Engine life and performance rely heavily on the lubricating materials used inside engine components. Engine oil additives are sometimes sarcastically referred to as
“mechanic in a bottle”. This term refers to the marketing message, not to mention the belief shared by many people, that oil additives can improve gas mileage, increase horsepower, and fix other engine problems. They are designed to enhance engine performance and protect inner workings; but certainly no miracle cures.
Tests conducted in 1998 by the NASA Lewis Research Center examined the actual effects of oil additives on engine condition and performance using different marketed brands. Bearing surface contact, sedimentation and reduced wear-and-tear effects were the conditions observed during testing. Researchers concluded the overall effects of oil additives could actually be damaging to engine components in the long term, according to Modern Car Care. Ultimately, the question as to whether or not additives do work may depend on a user’s perspective, and the risks he’s willing to take.
For example, many companies make an oil additive that is supposed to stop leaks. This is an exaggeration of the truth. Engine seals often dry up, shrink, and crack with age, causing oil leaks to occur. Oil additives that are meant to stop these leaks are actually formulated to condition or re-moisturize these seals. The idea is that the conditioning will cause the seal to resume its original shape, therefore reversing the cause of the leak.
There are two problems with this theory. One, rubber seals that have already dried up and lost their shape will never be the same again, no matter how much reconditioning additives are used. Furthermore, no matter how well the seals are re-moisturized, cracks that have formed will always be there, necessitating replacement rather than a miracle cure.
Oil additives are made up of synthetic materials designed to reduce the wear and tear on the car engine, according to Modern Car Care, a car care resource site. And while there are many different brands available for use, polytetrafloeraethylene (PTFE) is the common active ingredient used in each brand. 4-Aminophenol(C6H7NO, CAS No. 123-30-8) is another active ingredient used in additives.
Another type of oil additive that is often found on the market is for cleaning sludge and buildup from the inside of an engine. These products often make a number of claims, for instance that they will increase the efficiency of the engine, boost gas mileage, and even increase horsepower. However, no matter how good these oil additives are, they cannot give the car horsepower or gas mileage that it did not have in the first place.