Motor oil is one of the most important factors in your engine’s performance and longevity. It reduces friction and heat while helping keep your engine clean. Without motor oil, your engine would destroy itself in a matter of seconds. Put simply, it’s the lubricant that prevents all those metal parts from tearing each other apart or welding themselves together.
What Is in Motor Oil?
Motor oil contains two fundamental components: base oils and additives. The two work in tandem to produce the final product you put in your engine. Think of coffee as an analogy – the base oil is the water and the additive package are the coffee beans.
The base oils comprise the largest portion of the oil. They lubricate internal moving parts, absorb heat and seal the piston rings. Motor oil base oils can be composed of
- chemically synthesized materials, or
- a combination of synthetics and petroleum (called semi-synthetic or synthetic blend).
Petroleum (or conventional) base oils are refined from crude oil. Synthetic base oils, on the other hand, are highly engineered oil. They contain no contaminants and their versatility and pure, uniform molecular structures provide better friction-reduction, optimum fuel efficiency, maximum film strength and extreme-temperature performance than conventional lubricants.
What Motor Oil Must Do
Modern motor oil is a highly specialized product carefully developed by engineers and chemists to perform many essential functions. Striking the perfect balance of the proper additives zinc, phosphorus and boron in relation to the base oil is a tough balancing act for oil formulators, especially as vehicles grow more demanding and sophisticated. A motor oil must:
Lubricants reduce contact between components, minimizing friction and wear. This helps your engine run better and last longer.
Lubricants maintain internal cleanliness by suspending contaminants within the fluid or by preventing the contaminants from adhering to components.
Base oils possess a varying degree of ability of a fluid to dissolve a solid, liquid or gas that assists in maintaining internal cleanliness. While this is important, detergents and dispersants play a key role. Detergents are additives that prevent contaminants from adhering to components, especially hot components such as pistons or piston rings. Dispersants are additives that keep contaminants suspended in the fluid. Dispersants act as a solvent, helping the oil maintain cleanliness and prevent sludge formation.
Reducing friction minimizes heat in moving parts, which lowers the overall operating temperature of the equipment. Lubricants also absorb heat from contact surface areas and transport it to a location to be safely dispersed, such as the oil sump.
Act as a Dynamic Seal
Motor oil acts as a dynamic seal in locations like the piston ring/cylinder interface. A dynamic seal helps keep combustion gases in the combustion chamber, which maximizes horsepower and helps prevent hot gases from contaminating the motor oil in the sump.
A lubricant can cushion the blow of mechanical shock from operation of the motor.
A functional lubricant film resists rupture and absorbs and disperses these energy spikes over a broad contact area. By dampening mechanical shock, the oil minimizes wear and damaging forces, extending the component’s operating life.
Protect Against Corrosion
A lubricant must have the ability to prevent or minimize internal component corrosion. Lubricants accomplish this either by chemically neutralizing corrosive products or by forming a barrier between the components and the corrosive material.
Because motor oil is not able to be compressed, it makes an excellent component for transferring energy, such as when used with hydraulic valve lifters or to actualize components in an engine with variable valve timing.
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