Motormouth – June 2016

Yes, I missed last month’s Traction, the second time in 19 years. Looks like I’m making a habit of it. No excuses, I thought I had sent it out but it must have got lost in the post, along with what is left of my white hair.

Winter has arrived with a vengeance. Snow on the Drakensberg all the way from the Eastern Cape to Natal, see pictures taken at top of Sani. Last month we covered winter diesel and anti-freeze. This month let’s look at driving in these snowy and icy conditions. Be honest now, how many of you stop at the top of Sani, it’s always on to Black Mountain and even beyond. Yes, it’s tarred all the way, but change your driving habits to suit the snowy and icy conditions

You know your 4×4 will have a lot more success when driving on snowy roads compared to normal 2×4 vehicles. This doesn’t mean though that you have nothing to do on your part to ensure that your 4×4 is always safe and trouble-free when driving during the winter.

Here are some important tips that you should remember before you use your 4×4 for winter driving.

  • Check All Your Tires – Tires are really important whenever you are driving a vehicle and it is even more important when driving your 4×4 in winter. Make sure all your tires are in good conditions before driving in the snowy roads.
  • Check Your Tire Treads – Make sure that your tires still have enough tread on them so that you will not have any issues with traction and slipping on icy roads.
  • Have the Recommended Tire Pressure – Another important tire-related tip is to make sure your tires have the recommended amount of pressure when driving on slippery roads so that you will have the maximum amount of traction needed for a safe trip.
  • If possible fit Snow Tires (M&S) – snow tires are even better than regular tires when driving on snowy roads as the former is specifically made for these conditions.
  • Ensure Your Brakes are Working Properly – Aside from tires, another very important aspect of your vehicle that you should check up on is your brakes. Good brakes are essential when driving on slippery and icy roads during the winter to avoid you losing control of your vehicle and getting into accidents. Always ensure your brakes are working properly.
  • Replace Old Wiper Blades – When driving in winter, you don’t only have to contend with the slippery road, you would also need to deal with the falling snow, sleet and rain which could affect your vision. One way to solve this issue is replacing wiper blades which are more than 6 months old to make sure that you will have the proper visibility when driving.
  • I know we have already covered this but check the Antifreeze in your radiator – Having the proper proportion of antifreeze and water in your radiator is important to avoid the water in your radiator from freezing during the winter. The normal ratio of antifreeze to water is 50/50 but some adjustments may need to be made depending on the conditions and the temperature in your area to provide maximum protection for your vehicle. (Don’t use a straight anti-freeze mixture, IT WILL NOT WORK.
  • Drive Slowly and Carefully on Curves – Curves and are really tricky when it comes to driving in the winter. If you are not careful you could find yourself colliding with another vehicle or an obstruction in the road.  Whenever you are driving in the winter, make sure that you don’t drive too fast on curves.
  • Avoid Sharp Turns – Just like when driving fast on curves, making sharp turns can end up causing you to lose control of your vehicle. Always see to it that you avoid sharp turns to ensure that you always have proper control.
  • Check the Components of Your 4WD – Having 4WD is really a big advantage when you are driving on snowy roads as it will give you more stability and control. That said, you must ensure that your 4WD is working properly before setting out and driving in the winter. Check all the components of your 4WD, particularly the transfer lever, push button engagement, and others to confirm that the entire system is good to go.
  • Allow More Stopping Distance – Whenever you are driving on snowy roads, the ice and snow can cause your vehicle to slip and skid even if you are already trying to stop. That’s why you must always have more stopping distance when driving in these conditions as slick surfaces can make the simple tasks like stopping a lot more tricky.

 “Motor Mouth” reminding you that alcohol and water don’t mix, take a boring dedicated driver along and enjoy your Gluchwein at Sani Top. Hopefully the tips above will guide you on how to prepare your 4×4 and to drive safely during the coming season.

Maintenance and bring out the “Bush Mechanic” – Motormouth March 2016

General

The golden rule is to inspect your vehicle often and check for things that work loose. Bear in mind that your vehicle will be exposed to continual, very destructive vibration, therefore you should perform routine tighten up checks. Also learn to listen for any unusual noises whilst driving and investigate them immediately.

Get to know what the working parts of your vehicle look like.

By regular inspection get to know how things should look inside the engine compartment and underneath the chassis so that you will notice anything different. Any sort of dust adhering to spilt fluids are indicative of a problem, e.g. on shock absorbers, from transmission seals, the engine, etc.  Have these attended to as soon as possible.

Learn to check hot and cold fluid levels.

Also, each time you stop on the road and exit the vehicle, look at the tyres to make sure they are okay. If you repair a punctured tyre in the nick of time, it will prevent writing it off.

Jacking up the vehicle

Remember that if you crawl under a jacked-up vehicle and it falls off the jack, it will crush you. So make sure that you have stops in front of and behind at least two wheels and never get under the vehicle unless you have supported it with something that cannot be crushed by its weight (not bricks). If the vehicle is on a slope you have to be doubly careful. If you use a High-lift jack don’t work under the vehicle.

If your vehicle has a solid axle you should jack up the rear by putting the jack under the diff or along the axle. To jack up the front, put the jack as near as possible to the wheel on the wishbone just inside the wheel. If you use an air jack, you will also need to place it near these points and ensure that you do not use it near the exhaust, as the bag will melt.

Electrical

If smoke comes from the vehicle, disconnect the negative (black) terminal on the battery immediately and have your fire extinguisher handy in case of flames.

Find your fuse box and check that you have the right spare fuses. (Pic: Pete Barber.)

Blown fuses should always be replaced with the same amperage fuse. If you don’t have a spare of that specific fuse, use a non-critical fuse from elsewhere in the vehicle.

If the vehicle doesn’t start, first check the battery connections using a multimeter. Put the red meter lead on the red positive battery terminal and the black lead on the chassis. This reading should be the same as that across the battery terminals. If you have to install or reconnect a battery, connect the positive first (to prevent spanners from shorting on anything that they touch).

Make sure that the right thickness of wire is used to connect up fridges etc. to the second battery as thin wires cause a voltage drop. A good starter battery normally shows around 12.8 volts on the meter. A battery with a reading of 12v is flat and will not start the vehicle.

 Use a multimeter to test fuses by setting it to 20v DC, earthing the black lead to the negative terminal and touching the red lead to either side of the fuse. A good fuse will show voltage on either side.

 To check a positive wire for a short circuit, disconnect the wire, then put one lead onto the positive wire and earth the other.  Continuity will indicate a short circuit. A wire continuity check is done by disconnecting the wire first. Then set the meter to ‘continuity’ and check from both ends of the wire for a reading.

 Brakes

When new brake shoes have been fitted they may rub against the drum as they wear in, generating heat. Enough heat will melt the grease in the wheel bearings which will drastically shorten their life. So, when driving, it’s a good idea to feel for heat on the wheel after a job like this has been done. If it’s too hot to keep your hand on it, the brakes require re-adjustment.

Check wheel heat for signs of brakes rubbing. (Pic: Pete Barber)

Brake fluid is very poisonous and can strip paint off the vehicle. Wash any spills off with water, but do not rub. Brake fluid should be changed every second year as it absorbs water and can rust the brake system.

 If a hydraulic brake pipe breaks, fold it over, crimp to seal it and bleed the system.

 Clutch

You will know you have a clutch problem when the pedal collapses to the floor. The system may be leaking or the master cylinder could have failed. Unfortunately most modern systems are hydraulic and cannot be repaired.

 However, the vehicle can be started in second gear and then driven. To change gear, remove your foot from the accelerator and let the vehicle coast so that there is no pressure on the meshing gears. Move the gear shift to neutral for a second and then shift to the next gear.

 Fuel system

Try not to fill up with fuel sold in containers on the roadside as it may be cut with paraffin or have water in it. A special filter funnel (available from overland shops) can be used to minimise water getting into the tank.

If the vehicle jerks, it may indicate a problem with the fuel supply or you can have water in your fuel. If there is a lot of water in your fuel, you may need to have the tank removed and cleaned and the filter(s) replaced.

Take great care of what goes into your tank. If petrol is put into a diesel tank by mistake (or vice versa), it has to be drained and cleaned. Do NOT start the vehicle as it may cause the engine to knock and damage it badly.

When changing a diesel filter, always fill the new filter with fuel prior to putting it back. This minimises bleeding. To bleed the system, empty out the water by opening the plastic wing nut at the base of the filter. Let liquid run out until clean diesel appears. Then look for the outlet side marked with an arrow on the fuel filter housing. Disconnect this and pump the button on top of the fuel filter housing until diesel comes out and all the air had been removed. Reconnect the pipe. If the vehicle is difficult to start, then pump the button whilst someone turns over the starter motor.

Note that any break in the fuel system requires bleeding.

 Cooling System

If the temperature gauge goes up, the thermostat could be stuck in the closed position. This is initially closed on starting to bring the engine up to temperature (78 deg C) as soon as possible. However, if it remains closed the engine will overheat. The thermostat is a mechanical spring operated device and should be removed if it malfunctions. This will only mean that the engine takes longer to get up to operating temperature.

Check the temperature of the radiator inlet and outlet pipes and if one is much warmer than the other, the thermostat may be faulty.

Once the thermostat has been removed, refill the cooling system with water if that’s all that is available but preferably use anti-freeze coolant.  Switch on the cab heater to open that circuit of the cooling system. Run the engine with the radiator cap off and keep adding fluid until it is full.

If the radiator cap leaks, pressure will not build up in the system and it could overheat and boil. Periodically check the rubber ‘O’ ring in the cap, especially before a long trip, to make sure it is still soft and not cracked. Replace a leaking cap as an overheated engine can cause other pipes to fail.

A leaking radiator can be fixed by adding radiator sealant, or the tube that is leaking can be cleared of cooling veins on either side of it, broken in half and both ends bent over to form a seal. The radiator may have to be removed to do this.

Drive Belts

On some vehicles one belt runs all the auxiliaries such as the water pump, air conditioner, alternator, etc. Take photos of the correct routing and the tensioning nut before it is stripped. If this belt breaks then all the lights on the dashboard will come on.

Wheel alignment

This can go out if you hit a rock and bend one of the alignment rods. To correct this, loosen the adjusting nuts and face the bend towards the ground. Use a jack to straighten the rod and then align the wheels using a rope. Get this rod replaced and the alignment done properly as soon as possible.

 Engine/gearbox mounts

Problems usually relate to the rubber mountings shearing off and the motor lifting to one side due to the torque, especially when driving uphill. Strap the item down with a good ratchet strap to stop it lifting until you can have it repaired.

Rubber mountings. (Pic: Pete Barber)

Broken coil or leaf springs or shocks

If the suspension has collapsed, wedge and secure a log or something large between the axle and the chassis to prevent the sag. In the case of air suspension, make sure that the spring leaves cannot move forward or back. If a shock mounting or eye breaks off, remove the shock and repair it as soon as possible.

Rear left suspension with air suspension (fingered). (Pic: Pete Barber)

Exhaust repair

Use Gun Gum to repair holes in your exhaust if you want to use an air jack.

 Fuel tank leaks

Seal leaking fuel tanks temporarily by cleaning the site of the leak and then rubbing soap into the crack.

“Motor Mouth” hoping you won’t ever have to use these tips.

Motormouth – August 2015

I know I seem to be branching off a bit , what with whales last month and now scorpions but as you know this page is about all things affecting off roaders so I got my ugly Boetie  “Mongrel” to say a few words on my second most favorite topic.

Taking over from last month, nuff already with the sea and stranded sea creatures, let’s take a look at some of those weird things we find stranded in our boots first thing in the morning, not as we grab them from the ground, but as we squeeze our feet into them. These are the creepy crawleys that most of us are frightened of, but should we be???? Let’s have a look at the 8 legged ones (Arachnia).

This month scorpions, next month spiders.

Scorpions:

Even the most bush unconscious of us can tell the difference between spiders and scorpions, scorpions have a long tail with a rather nasty sting at the end of it. That’s the rear end, at the front they have two very nasty pincers. They are usually found in the tropics and are common in arid areas and even deserts.

The normal response to a scorpion is (is it venomous) and the answer is that all scorpions are venomous, you should be asking: Is this scorpion dangerous to people? Fortunately the answer is that very few have venom strong enough to kill a person (no proven deaths from a scorpion sting)

QUESTION:

What’s the difference between venomous and poisonous?  Scorpions, spiders, snakes, etc are venomous, i.e. they have to inject their “venom/poison” into your blood stream for it to take effect. They are not poisonous, you can drink their venom/poison and it will have no effect on you at all. On the other hand many frogs are poisonous but not venomous, if they bite you no problem at all but don’t go licking or kissing them, that lick may be fatal as there are many poisonous frogs around. Ladies that fairy Prince is a figment of your hallucinating mind. Serves you right for kissing frogs!!

There are two main groups of scorpions and all are predators, the main difference between the two main groups is the way they overcome their prey, some lie in wait to ambush them, others actively hunt their prey

Thick-tailed scorpions (family Buthidae)

These scorpions are characterised by thick tails and small thin pincers. This indicates that the venom is important in killing the prey while the pincers are used to manipulate the prey once it is dead, the thick muscular tail is needed to drive the sting deep, killing it quickly. They will not hesitate to use their venom in defence. Stings by this group should be considered lethal. Symptoms start with immediate and localised pain, followed by nausea, convulsions, muscular spasms and possibly respiratory and circulatory problems.

In case of a sting, apply an ice-pack immediately to ease pain and seek medical aid as soon as possible, a specific anti-venom is available in South Africa.

The smaller specie of the thick tailed scorpions (Uroplectus) is responsible for the majority of stings in South Africa as they are often found hiding under firewood or stones around the house. Fortunately they are less dangerous but the pain is still intense. Once again the application of an ice-pack is effective in reducing the pain.

Thin-tailed scorpions

Thin tailed scorpions use their large pincers as their main form of attack, they rarely use their tails as their venom is relatively weak. They may be found in gardens and around the house.

From a kortbroek, bare footed (they wont be sleeping in my boots) “Mongrel” Moenie paniek nie, keep cool and get to medical help if you are worried.

Next month “Spiders”

Motormouth – April 2015

Motormouth

 

It’s strange, have you noticed that the more we ignore a problem the more it seems to go away. There may be a shake in the front suspension when we go over potholes, but after a while that becomes the norm and the problem is gone. Who needs mechanical skill?

Wobbly Wheels, The Shakes, The Death Wobble,

Whatever you call it, we have all been there when we change tyre sizes and do body lifts to our trusted vehicles.

There are many reasons that can cause the front end to wobble and shake violently from side to side.

1. Make a quick check under the front of your vehicle with your lead light. While you are lying under the front get someone to turn the steering back and forth just to the point that the tyres are turning. What you must be on the look out for is any loose movement. Watch the tie – rod ends, where they connect the steering knuckle arms. Watch the drag link, that’s the rod that goes from the pitman arm off the steering box to steering knuckle or maybe the side of the tie rod. Check for wobble / movement in the steering –box selector shaft. Make sure that the box isn’t moving away from the frame/ chassis because the bolts that hold it in place are loose. Check that the frame / chassis isn’t broken or cracked in this area. Now have your steering wheel helper, turn the wheel a bit harder just so that the tyres are starting to move a bit. You want to look at suspension components, things such as spring eye bushes or leaf spring movement on the axle pads for those of you with solid axles.

The independent boys need to look at control – arm bushings for movement. Watch the rack bar, it should remain tight without side to side movement. Idler arms must be checked. They are noted for wearing out when a lift kit is installed.

2. The next thing to do is to jack up the front wheels so that they hang, then check the wheel bearings by checking for movement; this is done by grabbing a wheel at the top and bottom and rocking the wheel back and forth. What you are looking for is an in and out movement. If the tyre and the wheel move a little then you might have to adjust or replace the wheel bearing. This must be done to both front wheels.

3. If you see movement where the steering knuckle and the axle join, then the ball joints are loose or need replacing.

4. If the wobble only started after you did the lift kit and the bigger tyres, did you have the wheel alignment done? Lack of proper caster angle may be the problem. Were the tyres balanced properly? Remember that bigger tyres put additional loads on suspension and steering components.

Now if you have a little wear in all the steering and suspension components it is multiplied by the bigger tyres and will result in the Wobble or the Shakes.

The last thing to look at is the steering stabilizer (steering dampener) although they wont’ be the whole cause of the wobbles or shakes, but they can contribute.

To solve the shakes/wobbles is a question of elimination, as the problem could be singular or collectively. A thorough check out is required.

If all else fails check for the obvious, specially if you’ve been playing, mud on the inside of your rims can cause violent shuddering.

So check it all out, it all adds up. A few minutes spent under the nose of your bakkie could solve you hassles and money, before you send it in to “Koos the specialist”.

From an “All shook up “Motor Mouth” remember DIY…… and that does not mean. Destroy It Yourself.

Motormouth March 2015

Today most cars and 4×4’s are automatically fitted with ABS and this seems to be the way to go, or is it?

WHAT IS ABS?

ABS uses wheel speed censors, a hydraulic control unit and a computer control module to greatly reduce the possibility of skidding during hard breaking. ABS also lets the driver steer the vehicle to help you avoid an accident.

Motormouth

 

The grass is gone

The glass (barometer) is riz

I wonder where the summer is (Will it ever come?)

 

Winter has arrived (early?) bringing with it all those niggling problems for the ‘Min. of Home Affairs’ like:

  • Waking the ‘Min. of Finance and Labour’ and all the Deputy Ministers up with tea/coffee.
  • Preparing breakfast and sandwiches while helping dress and wash the Deputy Ministers.
  • Kissing the Min of F & L goodbye while he climbs in his brand new vehicle to rush off to the office for a leisurely cup of coffee and maybe start dishing out work if and when the staff arrives.

 

The Min of HA now becomes the Min of Transport, loads all the deputy ministers in the 13 yr old ‘second car’ with a very effective a/c (the gap between the door and the pillar), tries the starter and ‘phuuuuuuuuut’ (notice I left out the c), the battery is dead.

Please don’t blame the Min of F & L, he’s been too busy to realize that winter has arrived, your car is 50000k’s overdue for a service, the battery’s has passed it’s use by date 3 years ago and it’s now time for your car to sleep inside the garage with the golf clubs.

Seriously though, cold weather kills a slightly old battery and it pays to leave it on a trickle charge over night.

Talking about old cars, how many of your second cars are fitted with ABS and is it necessary?

ABS, A good thing??

Today most cars and 4×4’s are automatically fitted with ABS and this seems to be the way to go, or is it?

WHAT IS ABS?

ABS uses wheel speed censors, a hydraulic control unit and a computer control module to greatly reduce the possibility of skidding during hard breaking. ABS also lets the driver steer the vehicle to help you avoid an accident.

BENEFITS OF ANTI-LOCK BRAKING SYSTEM

In a hard breaking situation without ABS the wheels may skid losing traction between the tires and the road.  Wheel lock up is kept to a minimum.
4 wheel anti-lock brakes also improve steering control throughout the breaking situation. Since the front wheels don’t lock up, traction with the road is maintained helping the driver steer around any obstacles.

Anti-lock will activate on rain slick roads or roads that are covered in ice or snow. Braking on gravel roads, sand covered roads and other loose surfaces may activate the anti-lock brakes, as could breaking going over bumps or elevations such as railway tracks.  And even if road surfaces are dry smooth tar such as a highway the ABS will activate the break applications hard enough.
So no matter what the road surface or driving conditions you can be assured that your 4 wheel ABS can help you get safer more controlled stops.

HOW DO YOU USE ABS?

Do not pump the brakes.  Apply constant firm pressure to the brake pedal and let the anti-lock system do the rest, but remember that it doesn’t matter how good your brakes are you have to keep your (good condition) tyres on the road (good shocks).
For maximum effectiveness of ABS it is important to keep the load evenly distributed, if you and the ‘Seat Cover’ are in front, get Ma-in-law to sit in the back above the rear axle.

WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE WHEN ABS IS WORKING NORMALLY?

When the brake pedal is applied and the anti-lock brakes activated the brake pedal may feel hard, it may also seem to ratchet or pulsate or there can be a combination of these sensations (who needs a vibrator Doll). Maintain firm and constant pressure on the pedal and quickly release and re-apply if it travels to the floor. You may even here a sound like grinding this is normal.

DO WE NEED THIS WITH A 4X4 ?

For long distance high speed reliable driving (some of our vehicles are capable of this Simon) ABS is recommended, especially if you consider that we spend a lot of time on gravel and sometimes even snow and ice in the Berg. Where it may be a problem is when off road in difficult situations i.e. going down steep slopes slowly on dust or gravel. This is when your brakes should be locked and your steering at full lock to create as much resistance as possible. Imagine if your ABS was doing it’s trick of releasing and grabbing the brakes as it sensed the slipping wheels (dangerous stuff) especially with an automatic “Ooooh Velskoen”.

I suppose it’s different courses for different horses and you are the one who has to make the choice, and don’t worry, driving off the pavement after watching the Sharks get another beating doesn’t constitute descending a steep slope.

From “Motor Mouth” still blindly swearing by Toyota to all ye of little faith; remember the words of Arthur Koestler in his essay on communism:

“Faith is not acquired by reasoning or as a result of logical persuasion, it grows like a tree. Its crown points to the sky; its roots grow downward into the past and are nourished by the dark sap of ancestral humus”(What’s another word for humus?)

So it doesn’t matter what you drive, trust in your own judgement, your choice will get you there, and hopefully back.

 

Engine Coolant

With summer and the holidays around the corner and the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” taking over in our minds, especially true for parts in a vehicle that we cannot see, the time has come to consider the coolant in our engine’s cooling system. Most of us understand that the primary purpose of this fluid is to prevent the cooling fluid from freezing in cold climates and from boiling over in extremely hot climates. Well, that’s not all it does.

With summer and the holidays around the corner and the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” taking over in our minds, especially true for parts in a vehicle that we cannot see, the time has come to consider the coolant in our engine’s cooling system. Most of us understand that the primary purpose of this fluid is to prevent the cooling fluid from freezing in cold climates and from boiling over in extremely hot climates. Well, that’s not all it does. The coolant in the system is also energized with a mixture of chemicals that provide protection against corrosion and wear on the cooling system components. The water pump needs lubrication, and the metals (aluminum, cast iron, brass, tin, copper, etc.) used in the engine and cooling system must not be allowed to corrode and break down and plug up the radiator. DID YOU KNOW that the coolant installed in the vehicle’s cooling system has a life span of 2 years/50,000 Kms. The coolant is replaced in order to reintroduce into the cooling system the chemicals that provide the protection against the build up of rust from corrosion. The coolant may still provide the protection against freezing, but not against a coolant flow restriction, which could lead to an unexpected breakdown and costly failure.

The benefits of replacing the engine coolant at the manufacturer’s recommended interval are:

  • provide adequate protection against freezing and overheating situations
  • improve the cooling efficiency of the system
  • keep the efficiency of the vehicle’s heating system at peak levels
  • keep vital engine cooling system components, such as engine, radiator, thermostat, and
  • water pump clean
  • Inhibit the formation and accumulation of scale and rust in the radiator and heater cores
  • save you money by extending the life of the cooling system components

Okay so we know why it’s important to flush your cooling system every two years. How do we do it?

a)Always start with the engine cold and ignition off.

b) Remove the radiator pressure cap.

c) Open the lock at the bottom of the radiator and drain into a bucket.

d) Close the lock and fill the radiator with water

e) Start the engine and turn the heater control to hot.

f) Add cooling system cleaner and idle the engine for 30 minutes (or as per the instructions on container).

g) Stop the engine and allow it to cool for five minutes.

h) Drain the system once again into a bucket.

i) Close the lock on the radiator and fill with water and let run for 5 minutes.

j) Drain one more time, lock the radiator

k) Install new 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze/coolant

From a slowly thawing “motormouth” (plenty anti-freeze) enjoy summer and the rains and fare thee well

Its all in the Lube!! Synthetics vs Minerals?

Synthetics vs Minerals

 The debate goes on about synthetic lubes vs petroleum based oils and over time we have been subjected to numerous myths, now let Motormouth quash these myths once and for all.

What are Synthetics

Synthetic motor oils are fuel efficient, extended life lubricants manufactured from select base stocks and special purpose additives. Synthetic oil base stocks are made from organic compounds or synthetic hydrocarbons using a process that re-arranges the structure so all the molecules are uniform in size, shape and weight, a phenomenon that does not occur in nature. In contrast to petroleum oils which are pumped from the earth and refined, synthetics are custom-designed to produce, in effect, the ideal lubricant.

 In responding to the objections most commonly raised against synthetics it is important to establish the parameters of the debate. When speaking of synthetic motor oils, this article defends the lubricants which have been formulated to meet the performance standards set by the American Petroleum Institute (API).Many people with questions about synthetics haven’t known where to turn to get correct information. Is it super oil or snake oil? Some enthusiasts will swear that synthetics are capable of raising your car from the dead. On the other hand, the next fellow asserts that synthetics will send your beloved car to an early grave. Where’s the truth in all this? In an effort to set the record straight I have assembled ten of the more persistent myths about synthetic motor oils to see how they stack up against the facts.

1: Synthetic motor oils damage seals.

Untrue: It would be foolhardy for lubricant manufacturers to build a product that is incompatible with seals. The composition of seals presents problems that both petroleum oils and synthetics must overcome. Made from elastomers, seals are inherently difficult to standardize. Ultimately it is the additive mix in oil that counts. Additives to control seal swell, shrinkage and hardening are required, whether it be a synthetic or petroleum  product that is being produced.

2: Synthetics are too thin to stay in the engine.

Untrue. In order for a lubricant to be classified in any SAE grade (10W-30, 10W-40, etc.) it has to meet certain guidelines with regard to viscosity (“thickness”). For example, it makes no difference whether it’s 10W-40 petroleum or 10W-40 synthetic, at -25 degrees centigrade (-13F) and 100 degrees centigrade (212 degrees F) the oil has to maintain a standardized viscosity or it can’t be rated a 10W-40.

 

 

3: Synthetics cause cars to use more oil.

Untrue. Synthetic motor oils are intended for use in mechanically sound engines, that is, engines that don’t leak. In such engines, oil consumption will actually be reduced. First, because of the lower volatility of synlubes. Second, because of the better sealing characteristics between piston rings and cylinder walls. And finally, because of the superior oxidation stability (i.e. resistance of synthetics against reacting with oxygen at high temperatures.)

4: Synthetic lubricants are not compatible with petroleum.

Untrue. The synthesized hydrocarbons, polyalphaolefins, diesters and other materials that form the base stocks of high-quality name brand synthetics are fully compatible with petroleum oils. In the old days, some companies used ingredients that were not compatible, causing quality synlubes to suffer a bum rap. Fortunately, those days are long gone. Compatibility is something to keep in mind, however, whether using petroleum oils or synthetics. It is usually best to use the same oil for topping up that you have been running in the engine. That is, it is preferable to not mix your oil brands, top up with Engen if you are using Engen, Castrol if you are using Castrol. The reason is this: the functions of additives blended for specific characteristics can be offset when oils with different additive packages are put together. For optimal performance, it is better to use the same oil throughout.

5: Synthetic lubricants are not readily available.

Untrue. This may have been the case two decades ago when AMSOIL and Mobil 1 were the only real choices, but today nearly every major oil company has added a synthetic product to their lines. This in itself is a testament to the value synthetics offer.

6: Synthetic lubricants produce sludge.

Very Untrue. In point of fact, synthetic motor oils are more sludge resistant than their petroleum counterparts, resisting the effects of high temperature and oxidation. In the presence of high temperatures, two things can happen. Firstly an oil’s lighter ingredients boil off, making the oil thicker. Secondly many of the complex chemicals found naturally in petroleum base stocks begin to react with each other, forming sludge, gum and varnish. One result is a loss of fluidity at low temperatures, slowing the timely flow of oil to the engine for vital component protection. Further negative effects of thickened oil include the restriction of oil flow into critical areas, greater wear and loss of fuel economy. Because of their higher flash points, and their ability to withstand evaporation loss and oxidation, synthetics are much more resistant to sludge development. Two other causes of sludge — ingested dirt and water dilution — can be a problem in any kind of oil, whether petroleum or synthetic. These are problems with the air filtration system and the cooling system respectively, not the oil.

 

7: Synthetics can’t be used with catalytic converters or oxygen sensors.

Untrue. There is no difference between synthetic and petroleum oils in regards to these components. Both synthetic and petroleum motor oils are similar compounds and neither is damaging to catalytic converters or oxygen sensors. In fact, because engines tend to run cleaner with synthetics, sensors and emission control systems run more efficiently and with less contamination.

8: Synthetics void warranties.

Untrue. Major engine manufacturers specifically recommend the use of synthetic lubricants. In point of fact, increasing numbers of high performance cars are arriving on showroom floors with synthetic motor oils as factory fill.

New vehicle warranties are based upon the use of oils meeting specific API Service Classifications (for example, SJ/CF). Synthetic lubricants which meet current API Service requirements are perfectly suited for use in any vehicle without affecting the validity of the new car warranty.

9: Synthetics last forever.

Untrue. Although some experts feel that synthetic base stocks themselves can be used forever, it is well known that eventually the additives will falter and cause the oil to require changing. Moisture, fuel dillution, and the by-products of combustion (acids and soot) tend to use up additives in an oil, allowing degradation to occur. However, by “topping up”, additives can be replenished. Through good filtration and periodic oil analysis, synthetic engine oils protect an engine for lengths of time far beyond the capability of non-synthetics.

10: Synthetics are too expensive.

Untrue. Tests and experience have proven that synthetics can greatly extend drain intervals, provide better fuel economy, reduce engine wear and enable vehicles to operate with greater reliability. This more than offsets initial price differences. All these elements combine to make synthetic engine oils more economical than conventional non-synthetics.

CONCLUSIONS

Since their inception, manufacturers of synthetic motor oils have sought to educate the public about the facts regarding synthetics, and the need for consumers to make their lubricant purchasing decisions based on quality rather than price. As was the case with microwave ovens or electric lights, a highly technological improvement must often overcome a fair amount of public skepticism and consumer inertia before it is embraced by the general population. But the word is getting out as a growing number of motorists worldwide experience the benefits of synthetic lubrication. The wave of the future, in auto lubes, is well under way.

Motormouth or should I say “Lekker lubricated lips”