I feel it’s about time I aired an ongoing concern that has been boiling away inside me for a very long time. Those who have benefited from my consultations already might have heard it. It is about a collection of paraphrased quotes that make my eyes roll every time I read or hear them. As soon as I do, I just want to walk away because it can be tiring listening to such levels of ignorance, especially if the ignorance is compounded with an underlying antagonism or unwillingness to evaluate the evidence without bias.
Here are some of the quotes to which I am referring:
“Why would you want to use an oil additive when oil manufacturers spend many millions on R&D getting it perfect?”
“There is no need to modify that X part on my Y vehicle because manufacturers spend millions on R&D and testing to get it perfect, etcetera, etcetera.”
“If that fuel additive was any good it already would be in use in our fuels.”
If you subscribe to any of the above then congratulations, please go to the top of the class of automatons because you are the perfect consumer to many of these companies; you are a marketing department’s dream. This is said with all due respect and I mean that sincerely. That said, I am going to provide you with some food for thought and hopefully it will shed some well overdue light on this subject.
I’ll address the last quote first.
Putting it bluntly; if fuel companies already use the latest and greatest technologies then why do most of them sell premium versions of their own fuel?
Last year a fuel additive dealer that we know very well lost a contract to provide a complete fuel additive package to a fuel distributor in the Netherlands. The distributor was looking to provide a premium diesel fuel to its customers. The deal was lost to a competitor with a lower performing product.
So what was the issue? From the limited feedback it is understood that the fuel economy gained from the catalyst in the product was too high at around 5% and around twice that of the competitor product. They both provided cleaning, offered fuel system protection, handled water contamination, etc. But the MPG gains were such that the distributor actually would lose money, even with the extra money charged for the premium fuel. Oh, a conspiracy!? No, and you are going to hear this mentioned a great deal in this article – IT IS BASIC ECONOMICS. The release of innovative technology is often balanced against strict economic criteria, targets, and other similar constraints.
Do you see the difference? There was genuine intent on providing a better product but it has to fit in with an agreed financial model. This has nothing to do with conspiracy.
It is the same reason why companies that PURCHASE energy or maintenance express an interest in fuel- and maintenance-saving technologies whilst companies that SELL energy or maintenance (or parts) can’t wait to kick you out of the door. That is if you manage to get through it in the first place.
Two years ago, an extremely VERY well-known manufacturer of diesel fuel system parts, injectors, high pressure fuel pumps, and so on sent a memorandum to all of its dealers and garages outlining the risks of fuel additives and indirectly prohibiting their use. This manufacturer pretty much said fuel additives are the work of the devil, and will cause damage, etc. Granted, there are additives that don’t deliver results as stated on the tin but I have yet to see fuel system parts actually damaged from their use. Unsurprisingly, there are tomes of reports of injector and pump damage from the use of poor quality fuels, contaminated fuels, and hence fuels that are NOT fortified with high-quality additives.
Let’s look at the second quote.
It is an interesting one to say the least and often parroted on automotive forums/discussion boards across the globe. My view is that it is only partly accurate so I will attempt to correct it.
“Vehicle manufacturers spend many millions in R&D and testing to make vehicles the best they can be WITHIN A DEFINED CRITERIA AND STRICT BUDGET.”
Of course, huge sums of money are spent on vehicle technology and development but manufacturing quality and component durability is constrained by budget.
Firstly, technologies already exist to make a standard family car last for 20+ years, 500,000+ miles, and without any major failure. The problem is that a basic family car would cost Ferrari money to buy. Who would pay £100,000+ for an uber-reliable family hatchback?
Secondly, the marketing departments know very well that 99% of their customers have no intention of keeping their cars for five or even 10 years, hence there is no market for such a car. Consumer tastes change and people like to change their cars.
This keeps vehicles at “affordable” prices. To produce a car that no one actually wants or could afford would be commercial suicide.
Then there is the servicing and repairs, which is from where the real revenue comes. If a vehicle needed few or no repairs, the initial purchase price of a vehicle would jump even further because manufacturers and franchised dealers would have to make up for that lost revenue stream. The use of additives and modified parts interferes with this business model. Again, this has nothing to do with conspiracy – it is basic economics.
Let’s look at automatic transmission manufacturers as another example. Now, I am not suggesting they deliberately engineer transmissions to fail at 100,000 miles, but they certainly don’t engineer them to last hundreds of thousands of miles. Why? Because they couldn’t afford to buy them within the budget that has been set. Car manufacture ‘A’ is not going to go to transmission manufacture ‘B’ with a requirement for a transmission that is robust for say, 250k miles, when most vehicles will never reach anywhere near that mileage anyway. Most manufactures provide a standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty for a reason. It is common in the trade that a conventional auto gearbox (with torque converter), on original life-time oil is a ticking time bomb once it hits the 100,000-mile mark. The amount of double clutch transmissions that are failing much earlier is staggering. But hey, as long as it survives the warranty period, right? My apologies for the sarcasm here.
There are exceptions to this rule. An example would be the Bugatti Veyron. When the CEO set out the criteria for that car the designers and engineers were liberated from the usual financial restrictions. The primary criterion was simply to design and build a 1000-horsepower car using the best technology available regardless of cost. And what was the result? They created a car that despite its tremendous power output and complexity will probably go on for years without fault. And what was the result for Bugatti (or Volkswagen if we wish to be pedantic)? A car that sells for around £1,000,000 yet costs almost £5,000,000 to make. Clearly, this is not a sustainable business model for a mainstream manufacturer. But you get the idea.
Now onto the first quote. Obtain the best or most expensive off the shelf oil you can find and I will improve the lubricity and extreme pressure rating of that oil within minutes by fortifying the additive pack. I can even reduce wear metals considerably over and above the best oil you can lay your hands on. I am not talking about the high-end branded £50 gallon of “fully synthetic” oils, but the specialist £25-30 per litre genuine, fully-synthetic (actual PAO/Ester based) oils. How can this be?
Firstly, oil manufacturers do not have a monopoly on the latest technologies. Many of the patents in this arena are owned by smaller private companies.
Secondly, a high-end £50 gallon of “synthetic” oil probably contains less than £5 worth of raw ingredients. When you factor in the sales margin of the manufacturer, master distributors, distributors, and retailers, £5 turns into £50 when it reaches the shop shelf. There is nothing unusual about this.
Now look at the cost of base stocks. We buy genuine, fully-synthetic PAO base stocks by the drum loads and the trade price is around £3-£4 per litre. Take a major blender who will buy by the many thousands of litres and being modest, let’s say they pay £1.50 per litre. That equates to around £7 just for the base stock. Include the additive pack, blending process, packaging, and other factors and you will end up with oil that costs £10+ to make. Pro-rata, that equates to over £100 on the shop shelf. But who is going to pay that price?
The same principles that applied previously also apply here in that the same budget constraints exist with the manufacturing of engine oil.
Thirdly, most major oil manufactures actually buy the ingredients and additive packs rather than make their own. There are two major suppliers in the world that supply the majority of additive packs to mainstream oil brands. You might have heard me mention this before in other articles, but I will repeat it again here for those who haven’t. If you visit the largest automotive shows or mechanic-orientated shows in the world you will find hundreds of different brands of oil. I guarantee that only a small percentage of these are genuine manufacturers. So much oil is actually rebranded and if you care to look closely you will discover that the oil market is just one huge marketing competition. Some of these marketing budgets make R&D budgets look like a petty cash pot.
Finally, and this is an important one. The various oil standards can actually restrict what you can and cannot do with oil. This can result in consumer lubricants that are inferior by design. For example, consider low SAP (sulphated ash) oils. Many of the good properties in these oils have been removed and replaced with more expensive, yet inferior alternatives. When you are in the business and actually speak to the “right” people within the mainstream oil companies, some will openly admit to using cheaper technologies. The two main justifications are as follows: A. The market is not ready for the latest and greatest nano technologies and B. We must keep costs down in order to be COMPETITIVE. Please understand that many oils are designed to meet specifications created by certain institutions (that I care not to mention in public), rather than designed to be the best, performance-wise. There is a difference!
Did you know that if you committed to a minimum order quantity you could go to a variety of companies and order virtually any current spec oil you wished with your own brand design and it would be on your doorstep within weeks? But try asking them to blend a new, innovative and superior technology into the oil and you are politely shown the door.
It does concern me when I can take a pure 20W PAO base stock combined with an additive pack like AR9100, no polymers so a fixed 20 weight hot or cold, no additional HTHS additives or dispersants, and so forth, and create my own product. Basically, I can create an unaltered PAO base stock with a high-end oil additive that complies with virtually none of the strict specifications, and yet it outperforms some of the best synthetic oils available. And by a long margin, per regular metal spectrographic and TAN/TBN tests. This oil wouldn’t just be deemed unsuitable for most engines – it would be said to be dangerous to use by some of the regulatory bodies that own and control these standards. Welcome to the real oil industry.
A Final Note
I am not asking you to believe me and if you think that I am way off the mark then I implore you to look for yourself because most of this is really common sense. Through the power of marketing, many of us have become blinded and lost the classic art of observation, thinking for oneself, and evaluating the data put under one’s nose. This also applies to anything I write here. Don’t just believe me – go and research for yourself.
In a future article I will delve into what oils and fuels I would recommend and why.
If you require any expert advice or help then please don’t hesitate to contact us and either I or a member of my team will be pleased to assist you.