Is That Additive Really A Negative?

Article and Photos by Fred Rau
ROAD RIDER/August 1992/Pg 15

Contents:

[Document Version: 1.01] [Last Updated: August_1992]


1. About the Author

Author: Fred Rau
Publisher: ROAD RIDER
Date: August 1992
Page: 15

Republished without permission - but I wasn't the first one - it's commonly available on the net.


2. Preface

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), North Dakota State University, Briggs and Stratton (engine manufacturers), the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station, California State Polytechnic College and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Lewis Research Center.


3. Disclaimer

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. Products that seemed to be nothing more than regular 50-rated engine oil (including standard additives) with PTFE (Teflon TM) added.
  2. Products that seemed to be nothing more than regular 50-rated engine oil (including standard additives) with zinc dialkyldithiophosphate added.
  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. 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 hap pen 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 NASA Lewis Research Center, which said in their report, "In the types of bearing surface contact we have looked at, we have seen no benefit. In some cases we have seen detrimental effect. The solids in the oil tend to accumulate at inlets and act as a dam, which simply blocks the oil from entering. Instead of helping, it is actually depriving parts of lubricant."

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 of [?])


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 out of Lakeland, Florida, that was marketing a "technological breakthrough" product in oil additives. Naturally, we asked them to send us all pertinent information, including any testing and research data.

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?
Virtually nothing.

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.


Please check attribution section for Author of this document! This article was written by filipg@repairfaq.org [mailto]. The most recent version is available on the WWW server http://www.repairfaq.org/filipg/ [Copyright] [Disclaimer]