The not-so-clever classic oil additives
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IMPORTANT NOTE TO COMPANIES AND lawyers: If you find I've got something in here which you think is out of place, please email me first. I'm not in the business of misrepresenting people. I'm simply trying to present a repository of information. Frankly, I don't have the money for a lawsuit, so a gentle email from the relevant department will work wonders. For those of you who've already discovered this for yourselves, both I and my bank thank you for not wading in with the big guns.
Happiness is ..... an engine treated with mineral oil filled with food colouring?
To illustrate the whole point about additives, consider this. In the manufacture of synthetic oils, once the bases are created, anti-wear additives such as zinc dithiophosphates (essentially combinations of zinc, phosphorous, and sulphur molecules) are added. These combinations are extremely effective as anti-oxidant, anti-wear, anti-corrosion inhibitors. Anti-wear additives such as zinc do not react quickly or at all to typical oil contamination. Boron is a super anti-wear in its ability at wear reduction (but it does suffer from reaction to water), and sulphur can be active at higher temperatures where it has some transference into the metals.
Now look at the contents of some of the after-market additives. Wow! Zinc, phosphorous and sulphur! Imagine that. Those aftermarket additives are actually exactly what your oil manufacturer has put in already.
The largest potential for aftermarket additives might be in oxidative stability. Most aftermarket additives fail by design long before the oils start to suffer. They're mostly organic and so react quickly with contaminants and therefore degrade quickly over time. Consider also chlorinated hydrocarbons found in some additives. Whilst these still find use in metalworking fluids because they are the best extreme pressure additives available, they are potentially carcinogenic and there's issues with possible metal embrittlement.
It's worth noting again the differences between anti-wear additives and extreme pressure additives: Anti-wear such as zinc and boron layer on the metal surfaces and attempt to keep the metals apart, finding applications in sliding actions like pistons and bearings. Extreme pressure additives such as sulphur phosphorus react to the metal surface making it harder and less subject to wear, such as on gears and cam lobes.
The other consideration is ingressed contaminants such as dirt. Dirty oil is dirty oil and no additives will help that. Changing the filter is the answer there.
Examples of challenges between the FTC and various additive manufacturers
Given the above premise, if the aftermarket additives are so brilliant, why do the companies always seem to end up in trouble? Well - misleading advertising and non-active "active" ingredients claim a lot of victims. Below are a sample of some of the historical run-ins between different manufacturers and regulatory or advertising standards agencies.
Note: you can search for the FTC's rulings on any engine additive by using the FTC search page (google-based) for the product you're interested in.
Logos used below are the property of the respective companies
Slick 50's $20M lawsuit.
In 1997, Blue Corral, the manufacturers of the Slick 50 engine oil additive, were banned by the Federal Trade Commission from making claims about reduced engine wear, increased fuel economy and lower running temperatures in their advertising in America. The Federal Commission found the company's claims of increased performance and reduced wear were unsubstantiated, and Blue Corral agreed to pay upwards of $20M in damages to affected customers.
FTC Reports pertaining to Slick50.
DuraLube challenged by Car&Driver.
The manufacturers of the DuraLube engine additive were dealt a smack in the face by a Car & Driver Magazine report into their product. C&D tried the same tests as Consumer Reports did on ProLong, and had similar results, but in a much quicker time. The C&D engines treated with DuraLube lasted a staggering 11 seconds without oil. You do the math. The Federal Trade Commission banned DuraLube from making claims on any of the following: reduced engine wear (by any percentage, dollar or other figure), prolonged engine life, reduced emissions, reduced risk of serious engine damage when oil pressure is lost, improved gas mileage.
FTC Reports pertaining to Duralube.
MotorUp's deceptive advertising claims.
In an ongoing campaign targeting ads that tout motor oil additives with deceptive claims that they reduce engine wear or extend engine life compared to motor oil alone, the FTC charged the seller of Motor Up Engine Treatment with making unsubstantiated and deceptive advertising claims, in violation of federal laws. Motor Up Corporation and its principal, Kyle Burns, faced an administrative trial.
FTC Reports pertaining to MotorUp.
FuelMax's deceptive advertising claims (the magnet-on-your-fuel-line boys).
The marketers of the Super FuelMAX automotive fuel-line magnet, advertised as providing dramatic fuel-saving and emissions-reducing benefits, agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their claims were unsubstantiated. These guys claimed that sticking a pair of magnets around your fuel line would increase your gas mileage by 27% whilst reducing harmful pollutants by 42%. Yes hydrocarbon fuels can be affected by diamagnetic influence but does that improve fuel economy?
The FTC alleged that the manufacturers did not possess or rely on reasonable substantiation for the claims they made. The complaint also alleged that the manufacturers falsely represented that tests performed at a certified EPA laboratory prove that Super FuelMAX performed to the above figures. Finally, the FTC charged that ads for Super FuelMAX featuring a testimonial from Alexander Elnekaveh endorsing the product did not reflect Elnekaveh's actual experience with the product or the typical or ordinary experience of members of the public who use the product. Therefore, the FTC complaint said, the representations concerning the testimonial were false or misleading.
FTC Report on the FTC vs. FuelMax.
FTC Reports pertaining to FuelMax.
Examples of the additive manufacturers fighting back
In order not to paint a completely one-sided picture of the aftermarket additive market, here are some examples of the manufacturers fighting back and ultimately winning.
The zMax win against an FTC settlement for misleading advertising.
The Federal Trade Commission filed suit in a U.S. District Court that sought to halt false and misleading advertising for zMax auto additives and which asked the court to order refunds to consumers who bought the products. The agency alleged that enhanced performance claims for the product were unsubstantiated, that tests cited to support performance claims actually demonstrated that motor oil treated with zMax produced more than twice as much bearing corrosion than motor oil alone, and that the three different products - an engine additive, a fuel line additive and a transmission additive - were all actually mineral oil tinted with food colouring.
However, on 20th March 2003, Speedway Motorsports Inc. (TRK) and Oil-Chem Research Corp., the manufacturers of zMax, announced that they had settled their dispute with the FTC. The Concord, North Carolina-based Speedway said that the dispute was concerning the advertising of zMAX Power System. Marylaurel E. Wilks, VP and general counsel said, "We at Speedway Motorsports are very pleased that the staff of the Federal Trade Commission has specifically confirmed that Oil-Chem can continue to make the following claims in its advertising and promotion of zMAX:".
- zMAX soaks into metal,
- zMAX reduces friction,
- zMAX increases horsepower,
- zMAX dissipates engine heat,
- zMAX helps to improve or restore gas mileage and reduce emissions in older cars, by virtue of reducing engine deposits,
- zMAX helps to maintain gas mileage and emissions in newer cars, by virtue of reducing engine deposits,
- zMAX helps to reduce engine wear on engine valve-stems and guides and piston rings and skirts, by virtue of reducing engine deposits,
- zMAX helps to extend engine life, by virtue of reducing engine deposits.
Here's the kicker (from their website): "Oil-Chem and SMI have not admitted any liability in this litigation. However, in order to avoid the significant expense and time involved in the litigation, the FTC, Oil-Chem and SMI have agreed to end the litigation by the signing of an order, which, in summary, states: (a) Oil-Chem and SMI do not admit any liability and continue to deny any liability; (b) The FTC has issued its compliance letter (which confirms that enforcement is not merited for the eight specified claims); (c) Oil-Chem and SMI will not make advertising claims which are not properly substantiated; and (d) Oil-Chem and SMI will offer a refund of up to $1 million, in the aggregate, to certain purchasers of zMAX, who bought zMAX before January 31, 2001."
The original FTC Report on the FTC vs. ZMax.
The somewhat fuzzy final ruling in this case.
FTC Reports pertaining to zMax.
Click here to see the FTC court order (PDF file).
The first 17 pages are the original Court Order with all stipulations, pages 18-20 show the letter from the Oil-Chem Research and Speedway Motorsports, Inc attorneys (12/23/2002) to Elaine D. Kolish (an Associate Director at the FTC) outlining the "Claims" Zmax intended to make from that date forward, and in anticipation of the FTC Court Order. Page 21 is the response from Ms. Kolish (12/26/2002) to those attorneys that accepts their information as, "accurate and complete," and that it will continue in that manner assuming our test information is maintained as such (which it has,) in addition to the provision that, "no defendant violates the terms of the order."
It should be noted that the FTC is a Federal Government Commission that must maintain an extreme level of integrity, and therefore remain impartial on all matters. As a result, they cannot be seen even remotely as endorsing any product, company or entity over another. Even after all of the negative press that was generated during this litigation, (and is still available for view on various websites), the FTC is not allowed to produce a letter that endorses a product or company regardless of the outcome of that litigation. What they were able to do was allow "side letters" (the follow-up communications with Oil-Chem Research and Speedway Motorsports, Inc attorneys) to be posted along with the court order, the latter of which is confusing for any non-legal professional to read if it is not viewed along with these other letters.
ProLong challenged by Consumer Reports. FTC investigated, upheld CR claims, then ultimately allowed ProLong to continue marketing.
The manufacturers of the ProLong engine additive were dealt a smack in the face by a Consumer Reports Magazine report into their product. CR attempted to reproduce the "no oil" test where all the oil was drained out of an engine which had been treated with ProLong, and then the engine was run. CR managed a maximum of 13 seconds running out of each of two engine before they seized up, welding the pistons to the barrels. The case was brought to a Federal Commision for prosecution for false advertising claims. You can subscribe to the online version of Consumer Reports here for a minimal fee, and read all about it in their October 1998 features.
Source: Consumer Reports, October 1998.
The FTC ultimately settled its investigation with Prolong, without fines of any kind. After 18 months of testing the FTC indicated that Prolong is exactly what they say it is. Further, the FTC approved Prolong's new advertising statement, currently in print in Car and Driver, as "The World's Most Powerful Oil".
FTC reports pertaining to ProLong.
But what about Henry "Smokey" Yunick?
I've received a number of emails in the past from people who put a lot of stock in what the late Henry Yunick had to say about ProLong because he was a respected mechanic and car designer. The sad fact of the matter is that his endorsement of ProLong was paid for by them with financial enticements, air fares, NASCAR hard cards, uniforms and other expenses, as documented in their SEC 10K filing. SEC ProLong 10K filing re. Smokey Yunick. Because of the ProLong financial interest in Yunick, his views were absolutely not impartial and he was essentially paid to promote ProLong, for better or for worse. He was an excellent designer and mechanic - the very reasons ProLong wanted him as a spokesman.
ADDITIVES AND TURBO ENGINES - READ CAREFULLY
There are certain brands of additives that make the claim that they'll "stop engine smoking" amongst other things. As I understand it, the way these work is by having some form of resin in solution form in the oil. The idea is that where the cylinder bores have become scored over years of use, oil is squirting past the piston rings and into the combustion chamber where it is being burned, hence the smokey engine. This resin makes the oil slightly thicker which helps it to seal those tiny scores whilst still lubricating the cylinder bores. The problem comes when this resin solution gets extremely hot - it turns hard. With most turbo systems, the bearings on the turbo get extremely hot, and the way around this is to use the engine oil to lube the bearings whilst at the same time transporting the heat away from them. When the additive finds its way into the turbo bearings, it can solidify and seize the turbo.
Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong there. I've heard this from five different mechanics in different countries although I've not experienced it myself (I don't use additives, period). It seems that none of the additive manufacturers put any warnings about this on their products which leads me to believe that either (a) I'm wrong, or (b) they don't want you to know about this problem. I'd appreciate any further info or corrections on this subject from any of my readers if they have any.
The squeaky-clean new boys on the block?
Since the initial euphoria over oil additives died down, and with sporadic proceedings against some of the most well-known household names, a clutch of new additive manufacturers started to appear. A lot of them are using something called Boron CLS Bond®. This is based on the intricate crystal lattice structure of hydrated boron molecules. That lattice structure allows the layers of hydrated boron particles to slide virtually friction-free over each other, like the playing cards in a fresh deck, while retaining strength. The ultrafine particles of hydrated boron reach into every metal crevice, lubricating with super-slipperiness as they chemically bond with the host material.
This all sounds well and good, but I'm not a chemist so I can't comment. What does worry me a little is that the chemical starts out as Boric Acid and has to react with air and water to get its chemical reaction going. But what do I know?
A lot of the manufacturers are the same old claims of things like Reduces engine wear by 80%. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Well, like I said, I don't know enough about this to claim otherwise, so if you have any direct experience of one of the following, I'd like to hear about it so I can pad my pages with more informative information. Each graphic links to the website of the manufacturer or distributor of the product in question.
I've linked a couple of Word documents here if you want to read up more on the claims. The first is a basic rundown of what CLS Bond is and the other is a list of people claimed to be using or testing the product. Tech document. People using or testing.
Dean Brubaker, the president of this organisation, actually contacted me directly to ask if I'd consider giving them some space on my site. Fair play. Again I can't comment one way or another on Motorbond - I've not used it myself. Their site is very comprehensive and it does have a fair amount of technical data to backup their claims. Interestingly, they also have technical data and products for marine engines. These things undergo a different type of stress to car engines - normally more - and so promoting a product for marine use is a good indicator that Motorbond should have done their research well. So if you have used Motorbond's products, please let me know.
Does 90% of your engine wear happens at startup?
Remember the "90% of your engine wear happens at startup" advertising campaign? This fact is absolutely true, but as it happens, it's less to to with "grinding engine parts" and more to do with combustion. When the combustion gases burn, they form acids which are highly corrosive when their vapours condense. These acids collect in the upper cylinder areas where their temperature is raised above their dew point. The acids condense and etch the cylinder walls and piston rings. In reality, this accounts for over 85% of engine wear, the other 15% being down to abrasion. So the adverts are nearly right - most of the engine wear does happen at startup, and it is because of a lack of oil, but it isn't because the oil isn't coating moving parts - it's because it's not transporting these acidic gases away. Having said that, if you start the engine and let it idle for 15 seconds or so before moving off, you can probably add another 100,000 miles to your engine's life without one bottle of additive. This warms the oil up a tad and makes sure it's in all the most vital areas before you start putting a strain on the engine. Most handbooks tell you not to let the engine warm up before driving off (they're referring to the acid corrosion mentioned above), but they mean don't let it reach working temperature. If, however, you insist on starting up and belting off down the road, think of this next time: it takes an average engine around 3 minutes of average driving for the exhaust manifold to reach 300°C. If you blast off and run around at full throttle, right from the word go, that process takes a little under a minute. Think about it - from outside air temperature to 300°C in a minute - what exactly is that doing to the metal in your manifold? Ask anyone who's ever owned an original Audi Quattro - they'll tell you exactly what happens.
Your Opinion: A Ford Engineer contacts carbibles.com about additives
In 2006 I was contacted by a Ford engineer who has worked for them for 24 years. These views do not necessarily represent Ford, but it makes an interesting read nevertheless.
Some of the things in your site are true like the pure baloney that additive companies put out. I have been with Ford for 24 years in research and development for their power train division. I have forgotten more lube problems than 90% of so-called mechanics will ever know. I like the way some mechanics make statements like they're some sort of God without being able to back them up. All that mallarkey in some of the feedback above claiming 800,000 miles on a gas engine are laughable. There is so much that goes into producing engine oil that dumping "magic" additives into it is just criminal. The quality of most addatives is questionable at best. Whilst the names may be similar, the quality is not. Additives are blended at the proper rate, heat and in the proper proportions by the manufactures of their particular product. Crude supplies are not all the same quality and the additives have to be adjusted for the quality of the base stock being used by each particular company, per batch. Dumping your own personal stuff will more than likely be way inferior to what the oil manufacturer uses. The chemicals will normally differ from the manufacturers blend, and can cancel each other out to the point where there will be no anti-wear properties left in the product. (This is one reason it's not wise to mix oils from different manufacturers together). Changing the oil from say Mobil to Shell and then to Pennzoil will have a negative effect on your engine from conflicting chemicals. Buy an oil that you may like and STICK TO THAT COMPANY'S product.
What you may get away with when using Shell may cause instant havoc with Valvoline. The major oil companies work closely with the auto manufacturers so that bearing material, seal material, roller bearings, ball bearings, and all other moving parts are not adversely affected by the oil products. This is especially true for automatic transmissions. DO NOT USE SOMETHING OTHER THAN WHAT IS SPECIFIED BY THE CAR MAKER FOR YOUR AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION.
Nothing in your site mentions surface finish of the journals, cylinder walls, lobing of the crank journals, or a whole host of mechanical reasons for engine life or engine early death regardless of what oil you use. Nobody has mentioned how wear is affected by hotrodding the vehicle. I can ruin any engine and oil combination that you want to give me in a few hours or less. I can wreck a transmission in 15 minutes.
What about user abuse and manufacturing defects? Grinding a crankshaft in the wrong direction of rotation will eat up the bearings in 5 to 10 minutes. Quality control during manufacturing is the key to long engine life along with following oil- and filter-change intervals as laid out by the manufacturer in your handbook that comes with the car (that nobody reads).
From Ford's perspective, they test Mobil way more than other brand. I pushed using Mobil synthetics for transmission use to eliminate low speed hot oil low pressure and the opposite problem of high speed high pressure and cold oil drag at any speed. More power is lost from pumping torque than from bearing and piston drag. Trying to keep oil pressure up to spec when hot requires a larger pump and more R.P.M. and when things are cold the pump has very high torque and most of the oil flow is going thru the pressure relief valve back into the oil pan. Wasted horsepower; it lowers gas mileage by 20 to 30%
If it takes only 12 to 15 horsepower to move the average car 60mph. and the engine plus the transmission are using 2 to 3 extra horsepower each due to high oil drag (being too thick) you can see how the C.A.F.E. ratings would not be favorable for Ford if we did not use synthetics. Engines on new Fords come with semi-synthetics and the dealerships only use this oil. Full synthetics are still better but cost more.
Conclusion: Read, learn, and use your brain.
What about Ionically Charge Oil Particles? Enter Castrol Magantec.
Pardon? Sounds like something out of Star Trek doesn't it? Well there's an increasing trend in the industry now to try something a little different. It seems that a couple of the big players are now experimenting with charge oil molecules which attract themselves to engine parts with no other additives. The idea is, to simplify it, magnetic oil. The oil sticks to the engine parts when the engine is turned off, and is theoretically still there, ready to protect, when you next turn the engine on. The first big player on the scene with this was Burmah Castrol with their Castrol Magnatec oil. Theoretically, this type of product is a far safer bet than an additive, and so far I've heard nothing but glowing reports about it. But just stop and think for a moment - why have these companies now decided to go this route? Are they admitting that the older additives with suspended solids in them were perhaps not such a miracle after all?
A U.S. Coast Guard Machinery Technician recently emailed me with some interesting observations. If you know enough about chemistry, you'll know that oil is a non-ionic compound which is one of the properties that precludes it from mixing readily with water (which is an ionic compound). What does this mean? It means that the ionization potential for oil is nil. No ionization potential = no magnetism. Chemists may be able to synthesize an ionic compound that replicates the characteristics of oil such as viscosity, surface tension, etc, but then would it really be an oil?
Still reading? Okay - it gets even more complicated then:
The real reason oil and water do not mix has everything to do with their polar strength. This has to do with whether the electrons are equally shared or not. Water is a highly polar substance, the oxygen atom somewhat steals the electrons from the hydrogen atoms, giving it a partial negative charge. Because of this, and the way an water molecule is shaped, the water molecules attract strongly to each other, much like magnets.
Still with me?
Oil, on the other hand, is a weakly polar substance because the electrons are mostly evenly "shared". Because of this, the water molecules attract each other more strongly than they attract oil particles. The reason that they do not visibly mix is because the water-water attraction is stronger than the water-oil attraction, so the water-water attraction must be broken in favor for a weaker attraction costing energy that isn't there. Thus, most oil molecules do not mix with the water.
Hey - you're still reading so far, so obviously you wanted to know. I'll continue:
The oil could have a polymer additive (since oil manufacturers DO add stuff to their oil), which might work, since polymers can have ionizing polar groups on them. You can thank reader Kenny for that last little bit of weird science....
July 2004 Update Interestingly, Castrol Magnatec was NOT available in the U.S. until July 2004. A reader of my site called two national Castrol distributors and they told him that Castrol's equivalent is the Syntec line but they couldn't confirm that it was the same as the Magnatec. They really doubted that they were the same, as the GTX is a different formula than Syntec. An email to Castrol's website confirmed this suspicion but they wouldn't explain why Magnatec was only available overseas. If you go to www.castrol.com and then www.castrolusa.com you will notice the product descriptions don't even read close to being the same thing. Confusing as usual with any big corporation - there's no straight answer. Then in July 2004, Castrol started advertising Castrol GTX Startup. It's basically the same thing as Magnatec, but with a different name. Another email to Castrol resulted in a brief phone conversation with them. I asked why they'd waited so long to bring the same product out in North America when it had been available in Europe for at least 6 years previously. There was no good answer. Now the product is available in the US, I expect the volume of emails on this subject to double :-)
April 2007 Update In a reversal of fortune, Castrol has now pulled the GTX StartUp product from all the shelves apparently in all countries. They've not replaced it with anything which shows you how fickle the advertising and marketing arms are. People are less sensisitve to the idea of wear on startup, so it seems Castrol have pulled their niche product.