So, here I am, wearing an ill-fitting lab coat and looking like a chemistry class whiz.

Where I am is at Valvoline’s headquarters getting the 411 on engine oil, that precious substance that keeps the world’s internal-combustion engines functioning.

As part of the learning process, Valvoline’s chemists invited the Wheelbase staff to try its hand at mixing small batches of engine oil with a variety of colourful ingredients. In short order, it becomes obvious just how complicated this task really is, which is the point of the exercise.

Motor oil, we quickly learn, is a highly technical concoction that keeps our vehicles running in top form. We’re also told that engine oil has had to evolve to match the increasing demands placed on engines, as well as the change in their physical makeup.


In short, the oil has to be better today because today’s engines need it to be better.

We also learn a bit about the ingredients that make up the slippery stuff.

Conventional motor oil is comprised of about 80 per cent base stock that virtually every refinery produces from crude oil. The remaining 20 per cent is additives developed by individual oil companies, such as Valvoline, according to the company’s own unique formulas, and blended for specific uses.

Additives include detergents, wear and corrosion inhibitors, anti-oxidants plus other chemicals that help keep moving parts clean and functioning at cooler temperatures.

They also reduce friction, stop dirt and foreign deposits from coming into contact with metal surfaces, seal gaps between the piston rings and cylinder walls and prevent water and acids (a by-product of combustion) from causing engine damage.

According to Valvoline, additives only function for a specific time (depending on how hard they are expected to work) before they are depleted and engine wear and tear begins. That’s why it’s important to have the oil and oil filter replaced at the proper interval. The owner’s manual will indicate the recommended frequency, but 5,000 to 8,000 kilometres is a good rule of thumb. The lower number is limit for frequent stop-and-go driving, towing, operating a vehicle in dusty and/or sandy conditions, or driving during extreme hot or cold temperatures. Talk to most finicky drivers and they’ll usually tell you they religiously stick to the 5,000-kilometre-limit between changes.

Engine oil is graded according to its viscosity, or its ability to flow. Most passenger-car engines are rated for using multi-grade oil, which means they’ll work well in both hot and cold conditions.

Again, your owner’s manual or service technician can advise as to which grade of motor oil is correct for your vehicle.

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