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Car maintenance 101: Engine oils

/ 01:26 AM April 27, 2011

I’LL BE writing a series of maintenance-related articles in layman’s terms to help you understand how and why things work, as I have come to understand them, coming from a non-mechanic but enthusiast’s point of view. This is not meant to give a detailed technical explanation of the subjects discussed, but as a means for the reader to have a basic understanding of how things work, their importance and the consequences of neglecting maintenance work on their cars. The whole point of the upcoming series is to increase the awareness of the reader about their cars and hopefully discipline them to maintain their cars properly and religiously.

Your car’s engine is the heart, and it needs blood, or in this case motor oil for it to function properly. Oil serves two purposes: to lubricate the engine, and to extract heat and carry it away from the engine. If the oil’s lubricating and heat extracting properties have worn away due to age and normal wear, your engine will start operating excessively hot and require it to work harder to deliver the power it was designed to generate, thereby consuming more fuel. Think of your blood with either very high chemical impurities like excessive salt, sugar or cholesterol pumping through your heart and you get the picture that your engine will go through with old engine oil. Change your oil regularly, and use good quality oil.

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Make sure to follow your car’s recommended oil viscosity. Using oil that is thicker or thinner than usual can have negative effects on your engine. For example, most modern gasoline cars from Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan require 5W-30 fully synthetic engine oil. According to Carlos Gono of Motul Philippines, should you use thicker engine oil such as 20W-50, the higher viscosity will increase winding and pumping losses in your engine’s operation, increasing fuel consumption and in some cases, generate excessive heat. Gono says that with their 300V line-up of ultra-high performance engine oils as an example, one should stick exactly to the recommended oil viscosity to get the proper balance of lubrication, heat protection, reduction in oil blow-by (when oil fumes escape through the oil control rings of your engine’s pistons), fuel efficiency and good emissions. The same holds true for all high-performance fully-synthetic oils.

Another way to look at it is imagine swimming in a pool filled with water versus a pool filled with molasses. It will be harder to swim in a pool filled with molasses than that of water. Conversely, a lot of high-performance engines require using thick viscosity oil, such as the Porsche Metzger flat-six engines require thick engine oil for better thermal stability under high RPM operations such as spirited driving or motorsports. These engines are designed to use thicker oil such as 10W-40 or higher. Switching to a thinner viscosity fuel might decrease it’s thermal stability, or the point at which oil pressure starts to become inconsistent and is unable to supply enough oil through the engine’s internals, as well as the oil shear point, wherein oil starts to completely liquefy approaching the viscosity of water, and with it, the inability to lubricate your engine and to extract heat away from the engine.

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With the advances in the lubricants side of things, one often ignored component is the oil filter itself, which can be likened to our kidneys. Our kidneys filter out the impurity in our bloodstream and deposit these harmful toxins into our excretory system. While cars are becoming more and more advanced, it does not have a mechanism to remove all the impurities in the oil and dispose of it quietly so the only option is to collect it in a container until that container can be removed and disposed of properly. Most people will buy the most expensive engine oil they can afford but put in the cheapest oil filter from the auto supply store without batting an eyelid simply because they think the oil will do its job of protecting the engine. But who will protect the oil? HKS has the answer with their new high-performance Hybrid Sports Oil Filters. Dolf Santiago of Emperor Motorsports, the official HKS distributor in the Philippines, says that their new line of HKS Hybrid Sports Oil Filters features a special filtration design and a neodymium magnet that minimizes oil pressure drop and increase flow by 30 percent compared to most normal OEM-quality or better oil filters which in themselves are already superior to most off-the-shelf oil filters offered by generic/replacement brands. The HKS hybrid sports oil filters also feature better filtration, filtering the engine oil at 20 microns, whereas most OEM-quality oil filters are at 25 microns, an improvement of 20 percent in oil filtration. But Santiago stresses that with most consumable parts, it is still highly advised to replace the oil filter every 6 months or 10,000 kilometers, whichever comes first. For aggressive / sporty driving, the oil and oil filter should be changed at half the values listed.

Next time we’ll delve into spark plugs.

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