Snake Oil!

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Re: oil additives
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[Image]                          Snake Oil!                         [Image]

                     Is That Additive Really A Negative?
                        ROAD RIDER/August 1992/Pg 15

                             Article by Fred Rau

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.

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.

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

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
  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

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

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 pressure
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

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 reduced oil pressure and
increased wear rate).

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

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.

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 contact 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

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

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.

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

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.

Detergents And Solvents

Many of the older, better-known oil treatments on the market do not make
claims nearly so lavish as the new upstarts. Old standbys like Bardahl,
Rislone and Marvel Mystery Oil, instead offer things like "quieter lifters,"
"reduced oil burning" and a "cleaner engine."

Most of these products are made up of solvents and detergents designed to
dissolve sludge and carbon deposits inside your engine so they can be
flushed or burned out. Wynn's Friction Proofing Oil, for example, is 83
percent kerosene. Other brands use naphthalene, xylene, acetone and
isopropanol. Usually, these ingredients will be found in a base of standard
mineral oil.

In general, these products are designed to do just the opposite of what the
PTFE and zinc phosphate additives claim to do. Instead of leaving behind a
"coating" or a "plating" on your engine surfaces, they are designed to strip
away such things.

All of these products will strip sludge and deposits out and clean up your
engine, particularly if it is an older, abused one. The problem is, unless
you have some way of determining just how much is needed to remove your
deposits without going any further, such solvents also can strip away the
boundary lubrication layer provided by your oil. Overuse of solvents is an
easy trap to fall into, and one which can promote harmful metal-to-metal
contact within your engine.

As a general rule of thumb these products had their place and were at least
moderately useful on older automobile and motorcycle engines of the Fifties
and Sixties, but are basically unneeded on the more efficient engine designs
of the past two decades.

The Infamous "No Oil" Demo

At at least three major motorcycle rallies this past year, we have witnessed
live demonstrations put on to demonstrate the effectiveness of certain oil
additives. The demonstrators would have a bench-mounted engine which they
would fill with oil and a prescribed dose of their "miracle additive." After
running the engine for a while they would stop it, drain out the oil and
start it up again. Instant magic! The engine would run perfectly well for
hours on end, seemingly proving the effectiveness of the additive which had
supposedly "coated" the inside of the engine so well it didn't even need the
oil to run. In one case, we saw this done with an actual motorcycle, which
would be rid den around the parking lot after having its oil drained. A
pretty convincing demonstration - until you know the facts.

Since some of these demonstrations were conducted using Briggs and Stratton
engines, the Briggs and Stratton Company itself decided to run a similar,
but somewhat more scientific, experiment. Taking two brand-new, identical
engines straight off their assembly line, they set them up for
bench-testing. The only difference was that one had the special additive
included with its oil and the other did not. Both were operated for 20 hours
before being shut down and having the oil drained from them. Then both were
started up again and allowed to run for another 20 straight hours. Neither
engine seemed to have any problem performing this "minor miracle."

After the second 20-hour run, both engines were completely torn down and
inspected by the company's engineers. What they found was that both engines
suffered from scored crankpin bearings, but the engine treated with the
additive also suffered from heavy cylinder bore damage that was not evident
on the untreated engine.

This points out once again the inherent problem with particulate oil
additives: They can cause oil starvation. This is particularly true in the
area of piston rings, where there is a critical need for adequate oil flow.
In practically all of the reports and studies on oil additives, and
particularly those involving suspended solids like PTFE, this has been
reported as a major area of engine damage.

The Racing Perspective

Among the most convincing testimonials in favor of oil additives are those
that come from professional racers or racing teams. As noted previously,
some of the oil additive products actually are capable of producing less
engine friction, better gas mileage and higher horsepower out put. In the
world of professional racing, the split-second advantage that might be
gained from using such a product could be the difference between victory and

Virtually all of the downside or detrimental effects attached to these
products are related to extended, long-term usage. For short-life,
high-revving, ultra-high performance engines designed to last no longer than
one racing season (or in some cases, one single race), the long-term effects
of oil additives need not even be considered.

Racers also use special high-adhesion tires that give much better traction
and control than our normal street tires, but you certainly wouldn't want to
go touring on them, since they're designed to wear out in several hundred
(or less) miles. Just because certain oil additives may be beneficial in a
competitive context is no reason to believe they would be equally beneficial
in a touring context.

The Best of The Worst

Not all engine oil additives are as potentially harmful as some of those we
have described here. However, the best that can be said of those that have
not proved to be harmful is that they haven't been proved to offer any real
benefits, either. In some cases, introducing an additive with a compatible
package of components to your oil in the right proportion and at the right
time can conceivably extend the life of your oil. However, in every case we
have studied it proves out that it would actually have been cheaper to
simply change the engine oil instead.

In addition, recent new evidence has come to light that makes using almost
any additive a game of Russian Roulette. Since the additive distributors do
not list the ingredients contained within their products, you never know for
sure just what you are putting in your engine.

Recent tests have shown that even some of the most inoffensive additives
contain products which, though harmless in their initial state, convert to
hydrofluoric acid when exposed to the temperatures inside a firing cylinder.
This acid is formed as part of the exhaust gases, and though it is instantly
expelled from your engine and seems to do it no harm, the gases collect
inside your exhaust system and eat away at your mufflers from the inside

Whatever The Market Will Bear

The pricing of oil additives seems to follow no particular pattern
whatsoever. Even among those products that seem to be almost identical,
chemically, retail prices covered an extremely wide range. For example:

One 32-ounce bottle of Slick 50 (with PTFE) cost us $29.95 at a discount
house that listed the retail price as $59.95, while a 32-ounce bottle of
T-Plus (which claims to carry twice as much PTFE as the Slick 50) cost us
only $15.88.

A 32-ounce bottle of STP Engine Treatment (containing what they call XEP2),
which they claim they can prove "outperforms leading PTFE engine
treatments," cost us $17.97. Yet a can of K Mart Super Oil Treatment, which
listed the same zinc-derivative ingredient as that listed for the XEP2, cost
us a paltry $2.67.

Industry experts estimate that the actual cost of producing most oil
additives is from one-tenth to one-twentieth of the asking retail price.
Certainly no additive manufacturer has come forward with any exotic,
high-cost ingredient or list of ingredients to dispute this claim. As an
interesting note along with this, back before there was so much competition
in the field to drive prices down, Petrolon (Slick 50) was selling their
PTFE products for as much as $400 per treatment! The words "buyer beware"
seem to take on very real significance when talking about oil additives.

The Psychological Placebo

You have to wonder, with the volume of evidence accumulating against oil
additives, why so many of us still buy them. That's the million-dollar
question, and it's just as difficult to answer as why so many of us smoke
cigarettes, drink hard liquor or engage in any other number of questionable
activities. We know they aren't good for us - but we go ahead and do them

Part of the answer may lie in what some psychiatrists call the
"psychological placebo effect." Simply put, that means that many of us
hunger for that peace of mind that comes with believing we have purchased
the absolute best or most protection we can possibly get.

Even better, there's that wonderfully smug feeling that comes with thinking
we might be a step ahead of the pack, possessing knowledge of something just
a bit better than everyone else.

Then again, perhaps it comes from an ancient, deep-seated need we all seem
to have to believe in magic. There has never been any shortage of
unscrupulous types ready to cash in on our willingness to believe that
there's some magical mystery potion we can buy to help us lose weight, grow
hair, attract the opposite sex or make our engines run longer and better. I
doubt that there's a one of us who hasn't fallen for one of these at least
once in our lifetimes. We just want it to be true so bad that we can't help

Testimonial Hype vs. Scientific Analysis

In general, most producers of oil additives rely on personal "testimonials"
to advertise and promote their products. A typical print advertisement will
be one or more letters from a satisfied customer stating something like, "1
have used Brand X in my engine for 2 years and 50,000 miles and it runs
smoother and gets better gas mileage than ever before. I love this product
and would recommend it to anyone."

Such evidence is referred to as "anecdotal" and is most commonly used to
promote such things as miracle weight loss diets and astrology.

Whenever I see one of these ads I am reminded of a stunt played out several
years ago by Allen Funt of "Candid Camera" that clearly demonstrated the
side of human nature that makes such advertising possible.

With cameras in full view, fake "product demonstrators" would offer people
passing through a grocery store the opportunity to taste-test a "new soft
drink." What the victims didn't know was that they were being given a
horrendous concoction of castor oil, garlic juice, tabasco sauce and several
other foul-tasting ingredients. After taking a nice, big swallow, as
instructed by the demonstrators, the unwitting victims provided huge laughs
for the audience by desperately trying to conceal their anguish and disgust.
Some literally turned away from the cameras and spit the offending potion on
the floor.

The fascinating part came when about one out of four of the victims would
actually turn back to the cameras and proclaim the new drink was "Great" or
"Unique" or, in several cases, "One of the best things I've ever tasted!" Go

The point is, compiling "personal testimonials" for a product is one of the
easiest things an advertising company can do - and one of the safest, too.
You see, as long as they are only expressing some one else's personal
opinion, they don't have to prove a thing! It's just an opinion, and needs
no basis in fact whatsoever.

On the other hand, there has been documented, careful scientific analysis
done on numerous oil additives by accredited institutions and researchers.

For example:

Avco Lycoming, a major manufacturer of aircraft engines, states, "We have
tried every additive we could find on the market, and they are all

Briggs and Stratton, renowned builders of some of the most durable engines
in the world, says in their report on engine oil additives, "They do not
appear to offer any benefits."

North Dakota State University conducted tests on oil additives and said in
their report, "The theory sounds good - the only problem is that the
products simply don't work."

And finally, Ed Hackett, chemist at the University of Nevada Desert Research
Center, says, "Oil additives should not be used. The oil companies have gone
to great lengths to develop an additive pack age that meets the vehicle's
requirements. If you add anything to this oil you may upset the balance and
prevent the oil from performing to specification."

Petrolon, Inc., of Houston, Texas, makers of Petrolon and producers of at
least a dozen other lubrication products containing PTFE, including Slick 50
and Slick 30 Motorcycle Formula, claim that, "Multiple tests by independent
laboratories have shown that when properly applied to an automotive engine,
Slick 50 Engine Formula reduces wear on engine parts. Test results have
shown that Slick 50 treated engines sustained 50 percent less wear than test
engines run with premium motor oil alone." Sounds pretty convincing, doesn't

The problem is, Petrolon and the other oil additive companies that claim
"scientific evidence" from "independent laboratories," all refuse to
identify the laboratories that conducted the tests or the criteria under
which the tests were conducted. They claim they are "contractually bound" by
the laboratories to not reveal their identities.

In addition, the claim of "50 percent less wear" has never been proven on
anything approaching a long-term basis. Typical examples used to support the
additive makers' claims involve engines run from 100 to 200 hours after
treatment, during which time the amount of wear particles in the oil
decreased. While this has proven to be true in some cases, it has also been
proven that after 400 to 500 hours of running the test engines invariably
reverted to producing just as many wear particles as before treatment, and
in some cases, even more.

No matter what the additive makers would like you to believe, nothing has
been proven to stop normal engine wear.

You will note that all of the research facilities quoted in this article are
clearly identified. They have no problem with making their findings public.
You will also note that virtually all of their findings about oil additives
are negative. That's not because we wanted to give a biased report against
oil additives - it's because we couldn't find a single laboratory, engine
manufacturer or independent research facility who would make a public claim,
with their name attached to it, that any of the additives were actually
beneficial to an engine. The conclusion seems inescapable.

As a final note on advertising hype versus the real world, we saw a
television ad the other night for Slick 50 oil additive. The ad encouraged
people to buy their product on the basis of the fact that, "Over 14 million
Americans have tried Slick 50!" Great. We're sure you could just as easily
say, "Over 14 million Americans have smoked cigarettes!"-but is that really
any reason for you to try it? Of course not, because you've seen the
scientific evidence of the harm it can do. The exact same principle applies

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.

In any story of this nature, absolute "facts" are virtually impossible to
come by. Opinions abound. Evidence that points one direction or the other is
avail able, but has to be carefully ferreted out, and is not always totally
reliable or completely verifiable.

In this environment, conclusions reached by known, knowledgeable experts in
the field must be given a certain amount of weight. Conclusions reached by
unknown, unidentifiable sources must be discounted almost totally. That
which is left must be weighed, one side against the other, in an attempt to
reach a "reasonable" conclusion.

In the case of oil additives, there is a considerable volume of evidence
against their effectiveness. This evidence comes from well-known and
identifiable expert sources, including independent research laboratories,
state universities, major engine manufacturers, and even NASA.

Against this rather formidable barrage of scientific research, additive
makers offer not much more than their own claims of effectiveness, plus
questionable and totally unscientific personal testimonials. Though the
purveyors of these products state they have studies from other independent
laboratories supporting their claims, they refuse to identify the labs or
provide copies of the research. The only test results they will share are
those from their own testing departments, which must, by their very nature,
be taken with a rather large grain of salt.

Sidebar: Synthetic Oils

Whenever we talk about oil additives, the subject of synthetic oils
inevitably crops up. Actually, the two subjects have very little to do with
each other, but since many riders seem to equate additives and synthetics
together in their minds, we will take a few lines just to clear the air.

Synthetic oils were originally developed for use in gas turbine engines. In
most cases they are capable of maintaining their viscosity for longer
periods of use and under much greater temperatures and pressures than
petroleum products. Commons synthetics used for engine lubrication today are
Polyalphaolefin (like Mobil 1) or Dibasic Organic Esters (like AMSOIL). They
are fully compatible with conventional oils and can be mixed, providing
their ratings match.

Probably the best situation is a blend of synthetics and mineral oils, such
as Golden Spectro and AGIP Sint 2000. These products seem to offer the best
of both worlds in protection and extended service life. They may cost
considerably more than standard petroleum products, but they also can be
used for much longer periods between oil changes without losing their
protective capabilities.

Synthetics and synthetic blends offer a wider range of protection than
standard petroleum products. However, it should be noted that this extended
range of protection reaches into an area of temperatures and pressures
virtually impossible to attain inside most motorcycle engines and
transmissions. In other words, if you use them, you are buying a sort of
"overkill protection." It's certainly not going to hurt anything - it's just
unnecessary. That is, unless it makes you feel better knowing the extra
protection is on board, in which case the added expense may be well

As a basic rule of thumb, using the standard engine oil recommended by your
bike's manufacturer and changing it about every 3000 miles will afford you
all the protection you'll ever need. But if you feel better knowing you have
more protection than you need or, if you like the extended service-life
feature, there's certainly nothing wrong with using a premium grade
synthetic blend lubricant.


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                        BMW Motorcycles of Santa Cruz
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Last modified October 13th, 1996 (jm)

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