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Value of Teflon as Oil Additive Questioned

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you pour a can of oil into your engine, you may think that you are using something that came entirely out of the ground, the product of dead dinosaurs and trees that have decomposed over thousands of years.

In some part that is true, but it is also true that modern chemistry plays a major role in the composition of engine oil. Engine oil additives can compose more than 20% of a can of oil. Without additives, oil would be far less effective in protecting your engine.

It should be no surprise then that a huge market exists for engine oil additives, which are supposed to improve the performance of engine oil. And chief among these additives are the ones that use polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), better known by the DuPont trademark Teflon.

A number of oil additives include Teflon or products similar to Teflon that are supposed to improve engine performance, cut engine wear and increase fuel economy. The claims are the type that run up a red flag.

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Although I generally am dubious about such additives, a substantial amount of scientific evidence has been advanced by manufacturers that show they are effective.

One note of caution: If the product label requires you to shake the can, the PTFE is probably fully suspended in the solution and will settle out in your engine pan. The more effective products do not require shaking.

Teflon is among the most slippery products known. The product is a solid in its normal state, but is mixed in a slurry that can be combined into a liquid additive.

DuPont does not give an enthusiastic endorsement of the product. While the company says that Teflon is great for frying pans, it is equivocal about Teflon as an engine oil additive, saying that it has never “promoted” that usage.

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There are many products that use PTFE as an additive, the two most prominent being Slick 50 and Tufoil.

Slick 50 makes the claim that it cuts engine wear by 50%. It cites a study by the aerospace firm McDonnell Douglas that shows the overwhelming percentage of engine wear occurs during a cold start up and that a PTFE friction modifier substantially cuts that wear.

Tufoil, produced by the New Jersey firm Fluoramics Inc., cites studies by the U.S. Army, Israeli researchers and independent labs to prove its product is effective. The attorney general of New York halted an investigation into false advertising claims by the company after it presented this evidence.

Independent oil-analysis experts say that solid friction modifiers such as Teflon are an effective means of reducing engine wear and increasing performance by a modest margin. Where the manufacturers of these products and independent experts differ is in the duration the products remain effective.

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Slick 50 claims to be effective 50,000 miles. David Goldstein, a spokesman for the company, says that the company markets its product for the average motorist who is not religious about changing the oil.

But independent oil-analysis laboratories are dubious about such 50,000 mile claims. They say that effectiveness of PTFE products begin to erode after 10,000 to 20,000 miles. But they are effective, nonetheless.

One common fear among some oil experts is that PTFE products can form globs that can plug up oil passages. Goldstein says that Slick 50 does not bond to itself, so that it can never form a layer thicker than a few microns.

So what is it worth to reduce engine wear? Slick 50 isn’t cheap. The suggested retail price is $35, though some retail chains sell it for as little as $22.

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I don’t know whether cutting engine wear is such a great idea when the rest of your car will fall apart. But as a matter of curiosity, I will be testing Slick 50 to see if it cuts my engine wear, based on an oil engine analysis report. I have had my oil engine oil analyzed before using Slick 50 and I will have it analyzed after a single treatment. The results will be published in a few months.


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