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To add or not to add

For decades, lubrication additives (we’re talking drivetrain oils here) have attracted a fair amount of controversy surrounding their actual effectiveness and whether or not they cause damage to components rather than enhancing the properties of the oil to which they’re added. GAVIN MYERS lubricates the discussion

It’s true, every oil designed for use in any modern-day vehicle has an additive pack already blended in. The composition of each differs from oil to oil depending on the oil’s makeup (whether its mineral or synthetic), its application (petrol, diesel, four- or two-stroke, and so on), the climate in which it needs to operate, and what properties of the oil need to be enhanced…

Does the additive have to act as a detergent, an antioxidant, a viscosity-modifier or provide anti-wear or anti-foaming properties? The oil industry considers all these aspects – and a whole lot more – when it designs an oil and the additive pack that needs to enhance it.

“Additive concentration in blended lubricants may vary from less than one percent in hydraulic oil, to up to 30 percent in high-performance, multigrade engine oils,” explains Johan le Roux, lubricant support engineer at Blue Chip Lubricants (BCL), which manufactures Q8 Oils under licence in South Africa.

Clinton de Klerk, sales manager automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and global key account manager at Fuchs Lubricants South Africa, adds: “Our products are blended with the highest-quality additive packs sourced from specific Fuchs-approved, accredited suppliers. Fuchs then blends these with the oil, to the highest levels of quality in order to meet the required ISO standards. This ensures that our consumers in various parts of the world will get a product of the same quality.”

However, countless additives are available in the aftermarket that are supposed to further enhance certain properties of the oil in the vehicle’s engine or gearbox. The question is, if the oil in a vehicle’s engine, gearbox, or any other component, already consists of additives, is there any merit in compounding it with an aftermarket additive?

“Blended lubricants, engine oil and automatic transmission fluids, in particular, are finely tweaked formulations. Adding aftermarket additives may well upset the balance… As such, BCL does not support the mixing of aftermarket additives with any oils or lubricants,” Le Roux comments.

“Fuchs-branded oils are manufactured to meet the requirements for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) approval and, in some cases, to exceed them. In order to achieve this high level of quality, and to ensure consumer confidence in our brand, we don’t encourage the mixing in of aftermarket additives,” De Klerk continues.

Naturally, Jacobus Langenhoven, lubricants technical manager at Total, agrees: “Total’s products are formulated in a controlled environment and all essential checks are carried out on product properties in order to ensure optimal performance and zero potential risks in using our products after purchase.

“An element of risk is introduced when adding aftermarket additives (that are chemically and physically reactive) to formulations unknown to an aftermarket additive supplier who didn’t produce the original product,” he says.

Are there any aftermarket additives that can be beneficial, though? Le Roux is of the opinion that viscosity improvers could be beneficial in worn engines with high oil consumption. “The increase in viscosity may reduce oil consumption. But then, buying higher-viscosity oil from the start will have the same effect and is cheaper,” he counters.

Langenhoven cautions: “Adding additional or foreign chemical compounds poses a high level of risk for the end user if these are not produced by the same supplier. The effects of adding an additive to a lubricant need to be monitored in an ISO 9001-approved laboratory.”

It is, however, important to remember the role that vehicle OEMs play in ensuring the lubricants used in their vehicles meet set standards.

“Oil containers list a number of industry and OEM specifications on the label. Oils from reputable suppliers will meet or exceed those specifications,” Le Roux explains. “Major OEMs actually test and approve lubricants. If a candidate lubricant conforms to the OEMs requirements, a letter of approval for that specific lubricant will be issued. When aftermarket additives are mixed into oils, there’s no telling if the mix will still conform to the specs claimed on the oil container.”

Langenhoven warns: “Adding foreign compounds to a product where one is not fully cognisant of the ingredients can potentially void the OEM warranty. We do not believe in operating outside OEM specifications unless this has been specifically tested and approved by the relevant OEM.”

While automotive OEMs and the oil industry strongly advise against it, it is up to the consumer as to whether they believe additives enhance the performance of their oils and benefit their vehicles. The debate will rage on…

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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