The oil formulations and preferences you use are likely gleaned from a combination of brand loyalty passed through the family, recommendations from friends or engine builders, or based on hearsay. In the digital age, automotive enthusiasts are more educated than ever when it comes to the specific science between the lubricants they trust to protect their engines.
Lake Speed Jr. of Driven Racing Oil has put together a fairly comprehensive overview of five concepts all gear heads should understand when it comes to oil. Of course there is much deeper and more technical science behind the study of lubricants, but this video series serves to raise awareness that there is more to motor oil than meets the eye.
In the first installment Speed brings to light the four “Rs;” right oil, right place, right time, right amount. If any of these key parameters are not met, an engine can meet an untimely demise. These four corners of oil selection are part of a greater science known as tribology — “the study of friction, wear, lubrication, and the design of bearings; the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion.”
Speed goes on to emphasize that engines rely on oil not only to lubricate, but also to clean, cool and transfer power. Consider where the byproducts of combustion and blow-by end up, how heat is dissipated through oil coolers, and how many variable valve timing system work with phasers.
Installment number two is all about having a proper balance of additives in a performance oil. “Too much of any one good thing can actually hurt the lubricant, but having the right balance lets every component do its job without hindering the others,” Speed emphasizes.
A balance of additives is important, but balance of viscosity is equally important. If an engine is fed an oil of too high a viscosity it can suffer from starvation problems, or an engine is filled too high the oil can froth and create bubbles.
“Proper balance isn’t limited to lubrication chemistry. Your local parts store has a shelf full of pretty bottled miracles, screaming at you that they are going to fix all of your mechanical problems. If you think your current lubricant is deficient, don’t try to fix it with an additive, just use an oil that’s designed for your application,” Speed advises.
Video number three takes the foundational knowledge from the previous lessons and helps educated enthusiasts protect their oil. So with the best oil for an application, the best combination of additives and filled to the correct level it’s time to consider protecting that investment.
The most commonly encountered threats to oil are particulate contaminants, water or moisture intrusion, and excessive heat. The first line of defense against contamination is a high quality filter.
“To keep the lubricant dry, it’s recommended to keep the oil sump temperature between 180-220 degrees F. That’s hot enough to keep any moisture out of the oil. For every 20 degrees over 220 degrees F, the life of the oil drops significantly,” Speed explains.
The fourth section of this lecture series concerns getting the facts right. As we alluded to in the beginning, hearsay and internet forum “experts” can lead to a lot of misinformation. The hard facts and data is not so far from your reach, you don’t need a lab or white coat to evaluate your oil.
“Most heavy equipment dealers like Caterpillar or John Deere, sell used oil analysis kits. All you have to do is take a small 3-ounce sample of lubricant, fill out a few forms and send it off to the lab,” Speed suggests.
With a folder of data at your disposal, you can evaluate the condition of your engine and possibly catch a wear situation before it results in a failure.
The final video in the “5 Things You Need To Know About Oil” series features a companion consumable fluid – fuel. “The type of fuel you use, directly affects your oil,” Speed asserts. It may not be a common phrase among gear heads, but oil-to-fuel ratio is a measurement that concerns cross contamination between fuel and oil, affecting the lubrication efficiency.
In conclusion, these fundamentals are just the basics of lubrication for the savvy enthusiast. Most people will go on happily and blindly with a less than ideal oil, but for those who demand the highest performance, the details matter. Check back for more technical and in-depth coverage concerning lubrications for the performance engine.