Better oil additives could prolong life of your vehicle's engine: study

Buying high end oil for your vehicle might cost more in the short term, but it will significantly extend the life of your engine.

Research at Canadian Light Source shows common additive in motor oil leaves behind abrasive particles

A study conducted at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon by Pranesh Aswath and his fellow researchers suggest changing the additives that are currently in most engine oils could prolong the life of your engine. (Shutterstock)

Buying high end oil for your vehicle might cost more in the short term, but it will significantly extend the life of your engine.

That's the finding University of Texas engineer Pranesh Aswath and his colleagues found while doing research at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan.

Aswath said they found that current detergents that are mixed in with most oils leave behind abrasive particles.

Those additives combat wear, oxidizing and corrosion related issues that happen over time.

The synchrotron on the University of Saskatchewan campus generates powerful, polarized X-rays. Canadian researchers used those to peer into the electrons of certain copper-containing superconducting crystals. (Emily Chung/CBC)

"So these are all additive to make up maybe 10 to 15 percent of the total volume of your engine oil," Aswath told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"And each of them play a different role to make sure that your engines remain clean and you're able to run your engine for 5,000 or 8,000 or 10,0000 kilometres before you have to change the oil."

Aswath and his colleagues focused on the role soot trapped in your crankcase plays in overall engine durability.

He said they came to the CLS because they have some of the best beam lines, particularly at the lower energy, for this type of research.

University of Texas at Arlington engineer Pranesh Aswath has been studying engine oil for the past 15 years. (University of Texas at Arlington )

"Something was happening in the engines that over time they were not as efficient. So we were trying to get to the bottom of how soot that is trapped in your crankcase plays a role," he said.

The research showed that calcium-based dispersants that are added to almost all oils become abrasive they interact with soot in your engine's crankcase.

"The soot by itself is actually lubricious because ... it's basically little nanoparticles of carbon which under normal circumstances would actually be lubricious," Aswath said. "But when you have this calcium phosphate particles embedded in them they actually become much more abrasive."

The reason why most companies use the calcium-based dispersants comes down to cost.

"Literally 99 per cent of the people who make engine use the same detergent and to a large extent it's because it's very inexpensive," he said. "When you're buying engine oil … the market is not very tolerant of having a differential in price."

Most current detergents that are mixed in with engine oils leave behind abrasive particles. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Aswath said an alternative like an all organic detergent could help prolong your engine and also increase the amount of kilometres between oil changes.

Right now there's no incentive for oil formulators or lubrication companies to make an alternative that is better because they tend to be more expensive.

"But the reality is there are some organic detergent that don't have any calcium in there. They're more expensive to make but if you take a holistic look at it the overall cost or lifecycle of an engine, you probably will recover that cost multiple fold if you spend the money up front in paying a little more for a better detergent in your engine oil."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning


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