POLYTETRAFLUOROETHYLENE ( PTFE )
PTFE is the common abbreviation used for Polytetrafloroethylene, more commonly known by the trade name “Teflon,” which is a registered trademark of the DuPont Chemical Corporation. PTFE is a fluorocarbon solid.
PTFE (Teflon) is best known for its use in coating non-stick frying pans and other cookware, as it is hydrophobic and possesses fairly high heat resistance. Every now and then it makes an appearance as a friction reducing aftermarket oil additive. I mention “now and then” as it is normally introduced on to the market as a “miracle” product, is all the rage and then disappears as quickly as it arrived, only to be replaced by its successor a few years later under a new name with some new marketing splurge debunking the myths previously associated with Teflon products and at the same time, singing its praises. All the old problems have been solved, a different base oil as the carrier, smaller more fine Teflon than before and no more oil filter clogging, although Teflon as previously mentioned, is a solid.
When car enthusiasts discuss the use of a product like Mobil 1 it is without negativity and with very little variation in opinion. I have yet to meet a person that has something bad to say about their experience of using Mobil 1 in their car or racing car. However, when it comes to PTFE (Teflon) products, every man and his dog has a different opinion.
I have been in the oil industry for 25 years and in my first year at Castrol I came across a report in the SA Transport magazine, dated August 1990 (see below). The CSIR (one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa) had tested Prolon and confirmed that “no benefit was obtained” by the use of this PTFE. They went on to state and I quote “We believe that noso-called PTFE engine treatment (and not only Prolon) will do any of the things claimed for it”. It continues by stating that no engine or engine oil manufacturer has found any commercial advantage in the use of PTFE in engines. Teflon, it appears, did not work in 1990, is there any proof that it works today? It is still thehigh-molecular-weight compound that consists wholly of carbon and fluorine that it was back in 1990 and for that matter in 1938, when it was accidentally discovered.
Vehicle manufacturers or original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) have indicated in their owner’s manuals that the use of aftermarket lubricants will void warranties. Often, the OEM carries out extensive testing and maintains an active list of approved products. Please follow the link http://bevo.mercedes-benz.com/bevolisten/229.3_en.html to find the following wording.
The following product list should help you to select the correct operating fluid for your vehicle/major assembly from the variety of products in the market.We are recommending to use exclusively the products listed in the following overview, because only these products have been tested and approved by Mercedes-Benz.
Please see the attachment (at the end of this article) from Mercedes Benz MB 219 for allMercedes Benz models confirming that no additives may be used in any of their engines, because the possibility of damage cannot be excluded. Mercedes-Benz Specifications for operating fluids may be found here https://bevo.mercedes-benz.com/bevolistenmain.php(scroll down to 219.0 and click on Special additives for lubricants (motor vehicles and engines).
The only real conclusive method of determining wear is by doing very expensive scientific bench tests which include engine disassembly and the measurement of all relevant engine components before and after the lubricant/additive has been used in the engine/engine oil. These bench tests can take between 6 months and two years and cost between R 2 million and R 20 million. This is the type of testing done by the lubricants manufacturers in order to gain OEM, API, ACEA and ILSAC approvals.
Lubrizol is an additive company and was founded in 1928 but the company’s history dates back to the 1870s, as BF Goodrich Performance Materials. The Lubrizol Corporation, is a Berkshire Hathaway company and is a technology-driven global company, which can be found on the Fortune 500 list. In 2011, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway purchased Lubrizol for US$9.7 billion.
On the basis of 2010 profitability metrics, total shareholder return (TSR) and earnings per share growth, Lubrizol was the top performing company among the 16 chemical companies that are on the Fortune 500. With headquarters in Wickliffe, Ohio, The Lubrizol Corporation owns and operates manufacturing facilities in 17 countries, as well as sales and technical offices around the world. Lubrizol has approximately 6,700 employees worldwide. In other words, Lubrizol is a successful additive company with a proven track record. The additive testing done by Lubrizol is scientific.
Lubrizol is a market leader when it comes to additives. This is where real specifications come into the picture. OEM’s specify engine oils that meet their own specific performance criteria and then list them as OEM approved. ILSAC approved lubricants are listed along with the OEM’s requirements and ACEA and API specifications, where the additives for these specifications are researched and developed by companies like Lubrizol.
ILSAC, International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee, was formed in 1992 by AAMA (American Automobile Manufacturers Association, representatives of Daimler Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation) and JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association) to define the need, parameters, licensing and administration of lubricant specifications. Together with the tripartite system (API, SAE and ASTM) they formed EOLCS, the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System. ILSAC oils often carry the API Service Symbol (Donut) including the Energy Conserving designation and/or API Certification Mark (Starburst). The ILSAC specification began with ILSAC GF-1 and is currently on ILSAC GF-5.
Additive companies like Lubrizol manufacture the additives required to meet ILSAC, ACEA and API performance specifications. The additives are manufactured based on OEM’s and market needs. A flow diagram below (from Lubrizol’s website) shows the starting point and all the scientific testing required before the engine oil (containing its additives) is developed and finally approved by the OEM’s and then commercialised. Extensively and scientifically tested in the lab and in the field under real-world demands, their additives are essential to the proven performance of the finished lubricant.
A good example of the complexity of these additive tests may be seen on the Lubrizol website http://www.gf-5.com/the_story/testing/ where there are no less than 24 sequence tests, which is of course, what the vehicle manufacturers (OEM’s) subject the lubricant manufacturer’s products to when applying for an approval. It is also without a doubt, a very expensive process. It is difficult to believe or assume that such engine oils need a helping hand by way of aftermarket or off-the-shelf additives. Oil companies are already using the additives that have been proven to work through scientific research and testing.
Lubrizol is by no means the only additive company, Infineum and Afton Chemicals are two others, but regardless of the additive company, the testing of the oil into which these additives are blended, remains scientific. Infineum’s API SN/GF-5 sequence testing is shown below.
If ever there was an opportunity to prove how well an additive works to stop catastrophic engine failure, that opportunity would be Formula 1 and of course the many other forms of motor racing. The only association I could find between Formula 1 and PTFE was the development of solutions to coating challenges these teams experience, braided Teflon hoses and of course one of PTFE’s most sought after characteristics, a product to reduce squeak and rattle.
Testimonial Hype vs. Scientific Analysis
The truth is that not one of these Teflon companies has been able to offer any scientific test results which prove conclusively that any benefit is gained from their products use. The people that tested their products are respected racers in Germany, a truck operator in the Rheinland and another large truck operator. Anecdotal is not scientific. No OEM tests or contactable and respected listed companies and names. However, with each new drive to market these additives I have noticed a vague attempt, which increases slightly with each fresh marketing drive, to list someone or some unheard of organisation as proof that the product lives up to its claims. Test reports are usually listed as being from an independent source and as being available, if requested. Others claim that the testing of their product was done by their own laboratory. Another favourite is to state that the “major” laboratory that tested the product cannot be named for proprietary reasons. Compiling personal testimonials for a product is one of the easiest things a company can do and from a liability perspective, one of the safest too. As long as they are only expressing someone else’s personal opinion, they don’t have to prove a thing! It’s just an opinion. Their claims and statements therefore need no scientific basis whatsoever.
When it comes to PTFE as an engine oil treatment, performance benefits appear mostly to be customer perception only and not based on technical evidence. For many such products, tested by individual vehicle owners, I find that it is extremely difficult for the end user to objectively quantify and verify what effect an additive has (positive or negative) on their cars engine. PTFE marketers make lots of claims but generally have very little proof and lack reliable evidence.
Everyone already knows that DuPont, who invented Teflon, claims that “Teflon is not useful as an ingredient in oil additives or oils used for internal combustion engines.
Adverts claim that the Teflon bonds to the internal working parts of the engine forming a slippery surface (like your Teflon frying pan) and therefore reduces wear. Fundamental laws of physics prove that such claims are impossible, as the temperatures in internal combustion engines (90º-120ºC) are insufficient for any bonding to occur. According to the instructions for Du Pont’s coatings, the Teflon must be heated up to about 400 deg. C to get it to stick to anything for friction reducing purposes.
Further, independent oil analysis labs have observed that the suspended Teflon particles actually tend to accumulate the microscopic metals that are normal in engine oil formulating much larger, and potentially much more harmful, deposits in engines than would normally occur if straight motor oil had been used. In some cases, the oil filters became clogged, oil pressures dropped across the filter and oil analysis showed significantly more wear than oil alone.
Something worth considering is given the premise that these aftermarket additives are so brilliant, why do the companies always seem to end up in trouble? Legal action taken against them for misleading advertising and claims from victims. Historically (this may be googled) there are many examples of the run-ins between different manufacturers and regulatory or advertising standards agencies.
While some of these PTFE 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. According to an article written by Heidi Choney and Paul McCusker on modern car care, “one major oil company de-formulated one of the PTFE-containing products. Physical and chemical analysis was done to determine the properties of this product. Surprisingly, in addition to the PTFE, barium was detected. Just to speculate, barium was most likely added to act as a back-up anti-wear agent.”
Fillers are sometimes used to back up the PTFE and I have seen at least one scientific report that stated that “the incorporation of irradiated FEP filler particles in to PTFE’s matrix leads to significant improvements in PTFE’s poor wear resistance.” (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering, Troy, New York)
OEM approved lubricants (summarised)
Using the OEM specified oil and oil filter and changing them regularly, is one of the most important things you can do for your engine. Unless there is something mechanically wrong or an inherent design fault, with your vehicles engine there will be no need to change from the OEM approved lubricants or to add any additional aftermarket additive, as the OEM oil specified will provide the best performance possible. On the other hand, if there is any wear occurring that is caused by an engine design fault which represents itself as metal to metal wear and is occurring under boundary lubrication conditions, then other options besides adding an aftermarket additive are available to the motorist, by talking to an oil expert.
The only thing better than good oil is better oil
This is the reason so many OEM’s specify the use of synthetic oils in their engines. The major advantage of a synthetic oil over a mineral oil is its shear stability. Mineral oil shears easier than synthetic oil. Shear stability is a measure of the amount of viscosity an oil may lose during operation. Viscosity index improvers are polymeric molecules that are sensitive to temperature. At low temperatures, the molecule chain contracts and does not impact the fluid viscosity. At high temperatures, the chain relaxes and an increase in viscosity occurs. Unfortunately, viscosity index improvers are susceptible to mechanical shearing. When referring to the slinky analogy to describe viscosity index improver polymers, it is easy to imagine a stretched-out slinky cut in half by mechanical processes to produce two shorter slinky’s. However, synthetic oils do not rely as much on special viscosity index improver additives and will experience little permanent viscosity loss. The shear stability of an oil is measured scientifically by using both ASTM test methods D445 and D5275.
Under load oil can be sheared or squeezed out momentarily around the rings, also when the piston pushes down against the crank, it squeezes out the film around the top conrod bearing allowing the bearings to scuff or wear. Simply put, the oil that stays longest and does not shear, protects the best. Synthetic oils experience less shear. But that is only half the story.
Modern engine oils need to comply with the latest EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) requirements. Prior to the introduction of catalytic converters and emission rules engine oil contained an additive package made up in part of zinc dialkyldithio phosphate commonly referred to as the “Zinc” additive or ZDDP. Zinc was included as an engine oil additive to provide additional protection, to the bottom of the lifters, lifter bores, camshaft lobes, and between conrod bearings and main bearings. Engine oils typically contained 1000 ppm of zinc additive by volume. Engine oils still contain zinc, but many OEM approved energy conserving oils, like those recommended by OEM’s for modern vehicles, have far less zinc, around 550ppm, to reduce damage to catalytic converters. Catalytic converter life is decreased by contamination with Zinc and Phosphates, and hence a drive to decrease the use of the additive to lower concentrations.
Diesel engine oils typically have a ZDDP content of around 1350ppm.
Energy conserving oils (ILSAC specification) are designed to reduce fuel consumption. On an oil can you will find an API specification and if the oil is energy conserving it will be seen on the lower half of the circle.
Under normal circumstances, the oil approved by the OEM, energy conserving or not will provide the best balance of performance under all driving conditions. However, if there is a failure occurring due to an inherent manufacturer’s problem and it is causing a breakdown of this film, due to very high boundary layer pressures, the vehicle owner needs to consider the oil being used and not the addition of an aftermarket additive. Synthetic oils that are not energy conserving generally have a zinc content of 1000ppm. This represents a significant increase in anti-wear additive and is a better option than an aftermarket additive.
Additives that are added to an engine oil have one advantage, they add a barrier to wear by forming a sacrificial layer. The problem is that too much anti-wear can cause an overload in carefully formulated blend that the oil company manufactured and the OEM approved. Detergents are very important additives and they can be compromised by adding aftermarket additives. Detergents function like an “antacid” for the engine, neutralising corrosive combustion acids that would otherwise dissolve key metal components and eventually lead to engine failure. With the addition of aftermarket additives, often the detergents in the oil are not able to do their job or perform functions like neutralising acids which are produced by the engine and will corrode engine parts. Additives added into engine oil can cause the oil to deteriorate faster, causing more oxidation, varnish and other deposits, like sludge which then speed up the process of oil breakdown and engine wear which then increases. This makes the OEM specified extended oil drains out of the question.
Additives should not be used to solve mechanical problems. The problem should be addressed and corrected.
The idea of writing this article is to inform potential buyers of PTFE products that another side exists to the elaborate marketing of these products. As humans, we make decisions based on how well informed we are. With our passing years we learn new information and we become more experienced and wiser and we make better decisions based on how informed we are, at that time. I have taken the time to create an article that simply adds the other part of the information necessary to make an informed decision on PTFE oil treatments, not whether they work or not.
So in the end, the final choice remains with you as the vehicle owner. On the one hand you have an oil in your engine, approved by the OEM that has passed stringent and extremely expensive quality tests that have already determined the long term effect of using such a product for lubricating your vehicles engine. In the case of oil additives, there is a considerable volume of evidence against their effectiveness. This evidence comes from recognised and identifiable expert sources, major international oil companies, leading scientific organisations, including independent research laboratories, universities, major engine manufacturers, and even NASA.
On the other hand you have the marketers of PTFE products offering a concoction that is usually accompanied by “happy chappy” testimonials from people who report vastly improved fuel consumption, increases in horsepower, engines that last double the kilometres and numerous other benefits from using the product. The “conclusive proof” they offer to potential customers, to whom they want to sell their product, appears to be tests done by nameless or unknown organisations, in other countries, with obscure credentials and there appears to be no OEM approvals anywhere in sight.
The decision to use oil additives is up to the individual, but there appears to be compelling reasons to avoid their use and to spend the money instead on the correct OEM specified lubricant and to change the oil more regularly.
The oil industry is vast and complicated. I have written this article with the aim of being informative and to the point. There is a lot more information on this subject and on specifications and approvals and lubricant testing itself, that I could have shared. However, this is not a definitive answer to all the questions relating to PTFE additives. I have only written an overview as I see the subject, after 25 years in the oil industry. Even now I am thinking of more information to add, but I will not, as there is enough to think about, for now.
This technical article was written by Freddi Stafford