When you mention the word additives to someone, you tend to get one of 3 reactions. Either they are a regular user of them, they have a strong distrust and skepticism of them, or they are pretty much unaware of what they are and whether or not they should use them. What this tells us is that there is still a lot to be discussed and understood about what additives really are, especially considering how there are probably a zillion different types on the market, many even being offered by some of the biggest oil companies around the world.
Today, I’m going to attempt to explain what exactly additives are, what the different types do, and whether you should consider using them.
Disclaimer, this article is not sponsored but we will be featuring some of the products that we carry as an example of the different types of additives available on the market.
What are additives
So additives are basically chemicals that are added into lubricants and fuels such as engine oil and petrol to either enhance their properties or introduce additional properties to them. The idea here is to reduce the need to open up your engine to perform physical repairs and instead use chemicals to help reduce wear and tear, prolong the effectiveness of lubricants and fuel, keep the internals clean and chemically repair or recondition interior components like rubber gaskets and oil seals.
Now, the oils and fuels that we regularly use do already contain additives added by the manufacturer. The amounts they contain however do vary quite a lot and are generally the main reason for the difference in prices. Even so, the majority of these oils and fuels contain relatively minimal amounts of additives hence comes the argument that additional supplements can be beneficial.
Let’s now go through the different types of additives available on the market and what they were designed to do, followed by whether we think you should be using them.
Types of additives
The first type of additive are those that are meant to clean the internals of your engine, one of the most popular being engine flush. You see, as your engine runs, the internals do inevitably get dirty. A good engine oil has cleaning detergents added to help dissolve and collect this dirt over time so that it gets drained out whenever you do an oil change.
Over time however, deposits can build up in the hardest to reach areas of your engine that can’t be easily cleared out with a simple oil change. Engine flush is basically large amount of detergent that is added into your engine oil and allowed to circulate for several minutes before being drained out. This much more concentrated formula helps to clear out as much of these deposits as possible thus making your engine cleaner on the inside before filling it up with fresh oil again.
As engine flush tends to be quite concentrated however, I would advise against using them too often as it can wear out the seals prematurely. I generally prefer to stick to doing a flush not more than once or twice a year. Also in the case of much older cars that have probably never been flushed before, I would be wary of doing it and seek the opinion of a professional as these types of cars tend to have many years of built up deposits which may in fact be covering up some leaks internally which would be exposed if they were to be flushed out.
Another popular additive is valve clean. This is added into your fuel tank to help clean the valves in your engine that fuel flows through. You see over time the fuel in your system can actually form a sticky layer on certain surfaces inside your engine called varnish. This varnish is one of the reasons why you lose fuel efficiency and responsiveness over time. While there are already additives added to fuel by the manufacturers themselves, it is generally quite minimal and not really enough to prevent varnish from forming over time. This is the reason why fuel system cleaning additives are so popular as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. You can literally just buy them off the shelf and pour them into your fuel tank and it’ll work itself out.
The next type of additive we have are those that are meant to protect the internals of your engine. Some examples we have here are the famous Liqui Moly CeraTec and Liqui Moly Oil Additive, also known as MoS2. So what these products do is they basically apply a protective coating over the metal surfaces inside your engine. In doing so, it provides protection between the metal surfaces sliding across each other. It is basically like applying a screen protector to your phone or tablet. Another thing it also does is to fill up and smoothen out the imperfections on the metal surfaces which results in lower friction, less wear, better responsiveness and better fuel efficiency.
Liqui Moly Oil Additive is the cheaper of the two products here, but it also happens to be the pioneer of Liqui Moly’s brand name and technology. What it does when poured in together with your engine oil is it forms a smooth but solid layer over the metal surfaces which protects and reduces friction in your engine.
Liqui Moly Oil Additive protective coating on metal surfaces.
CeraTec on the other hand goes a step further. So instead of simply forming a solid chemical layer like the Oil Additive, it first creates a protective chemical layer over the metal surfaces which smoothens out imperfections and hardens the surface. Additionally, a solid agent compromising of ceramic nano-particles goes on top of the surface which further reduces the friction and wear between these surfaces for maximum protection. We personally use this ourselves and like our customers, we have found that it gives us a quieter, more fuel efficient and responsive ride.
Liqui Moly CeraTec dual action protective coating on metal surfaces.
For maximum value, we recommend alternating between both these products with each oil change. As the solid agent does get flushed out every time you drain your oil, instead of shelling out for CeraTec every single time, you can instead replenish the solid agent by using the cheaper Oil additive during every other oil change.
Now we come to stabilisers and one such example is Viscoplus. The purpose of these types of additives is to keep oil and in some cases fuel from losing its characteristics over prolonged use or under extreme conditions. Viscoplus in particular here is used to help maintain the viscosity of your engine oil at high temperatures where oil does have the tendency to thin which leads to it burning off and offering less protection.
There are also products such as fuel stabilisers which are designed to keep the composition of fuel stable over long periods of storage. This is especially useful for collectors of classic cars who seldom drive their vehicles and keep them in storage over long periods of several years.
So we also have some additives that are meant to help repair engine issues like leaks without having to open up the engine and replace the seals. Products such as Motor Oil Saver reconditions hardened oil seals and helps to swell them up to regain their sealing abilities. Now these products are effective for more minor leaks and can be used as a conservative option prior to completely opening up the engine and replacing those worn out seals.
Take note that while this product can be used for either preventive maintenance or as a conservative repair, you do not want to apply it too regularly as it can cause over-swelling of the seals. We would recommend to not use it more than every 2 years or 30,000km.
The last one that we’ll talk about today are octane boosters. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of these at your local petrol station and wondered whether they’re any good. Well I would have to say that these are largely irrelevant here in Singapore as the quality of our petrol here is pretty good.
These products would be more applicable to places such as America where petrol quality tends to not be as high, with high octane fuels sometimes even being quite hard to find. In those cases octane booster would be useful to prevent pre-ignition and knocking in high compression engines. In our case however, unless you do have a very specific use for it, such as very high performance race engines, I would say for the majority of cars in Singapore they are largely irrelevant.
Should you use them?
Now comes the question, should you use additives? Think of it like this, our human body requires a certain amount of vitamins and nutrients to function. We tend to get most of these from the food we eat but sometimes our diet lacks certain vitamins that we need more of hence why some people end up taking supplements. Additives are like these supplements that help to maintain and improve the health of your car where its normal diet of engine oil and fuel do not offer as much of. Now a modern car is unlikely to develop major issues for quite a long time even if you decide not to use any additives. However if you would like to keep your car as healthy as you can, having some additives can be beneficial in the long run.
Just like vitamins however, an unhealthy overdose of additives will end up causing problems so it is important to be very clear on what you are adding, how often you are adding them, and how you should be adding them. But even so, do not be afraid of using additives as they can be very useful as long as you understand how to use them. If you are ever in doubt however, always consult a professional for advice.