing to use that way. It was sued for
"restraint of trade" and lost in court. Additive makers
also found other sources for the product. DuPont's official stance is
now much more neutral. The company has stated that it has no proof of
additive makers' claims and it has no knowledge of any advantage
gained from PTFE in engine oil.
Were that not enough, in July 1996, the Federal Trade
Commission accused Quaker State, the maker of Slick 50, of false
advertisement for making unsubstantiated claims about the additive's
ability to reduce wear, cut emissions, increase mileage, and boost
horsepower. Quaker State and its subsidiaries signed a consent
agreement limiting their advertising claims in July of 1998.
But what's really wrong with PTFE in engine oil?
In a word, it's solid. Sure, it's a very fine powder,
but a solid nonetheless. And if PTFE is capable of binding to metal
parts under extremes of temperature and pressure, then it's probably
really good at collecting in places where temperature and pressure
are lower, such as oil passageways. Tests performed by NASA's Lewis
Research Center found that PTFE provided no benefit for bearing
surfaces. The study also found that, in some cases, the solid tended
to accumulate at inlets, blocking the flow of oil, and depriving
parts of lubrication!
Another point to keep in mind is that your oil
filter's purpose is to take suspended solids out of the oil. Too many
solids will clog your filter and cut pressure in the engine. Some
additive makers say they use a PTFE that's fine enough for the
particles to pass through an oil filter. "In addition," the
report read, "oil analysis showed that iron contamination
doubled after using the treatment, indicating that the engine's wear
didn't go down--it appeared to shoot up."
This test was paid for by Petrolon ,the marketers of
Slick 50 at the time. So while it sounds good to coat your engine's
parts with Teflon, it doesn't mean the reduction of friction is going
to be as effective as a nonstick omelet pan.
Another popular active ingredient in oil additives is
zinc phosphate compound. It's not the stuff in cold lozenges but a
chemical that is already in motor oil in varying amounts. There are
higher amounts of zinc in performance or racing oils because it
offers protection against metal-to-metal contact, particularly
between cylinder walls and piston rings.
That kind of contact shouldn't occur except under the
most extreme conditions, such as racing or shifting at redline all
day long. But more zinc doesn't provide more protection, according to
the research; it prolongs the protection. In addition, high zinc
levels can cause valve deposits and foul sparkplugs. A few years ago,
oil companies voluntarily cut the proportion of zinc in their
products because research found that it was deteriorating catalytic
If you run your car very, very hard or have something
old enough to be lacking a cat, higher zinc content won't be a big
deal. But why pay extra for something you can get by purchasing a
higher grade motor oil?
Less "modern" or "advanced"
additives consists of 50-weight oil and some combination of what is
already in your engine oil. The difference is that the additives's
manufacturer has increased the concentration of one or more of these compounds.
But more is not necessarily better. Oil companies
formulate their product with a package of additives that has been
derived from research. Expensive research, that is. They would submit
these formulas for certification. Would they submit anything to auto
manufacturers that wouldn't meet the standards? Not after shelling
out big money to a bunch of folks in white lab coats who get their
thrills mixing and matching chemicals.
Sure, more of something might not cause harm, but why
thinker with the balance you've already paid for by picking a good
brand of oil? Save the money for more frequent oil changes!
On the old-time oil additives, the ones your parents
or grandparents might have used. These are mostly made up of solvents
and detergents. Again, most motor oils contain some solvents and
detergents, but not in quantities approaching the additives. One
well-known product is more than 80% kerosene. The idea is to rid your
engine of sludge and carbon. But how much is too much? That's going
to be almost impossible to tell, and solvents use risk reducing the
oil's ability to lubricate.
If you feel your engine needs this kind of treatment,
you would probably be better off using a flushing oil. This stuff is
very lightweight (do not drive with it in the engine!) and
expensive. Drain the oil, fill it with the flushing oil, and run the
engine at fast idle for about 20 minutes. Turn off the engine, drain
the flushing oil, change the filter and fill the crankcase with the
good stuff. Beyond that, there's a limit to how much elixir will
really clean out your engine. More frequent oil changes will prevent
the need for this kind of potion and won't risk harm like the solvent
What additives, then, if any, should you use? NONE.
Testing by major independent labs and engine
manufacturers shows that these products are ineffective at best and,
in some cases, do more harm than good. NOT ONE CAR MAKER
recommends oil additives,
and neither do the oil companies that don't market one.
The major oil companies are some of the richest, most
powerful and aggressive corporations in world. They own multi-
million dollar research facilities manned by some of the best
chemical engineers money can hire. It is probably safe to say that
any one of them has the capabilities and resources at hand in
marketing, distribution, advertising, research and product
development equal to 20 times that of any of the independent additive
companies. It therefore stands to reason that if any of these
additive products were actually capable of improving the capabilities
of engine lubricants, the major oil companies would have been able to
determine that and to find some way to cash in on it.
Yet of all the oil additives we found, none carried
the name or endorsement of any of the major oil producers.
In addition, all of the major vehicle and engine
manufacturers spend millions of dollars each year trying to increase
the longevity of their products, and millions more paying off
warranty claims when their products fail. Again, it only stands to
reason that if they thought any of these additives would increase the
life or improve the performance of their engines, they would be
actively using and selling them - or at least endorsing their use.
Instead, many of them advise against the use of these
additives and, in some cases, threaten to void their warranty
coverage if such things are found to be used in their products.
The objective of this Web Page is to familiarize you with basic auto maintenance
- in some common emergencies - not to make you an expert in auto mechanics
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I am in no way, shape, or
form telling you to do this yourself. Your results may vary. If
something goes wrong, it is not my fault. These are just guidelines.