I just read this report created by an Engineering group at the University of Waterloo.
Is That Additive Really A Negative?
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.
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 avail able! 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
2.) Products that seemed to be nothing more than regular
50-rated engine oil (including standard additives) with zinc
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.
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 tradename "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
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 non-commital, 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
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 per- cent. 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
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
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
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
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 I980s'"
"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 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
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 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.
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
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
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 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
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 out.
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.
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 anyway.
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 ourselves.
Part 2 to follow.