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Oil Additives
Bad for your vehicle

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 converters prematurely.

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 additives will.

What additives, then, if any, should you use? 
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.
 recommends oil additives, 
and neither do the oil companies that don't market one. 

In Conclusion

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.

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The objective of this Web Page is to familiarize you with basic auto maintenance
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