In our previous blogs on motorcycle oil additives, we talked about a couple of the "cool" ones on the market, Teflon and ZDDP additives, and how they're not quite what people think they are. Beyond those, the majority of the rest of the oil treatments for motorcycles could be classified as detergent packages for oil. Are these actually any good?
One point in their favor is that they don’t try to sell consumers with the level of wild claims that the PTFE and ZDDP additives do. They won’t talk about being 'the slickest stuff on earth' or coating metal to reduce friction. What they do talk about is augmenting the detergents and existing additives that already come in the oil. These finished oil additive packages are ever-present in all aftermarket oil, and do essential jobs for the life of your motorcycle. They contain detergents to keep metal surfaces clean from oil oxidation and sludge, dispersants to take particulates and keep them in the oil film and away from metal surfaces, and acid neutralizers to help the oil cope with acids formed in the engine. The effective life of an oil is dependent, in part, on how long these additives last.
So do these oil treatments actually do the same thing as these essential components already found in oil?
Typically, they do not, because their formulations skew more towards cleaning agents than to dispersants. Cleaners are cheaper and more readily available than other types of important oil additives like viscosity modifiers or dispersants. So it’s pretty easy to slap together an oil treatment formulation that is just a solvent or cleaner. And it’s cheap to do. These formulations skew towards stuff like kerosene, acetone, xylene and naphthalene. All readily-available at commodity prices. It’s a whole lot cheaper to make something out of kerosene than it is to make it out of some zinc or fluoride chemical complex.
Not Entirely A Bad Thing, But Watch Out
These detergent treatments try to strip away sludge and carbon deposits from inside the oil-bearing surfaces of the engine. That, by itself, is not a bad thing. If you have an older engine or one that’s had a hard life, this has some use.
The problem comes when you overuse these kind of cleaners. Nobody has any way of knowing exactly how much cleaner an engine needs. And what happens if you don’t have as much sludge in the engine as you think, and you use too much of one of these? It can strip away some important stuff – the boundary lubrication provided by the oil itself. Not a good thing.
We should note here that what we just described is a little different from the action of certain kinds of engine flush products. An engine flush contains solvents and detergents and dispersants aimed at removing engine sludge in advance of an oil change. The sludge (and the engine flush treatment) gets removed during the oil change.
On the other hand, oil treatments that have been discussed earlier are products that go into the oil itself while the oil is being used by the engine. If the lubricating oil gets exposed to too much solvent in an active lubricating situation, you run the risk of the lubricating oil protection being compromised.