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THE GREAT OIL DEBATE: AMSOIL
by Ed Newman
Appeared in the February 2001 Issue of American Iron Magazine
AMSOIL: Manufacturer of the first API rated synthetic motor oil offers experience and insights
The cover of the most recent Forbes ASAP exclaims in
large red letters, "What Is True?" The magazine chooses a theme for each
issue and in an age of information, misinformation and disinformation, it
comes as no small surprise that people are confused about almost everything.
Contradictions and competing viewpoints abound. No question about it, it's
not easy being a consumer sometimes.
Nowhere is this more of a problem than in the area of
motorcycle lubrication. On the one hand bikers are told by equipment
manufacturers that automobile oils are not capable of protecting their
bikes. On the other hand, a synthetic motor oil company like AMSOIL has
been providing motorcycles with superb performance and protection for nearly
three decades. What's a motorcyclist to believe?
This spring Donny Petersen defended, even recommended, the use of synthetic motor oils. In November Harley-Davidson responded, taking Donny to task and challenging many of his assertions. A rebuttal by Chuck Goldmann (ExxonMobil) provided readers with an excellent overview of synthetic motor oils and their advantages over petroleum.
I'd like to commend American Iron for creating this
opportunity for the exchange of ideas regarding the care and feeding of our
machines, and to Donny's courage in putting his convictions down in black
and white as a starting point. It's always easier to say nothing than to go
on record and
This article is a response to all three of the
abovementioned articles. AMSOIL synthetic motor oils were the first API
rated synthetic motor oils in the world when introduced in 1972. With
nearly three decades of experience, and documentation, AMSOIL can make a
contribution to this
My premise is this: Everyone knows synthetic oil is
better than refined petroleum. Why not use it?
SYNTHETICS OFFER SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE AND PROTECTION
The advantages of synthetic motor oils are well known and have been written about for decades. I have SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.) papers in my files that repeatedly endorsed the various benefits of synthetics. Whether extended service life, improved fuel economy, increased power, reduced friction and wear, resistance to breakdown, better low and high temperature protection, you name it, the documentation is out there. The studies have been done.
All of this leads one to ask a couple fundamental
questions. Is the Harley V-Twin engine different from all other engines in
the world? Is there something so unique with a Harley engine that all of
the lubrication rules that apply to all other four stroke engines must be
thrown out the window?
Yes, theirs is air-cooled and can run hot. For this
reason alone one would think it even more important to have a premium
synthetic motor oil.
One of Donny's comments that bears repeating came near the conclusion of his April column. "The Motor Company didn't reinvent the air-cooled engine and, therefore, its engines don't require specially formulated, Harley-only fluids." This summary remark stands at the crux of the debate.
DUAL QUALIFIED OILS
There were two topics which the previous writers waded
into with great detail which I would like to re-visit briefly here: dual
qualified motor oils and additive chemistry.
Historically, one of the biggest problems AMSOIL has
faced when selling motor oils to the motorcycle market has to do with this
notion that automobile oils can't be used in motorcycles. Chuck Goldmann
did an excellent job of explaining how some motor oils might not be suited
There are actually two issues here. The first is that
the motor oil be capable of meeting both passenger car and diesel
performance requirements. The second issue has to do with the use of
friction modifiers. The truth is that friction modifiers have never been a
real performance issue. OEMs (bike manufacturers), however, created such a
strong public perception against them that in 1998 AMSOIL re-formulated its
two leading oils for the motorcycle market. Later, because of the continued
misinformation that an automobile oil cannot be used as a motorcycle oil,
AMSOIL took the last step of producing two grades of AMSOIL synthetic
Public perceptions and fears can drive consumer
behavior, whether true or not. Last year's Millennial Day Meltdown fear
resulted in tremendous sales of generators and packaged dried foods. The
fear driving this debate revolves around the question of whether it is
acceptable or safe to use anything but Factory oil.
All of the articles presented chemistry lessons. I'm not sure how important many of these details are for riders, but it is fascinating for those of us who are so inclined.
Do we really need a chemistry degree in order to choose a motor oil? No. But it's good to remember that all motor oils are not created equal.
It is unlikely that any major motor oil company today
is going to produce a really bad product. But is “adequate” what riders
really want? If you are going to change it frequently, if you are going to
be a kind, tame rider who never gets on the throttle, well, Harley-Davidson
Oil is just fine, as most motorcycle oils probably are. But if you're the
kind of rider who puts your machine through its paces, who makes
modifications that bump your horsepower to the next level, if you're
cranking it up and you want to know your engine has the protection it needs,
or simply want the best, a premium synthetic motorcycle oil is the lubricant
Here's how I see it. Additive chemistries are just
that: additives. They are chemicals that have been added to the base
stock. These chemicals have various functions. But the final product can
only be as good as the foundation you build on. Quite honestly, there would
be no synthetic motor oil market if the only thing you needed to do to get
premium performance from crude oil was put some chemicals in it. The fact
is, petroleum has its limitations. All oils are not created equal.
A premium product does not end with the base stock.
Additive selection makes a difference. Chuck Goldmann notes that not only
is selection important, the process of assembling the motor oil is also
important. In short, you want an experienced manufacturer who understands
the interrelationship of the various components of the lubricants being
produced. It is not simply a matter of putting ingredients together.
Harley-Davidson noted, correctly, that "you cannot
distinguish between a good motor oil and a better motor oil by additive
metals analysis alone." Remember, though, that this is not the same as
saying additive metals don't make a difference. The truth is a manufacturer
can skimp on certain chemicals to keep costs down and consumers will not
notice anything, even though there are consequences. I would like to use an
example from a different industry that readers may understand.
In the realm of house paint, not all paints are created equal. If you take a really cheap white paint, you may need three coats of paint to cover a medium colored surface. If you take a very high end professional paint, you can cover that surface with one coat. I once painted a black door white with a single coat of premium high quality paint. All of these paints look white inside the pail. But the high quality paint has a higher additive content. By increasing the amount of titanium white, an additive, you can get better coverage. This additive is expensive, however, and people often do not wish to pay the price, so paint manufacturers produce low end products to satisfy the consumer who wants to buy on price. Savvy consumers who value their time are willing to pay more to get the better, one-coat coverage.
When it comes to additives, AMSOIL spends more so that
the oil exceeds, not simply meets, the demands of a long life lubricant.
High TBN, and sufficient zinc and phosphorous, helps reduce engine corrosion
and wear, increases oil service life and reduces maintenance costs.
REAL BENEFITS FOR RIDERS
What does all this mean for readers? There are two very real and noticeable benefits for bikers who use a premium synthetic motorcycle oil like AMSOIL. First, the engine runs cooler. Reduced friction results in cooler operating temps. If you are riding hard out on the desert or stuck in city traffic in L.A., you can definitely feel the heat from your hog. What can you do? You can't install air conditioning. You can use a premium synthetic and run perceptibly cooler.
The second benefit, extended drain intervals and longer
service life, is appreciated by many AMSOIL users. Instead of having to
change the oil midway through the season, you simply change the filter. The
oil's additive package is beefy enough so that the oil is good to go for up
to three times the equipment manufacturer’s recommendation or one year,
whichever comes first. If you are uncomfortable with extended drains you
can still change at normal intervals and needn't have fear if inconveniences
cause you to go beyond your normal oil change interval.
Another, less noticeable but very real benefit of a
beefy additive package in a synthetic is this: at the end of the year,
bikers in northern tier states also appreciate knowing that the
anticorrosive characteristics of a premium synthetic are better than their
petrol counterparts. There is less likelihood of rust and pitting on parts
inside the engine as it sits idle through the winter.
A major concern many riders have had pertains to the warranty issue. Harley Davidson has created the impression that if you are a rider who uses any oil besides Harley-Davidson oil, you will void your warranty. Many motorcycle shops believe this to be the case, although the writer of the November Harley-Davidson article indicates that "in a pinch Harley-Davidson recommends that a rider use one of the API C category oils as a substitute for Harley-Davidson 360." Nevertheless, the impression is out there that the warranty will be voided if you use another product, and since the bike has cost a good chunk of change, no one really wants to gamble with that much money on the table. Fortunately, there is a law called the Magnusson-Moss Act that says, in layman’s terms, an OEM cannot require a consumer to use an OEM part or fluid in order to maintain warranty coverage unless that part or fluid is provided free of charge.
I can't speak for other oil companies, but I can say
that AMSOIL warrants its oil against lubrication related failure. We have
28 years experience and wouldn’t be in business today if engine failures
were a problem. We have more experience with synthetics and extended drain
intervals than anyone in the industry.
Don, in his April column, wrote: "There is nothing wrong with Harley oil, and it is a good fossil oil to run in your bike. It is just that modern marketing can be very skillful in making the consumer paranoid about using anything but the manufacturer's suggested oil. There are better oils out there. Period." Right on, Donny. I can't agree more.
It would appear that Harley-Davidson has not made it a
goal to empower riders to make choices. They have made a marketing decision,
forced reliance on Harley-Davidson. Is this what riders want? Do riders
really want to be stuck with no options regarding motor oil selection? Do
riders want to be forced to use inferior oil when they know other products
can provide better protection, reduce heat, increase horsepower?
They say it is not a marketing issue, however, Harley-Davidson has chosen not to help their customers use other products. There are no factual reasons for this. Their oil does not offer the benefits of a synthetic, and it is clearly a marketing move.
A lot of riders change ignitions and make other modifications to run their Harleys at higher RPM, modifying their bikes to get more horsepower. This puts more stress on the engine, creates more heat. These modifications may also present warranty problems as well. Perhaps even a majority of riders modify their bikes to increase performance, and most really ought to be using a higher performance motor oil. It would appear that Harley-Davidson is not interested in helping these riders.
With more heat generated, oil breakdown does occur. The
graph on oxidation performance in the December issue shows a shocking
difference between HD 360 and Mobil 1 V Twin oil. This chart and many other
tests for benchmarking performance prove emphatically the superior
capabilities of synthetic motor oils. Why, then, has Harley-Davidson
refused to promote the performance benefits synthetics offer? It might be
that being affiliated with one oil supplier for so long has slowed
Harley-Davidson’s adoption of advancements in lubrication technology.
Synthetic motor oils offer numerous performance advantages over conventional petroleum based products. For this reason, in nearly every other market – from trucks to cars to heavy duty equipment to sport vehicles – synthetics have been greeted with increasing enthusiasm. The technology is proven. The benefits are many. There seems to be no good reason why motorcycle owners should be discouraged from embracing this trend.
Interested in becoming an AMSOIL Dealer?
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