Tag Archives: performance oil

Piston Ring Sealing: The Chi of Free Horsepower

Here’s how to free up more horsepower in your engine by finding balance
By Jeff Huneycutt

Honestly, we don’t know much about chi, crystals or any other new-age hokum. But we do know to shut up and listen when the horsepower experts talk. And lately, Driven Racing Oil’sTM Lake Speed Jr. has been talking about how to free up more horsepower by finding “balance” when you build your next engine.

And no, he’s not talking about yoga or meditation–although we’ve heard that’s good for you–instead, he means finding the right combination of parts and preparation to properly seal the combustion chamber floor. When most people think of the combustion chamber in a running engine, they picture the cylinder head and maybe the valves. But that is only the top of the chamber. The chamber floor consists of the top of the piston and the rings. It’s the piston rings which keep combustion pressure from squeezing down the side of the piston between the skirt and the cylinder walls, and the more efficient the rings are at keeping the rapidly expanding combustion gases from escaping the chamber, the more power your engine will make.

It’s a mistake, however, to think that the piston rings do all this by themselves. The rings depend on motor oil splashed up onto the cylinder walls by the rotating crankshaft to provide lubrication where the ring contacts the cylinder wall. Without proper lubrication, friction between the ring and the cylinder wall will cause irreparable damage within a matter of minutes. But the oil also provides a secondary benefit: It actually helps seal any small gaps between the edge of the ring and the cylinder wall, decreasing blow-by and improving horsepower. The oil, in turn, depends on the engine machinist to properly prepare the cylinder bores by honing a series of tiny grooves into the cylinder wall in a crosshatch pattern. It’s this pattern of grooves that actually helps trap a small film of oil so that the cylinder wall isn’t wiped dry every time the piston rings slide past.

Total seal“At Driven Racing Oil, we have great relationships with a lot of the top engine builders,” Speed says, “but we also work very closely with some of the top manufacturers such as Total Seal Rings and Sunnen. And by learning from each other, it helps us all understand what is necessary to help an engine make as much power possible while still maintaining great dependability. What is very clear is that the system that seals the combustion chamber from the cylinder is dependent upon several factors. In other words, the piston ring isn’t doing it all by itself, and the oil definitely isn’t doing it all by itself, either. You have to have a balanced system where the rings, the motor oil, and the cylinder wall preparation are all designed to work together.”

Lake points out that what may have worked in the good old days will likely leave you eating your competitors’ dust today. Ten years ago a set of high-tension rings 0.043 of an inch thick for the first and second ring were standard fare, and so was heavy motor oil. Today, low tension rings only seven millimeters thick are quite popular, but if you are running the same oil you were 10 years ago you are robbing those new piston rings of some of their potential performance. Performance oil technology has advanced just like hard parts. It goes back to that balance Speed talks about. And if your engine isn’t balanced you are losing out on either power or durability.

“The old school 0.043 piston ring has a lot of tension, or pressure, against the cylinder wall,” Speed explains. “So you need a thicker oil to keep the piston ring from scraping all the oil off the cylinder wall. But with the newer seven-millimeter ring, you don’t have as much tension, so if you keep that same oil, all you are doing is making it more difficult for the piston and ring to move up and down the cylinder bore, costing you horsepower. Modern oils with better resistance to heat and improved lubrication qualities like those in Driven’s lineup allow you to run lighter-weight oil than ever before while also improving protection.

piston rings“The same thing is true for the other corners of our triangle,” he adds. “For example, you can try to cut some internal friction by making the cylinder walls smoother by taking away the depth of the grooves in the crosshatch. But if the cylinder bore is super smooth and flat and you don’t leave any valleys in there, you are going to have to use a thicker oil. It has to be more ‘clingy’ than normal, otherwise you won’t have enough oil remaining in the upper cylinder bore region to maintain good ring seal. Because you’ve gotten rid of the valleys in the crosshatch, there isn’t any place for the oil to hang on to, so now you have to raise the viscosity to make up for it. But increasing the viscosity raises the internal resistance in the engine. Not only is it tougher for the rings to move through that film of oil in the cylinder bore, but it also makes it more difficult for the oil pump to push the oil through the engine. So the result of trying to create super-smooth cylinder walls to cut friction can actually raise friction in other ways throughout the engine and wind up costing you horsepower.”

CYL FINISH_1It turns out that the right combination of cylinder bore crosshatch and lightweight oil is even better for ring life than a smooth cylinder bore and thicker motor oil–so you can have the best of both worlds. The key to a good cylinder hone –one that allows oil to cling to the cylinder bores without causing unnecessary friction with the piston rings– is to cut “valleys” without any “ridges.” A good engine machinist will use a series of honing stones to cut the crosshatch into the bore and then go back with a finer stone and knock down any ridges the rougher stones created.

The idea is to make the engine run as efficiently as possible. There is only a finite amount of power in a drop of gasoline, but no one has ever been able to turn all of that chemical energy into mechanical energy. In fact, in an internal combustion engine, most of the energy is lost to heat and friction. The good news is that plenty of power can be found simply by helping an engine work more efficiently.

“A good ring seal is efficiency,” Speed says. “The fuel will make the power, all we have to worry about is getting that power to spin the crankshaft and not blow it down into the crankcase.”

Going back to the old school 0.043-inch thick rings, Speed points out that the formula to get this to work in a 350 cubic inch V8 with a 6,000 rpm redline making 400 horsepower is relatively simple. In a motor running 10W-30 motor oil, it is pretty easy to get the rings to seal up and run without issue. But there’s also plenty of power being lost to heavy components and friction between the rings and the cylinder bore.

piston rings3“Now let’s take that same motor as a baseline and try to build a nine or ten thousand rpm race engine,” Speed adds. “Those 0.043 rings don’t work anymore because that’s too much mass we are trying to move up and down the cylinder. So the rings get smaller and lighter, and the piston has to lose mass too. That leaves less contact area between the rings and the piston’s ring lands to help hold those rings straight. The thinner ring also means there’s less area of contact between the outside edge of the ring and the cylinder wall. On the one hand that means less friction, but it also makes it harder to get a good seal.”

So you can see just a few of the challenges that come with trying to build a high horsepower engine. It’s a lot tougher to find that right balance of factors than it is with the 400 horsepower engine. If the 400 horsepower motor is walking down the sidewalk, finding the right balance for a 10,000 rpm race motor is walking a tightrope. Getting that extra power with the same displacement is possible by increasing the efficiency–race teams prove it every weekend–but because components have to move faster while weighing less and still maintaining the same cylinder sealing capabilities, the precision required ramps up as well. “Hey,” Speed adds, “it’s pretty hard to fall off the bottom of a mountain, but it’s awfully easy to fall off the top.”

And it’s not just the oil guy stressing the importance of finding the correct motor oil to match the rings and cylinder bore crosshatch. Keith Jones of Total Seal Piston Rings says proper oil selection is critical to helping the rings do their job.

“No matter how much you want it to be true, there is no single ring that’s the best for every situation,” he says. “Whenever I talk to a customer, my first questions are always, ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘What’s your application?’

Sunnen Engine Honing“Take, for example, a twin turbo application,” Jones adds. “On a performance engine like that you can have cylinder pressures of several thousand PSI. But you have to remember that the cylinder pressure is trying to get behind the ring and push it right through that thin boundary layer of oil on the cylinder wall. If we choose an oil that’s too thin, that cylinder pressure is going to push the rings right through that boundary layer of oil and the rings are going to fail in no time. Too thick and you are wasting energy and causing other problems. You have to consider the cylinder wall to be a bearing surface just like the main and rod bearings because the ring has to be able to ride along the cylinder walls on a film of oil. You wouldn’t put a zero-weight motor oil in a Top Fuel engine because you know the rod bearings are going to come crashing right through that film of oil and into the crankshaft’s rod journal. It’s the same thing with the piston ring.”

When you pull out all the stops, it is actually quite amazing how precise modern machining methods can be when preparing a new block. Top-flight engine builders for NASCAR Cup teams and other professional racing organizations use equipment that allows them to be incredibly precise. The result: once the engine is fired for the first time, there is practically zero break-in required. That’s why you may hear that Cup teams break in their engines using the same synthetic oil that they race with. But just because they do it, that’s doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good idea for you and your new engine.

00106The equipment required–including diamond honing stones–to prepare a block to the NASCAR Cup level is incredibly expensive and simply out of the budget for most of us real-world folk. Instead, by using a quality break-in oil, you can protect the engine while helping the rings to seat as quickly as possible. Essentially, during those first few minutes of operation the engine finishes the final bit of machine work that Cup teams spend so many thousands of dollars to do themselves. The trick is to use a motor oil during the break-in process that helps the engine to break in quickly (seat rings, mate tappets to camlobes, etc.) while also providing optimum protection during what is a very stressful time for engine components.

“A lot of guys think that break-in oil is just about protecting a flat tappet valve train,” Speed says. “But our break-in oil is also formulated chemically to help a new engine seat the rings quickly without doing any damage to either the rings or the cylinder walls so that the engine winds up at the same place as the big-money race engine. There’s a lot more to our break-in oil than simply throwing in a lot of zinc to protect a flat tappet camshaft.”

One specific application where engine builders can often improve ring seal–resulting in both more power and longer engine life–is methanol burning race engines. Methanol is an alcohol and doesn’t have the same lubricating qualities as gasoline. In fact, methanol can actually be corrosive to metal surfaces, making it a tricky fuel to work with.

As a way of protecting themselves, engine builders working with methanol will often add a “top lube” or “upper cylinder lubricant” to the fuel itself. The idea is to help keep the upper portion of the cylinder walls from being washed clean of oil by the methanol by actually adding lubricant into the fuel itself. But this can cause more problems than it solves, Speed says.

In past decades a top lube may have been necessary, but modern motor oil formulations are more resistant to methanol and capable of properly protecting a methanol-burning engine. In fact, use of a top lube can actually harm the motor oil.

CAST RING FACE“Top lube is usually just two-cycle oil or something very similar to it,” Speed explains. “Since it mixes with the fuel, it can’t have additives in it, and it doesn’t lubricate as well as a good motor oil. But some of it will get blown past the rings and into the crank case where it mixes with the motor oil. Then it dilutes the oil as well as the additives in the oil so that it can no longer do its job as well. We’ve worked with engine builders before who have blamed us because they were seeing a lot of sludge in the bottom of the oil pan during teardown. We tested the sludge trying to find the problem and discovered that the motor oil didn’t contain any of the stuff that was making up the sludge. It was the top lube getting into the crankcase and turning into the damaging sludge.”

Speed also points out that top lube can also actually hurt ring seal. As we discussed earlier, the most critical moments for establishing great ring seal is when the engine is first fired up. In order for the rings to properly seat, there must be some friction to help the rings mate to the cylinder walls. That’s why a good break-in oil is designed to properly protect an engine while it breaks in without being too slippery. Adding a top lube to the fuel throws off that delicate balance established by the break-in oil to potentially greatly increase the amount of time required to seat the rings. Often, if the rings don’t seat quickly, the seal will never be as good as it could be.

Carb-Defender-single bottle-Web“Your goal should always be to achieve maximum ring seal to make the engine as efficient as possible,” Speed explains. “So the best thing is not to use a top lube. If you are worried about corrosion from methanol, use Driven’s Carb Defender, which protects the fuel pump, carburetor or injectors without adding lubrication to the fuel. And then run a quality break-in oil which will protect the cylinder walls from scuffing and helps the engine finish the honing process so that the rings will seat very quickly. Don’t add any lubricity to the fuel or even the oil during the break-in process.”

The message we got from both Speed and Jones is that sometimes it can be tough to figure out exactly which oil–and ring package, for that matter–is right for your application from reading catalogs or the internet. But that doesn’t mean you are forced to rely on guesswork. The best manufacturers of both performance motor oil and engine components are constantly finding ways to improve engine efficiency and want to help you reap those benefits. So give them a call and get busy building your best engine yet.







Oil Consumption Bulletin

Attn: Late Model Performance Vehicle Owners

RE:  Oil Consumption Problems

A recent Consumer Reports article highlighted the increasing trend of new vehicles that “use” a fair amount of oil, as much as one quart for every 1,200 miles. This problem is particularly apparent in lightweight “OW-” oils often found in performance engines. The reasons for this consumption are not mechanical, such as stuck rings or loose clearances. The reason for this “vanishing oil” is due to a technical term that also starts with a “v”—volatility.

Just like water begins to evaporate before it boils—think of the steam rising off your hot coffee in the morning—your motor oil will also evaporate inside your engine. When motor oil splashes up to cool the underside of your piston, the 500°F piston temperature causes the oil to evaporate. However, not all oils evaporate at the same rate. Typically, motor oils featuring lighter base oils evaporate more quickly at high oil temperatures. Think of pouring gasoline and diesel oil on the ground. Which one evaporates first? The gasoline does because gasoline is lighter than diesel, and so it has a higher volatility.

The scientific test for evaporation tendency is called NOACK Volatility. Some low viscosity base oils will evaporate at a rate as high as 49%. When base oils featuring both low viscosity and high volatility are used to make low viscosity motor oils, the higher volatility results in higher oil consumption.

Obviously, more oil is consumed as more of it evaporates. In high temperature areas, such as on the underside of the piston and in the piston ring zone, higher volatility oils evaporate rapidly. These oil vapors can cause deposits on intake tract runners and valves as the oil vapors travel through the PCV system and out the exhaust system.

Many high performance engines now feature PCV oil separator catch cans in order to catch the oil vapors and prevent these deposits. In fact, the new 2014 Corvette LT1 engine features integrated PCV oil separators. As engines begin to incorporate direct injection, keeping oil out of the PCV system is critical. With direct injection no fuel is available to clean the intake valves, so it is critical to limit the oil vapor.

Advanced synthetic base oils limit volatility, and that reduces oil consumption. The current API SN volatility limit is a maximum of 15%. In comparison, advanced Poly AlphaOlefin (PAO)-based motor oils can have as low as 5% volatility.

Driven Racing Oil™ features mPAO, a next-generation synthetic base oil in all of its performance lubricants. mPAO allows Driven to create lightweight motor oils that retain a high HTHS (High Temperature High Shear) viscosity, making them less sensitive to heat and less prone to the evaporation problems outlined above. For more information on mPAO technology, call 1.8666.611.1820 or visit www.drivenracingoil.com.

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Driven Racing Oil™ And Engine Builder Magazine Announce Performance Engine Builder Of The Year Award

Huntersville, NC – For the second consecutive year, the Engine Builder Performance Engine Builder of the Year Award sponsored by Driven Racing Oil™ will be presented at the Advanced Engineering Technology Conference in December.

Performance builders of all types are eligible to be named the 2013 Performance Engine Builder of the Year. Engine builders can nominate their own shops, or others can nominate performance engine building businesses. The contest rewards the best example of creativity and innovation, training and education, merchandising and promotion, professional standards and conduct, appearance, solid business management, community involvement, business growth, achievement and victories. The nomination process is easy. All that is required from those submitting nominations is basic information about the engine builder and a 300-word maximum essay detailing why the business should be nominated. A group of semi-finalists will then be selected from all entrants. Finally, a panel of judges will select three finalists, and from there the Performance Engine Builder of the Year will be chosen. Panelists include representatives from Engine Builder and Driven, along with other experts in the performance aftermarket. The grand prize includes $1000, a trophy, three nights of accommodations during AETC in Indianapolis, an Apple iPad and a feature story in the January 2014 issue of Engine Builder. Second and third place will receive prizes as well. To nominate a business, visit www.topperformanceshop.com.

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Driven Racing Oil™ LS30 Addresses Unique Lubrication Demands Of GM LS Engines

Huntersville, NC – LS30 motor oil from Driven is designed to specifically address some of the unique needs of GM LS-based engines.

With LS cam failures on the rise, many of the problems can be traced back to improper lubrication, or at the very least, insufficient lubrication that has not kept up with performance modifications. Driven’s LS30 High Performance Oil helps solve those lubrication issues. The oil protects LS engines by utilizing the right viscosity for optimum flow upon start-up, thereby eliminating hydraulic roller lifter ticking, yet it doesn’t break down as temperatures rise. This provides both proper protection and allows for consistent VVT system operation. LS engines are also notorious for allowing oil blow-by through the PCV system—even in factory configurations. LS30 is a low-volatility oil which reduces the amount of vapor migrating through the PCV system, which in turn reduces oil consumption and its negative effects. In addition, Driven LS30 features a high-zinc content to protect aggressive cam profiles, and the advanced synthetic formula delivers high-temperature protection. Driven Racing Oil™ LS30 High Performance Oil is available in a 5W-30 weight configuration.


Buy LS30 Synthetic Oil Now

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Oil Consumption & Volatility Explained

Ever torn down a motor and seen oil in the intake manifold? How about an intake valve dirtier than an exhaust valve? Ever wondered how that happened?

The one word answer is Volatility. This fancy sounding word basically means how much vapor a motor oil releases when it gets hot. You know how water vapors rise off a pot of water before it begins to boil? The same thing happens to you motor oil inside your engine. As oil splashes onto the pistons and valve springs to keep them cool, the high temperature causes some of the oil to evaporate.

So what does this have to do with oil in the intake? Well, modern engines have a Positive Crankcase Ventilation valve that vents these oil vapors into the intake manifold. These oil vapors now condensate in the cool air/fuel mixture, which leaves the oily deposits in the intake manifold and on the intake valve.

Check out the new 2014 Corvette engine. Since this engine is direct injected, there is no fuel to wash the oil down the intake manifold and to help prevent excessive intake valve deposits. So what did GM do? They installed an oil separator in the PCV line that condensates the oil and drains it back into the engine before it gets into the intake stream.

So if you don’t have a 2014 Corvette, what can you do? For starters, using a lower-volatility motor oil is the first line of defense. Simply put, the fewer the oil vapors, that much less oil gets into the PCV system in the first place. The result is more oil kept in the crankcase where it belongs. The second thing you can do is install an aftermarket PCV line oil catch can.

These two steps will reduce the amount of oil getting into the intake tract. Obviously a cleaner intake valve will flow more air for better power and fuel economy. These steps also reduce oil consumption, which helps to protect O2 sensors and catalytic converters from damage due to excessive oil consumption.

The key is using low-volatility base oils in the motor oil formula. Conventional refined crude base oil has volatilities in the range of 20 to 30% for a typical viscosity motor oil. A traditional synthetic base oil drops that volatility down to 14%, but even newer synthetic base oils drop the volatility down to an incredible 5%. Unfortunately for the OEM car companies, the supply of these ultra low-volatility oils is limited, so while they are a technical solution, they are not a practical one on a global scale. Fortunately for the enthusiast market, supply of the ultra low-volatility base oil is sufficient to cover the needs of the high performance crowd.

This ready supply enables specialty oils like Driven LS30 and FR20 to reduce oil consumption AND contain more ZDDP for better engine protection. The O2 sensors and catalytic converters don’t know how much ZDDP is in the motor oil because it stays where it should be – in the crankcase lubricating your engine. LS30 can contain 50% more ZDDP since the volatility is 67% less than standard base oils. The higher quality base oil delivers better all-around protection and performance.