Tech Talk with Dan Peterson - Oil Additives May be Harmful to Your
Dan Peterson | Vice President
I don’t get up on my soapbox very often – partly because I have put on a few extra pounds and don’t want to
break the box, and partly because it’s just not my personality. Not a lot of things really get to me, but when I
come across something that does, you don’t want to be with me in the car for a long drive. One of these things is
engine oil additives. The last time I stopped by the local parts store to pick up a tool for a brake job on my Ford
Fusion, I stood in the aisle for a full 10 minutes looking at the huge display of engine oil additives. I was not
in a hurry, so I picked up a dozen or so and read the marketing claims.
Wow; it seems almost any internal engine problem in the world can be solved simply by using an engine oil
additive. “Restores engine life, eliminates dry starts, eliminates engine noise, restores parts’ surfaces
AND compensates current wear!” Now I see why people buy all these oil additives. Too busy or just not
interested in taking care of your vehicle? Just wait until you have a problem and then buy a solution at the local
parts store and you are back in business. Our instant-gratification culture pushes us into believing in quick
solutions. In reality, there are very few quick solutions that can correct years of neglect in any area of life,
including your internal combustion engine. Very few, if any, engine oil additives solve engine issues overnight or
somehow restore engines to their original condition. So how do you get the longest, trouble-free life out of your
engine? Use a highquality, trusted brand of synthetic motor oil regularly and don’t add any engine oil additives.
Formulating a motor oil to perform all the critical jobs required by your engine is a balancing act. You can’t just
focus on improving one property without testing and evaluating the impact on all critical oil properties. Many
times, use of additives improves one property, but causes other properties to take a nosedive.
Oil Additives Can Offset the Careful Balance of
a Well-Formulated Motor Oil
Formulating synthetic motor oils is a core strength developed over the past 40 years at AMSOIL, and it is not an
easy task. Motor oils need to protect engines against abnormal wear, excessive varnish, sludge, rust and corrosion
and damaging foam. Motor oils also need to remove heat, help meet fuel economy standards, keep engine seals from
leaking and keep catalytic converters working effectively over their projected lives.
Many negative outcomes derived from using engine oil additives have been documented over the years, including
accelerated corrosion, excess oil thickening in cold temperatures and increased deposit formation. Most of these
negative outcomes are relatively complicated chemical interactions, but just like your family is interconnected, so
is the chemistry in your motor oil. When you add Uncle Buck to your family for a week, you and the kids all have a
lot more fun staying up late and listening to stories, but he upsets the family balance. The kids have black
circles under their eyes from staying up too late, you argue with your spouse about a few choice new words the kids
picked up and you have to clean up cigar butts all over the garage when he finally leaves. Seems fun at first, but
a week-long visit proves having Uncle Buck live with you for good isn’t such a good idea.
The chemicals in motor oils are all interconnected and work together like a family unit to provide all the
important properties required to keep your engine operating well. Most motor oils are designed with a measured
amount of wear protection and deposit control. The problem comes when you add a whole bunch of extra or new wear
protection or deposit control, and it ends up creating corrosion or destroying coldtemperature properties. Motor
oils that perform well have some Uncle Buck built in, but at an appropriate level that does not upset critical
chemistry in other areas designed to keep your engine running smoothly over the long run.
An overabundance of anti-wear agents, for
can lead to reduced resistance to corrosion.
If you want a more detailed explanation by industry experts, a recent Noria announcement outlined that
“Aftermarket oil additives can backfire.” In the book, “Practical Handbook of Machinery Lubrication,” the following
description is listed:
“Increasing the percentage of a certain additive may improve one property of an oil while at the same time
degrade another. When the specified concentrations of additives become unbalanced, overall oil quality can be
affected. Some additives compete with each other for the same space on a metal surface. If a high concentration of
an anti-wear agent is added to the oil, the corrosion inhibitor may become less effective. The result may be an
increase in corrosion-related problems.”
It’s a much fancier way of saying too much of your Uncle Buck is not good for your marriage. Next time you talk
to someone who is contemplating using one of those flashy new engine oil additives, tell them about the importance
of maintaining the critical balance in motor oil and what can happen when it becomes unbalanced.