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How Engine Sludge Forms. And How To Prevent It.

Engine Sludge Is Easily Avoidable

Engine sludge.

It’s a back gelatinous substance that wreaks havoc in engines. And long before the engine’s demise, engine sludge can foul engine sensors and interfere with performance. Some mechanics call it the “black death.”

How does motor oil, which is fluid, become a semi-solid paste or gel inside an engine?

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • How engine sludge forms
  • The effects of engine sludge
  • Synthetic oil helps prevent engine sludge
  • High-quality additives fight engine sludge
  • Severe service invites engine sludge

How engine sludge forms

Engine sludge is the result of a series of chemical reactions.

The lubricant degrades as it is exposed to oxygen and elevated temperatures. The higher the temperature, the more rapid the rate of degradation. In fact, every 18°F (10°C) increase in temperature doubles the rate of oxidation.
Many people still believe any oil is fine as long as you change it often but 95% of the brands out there do not address that inch of protection when you really need it!! We’ve all had issues where the engine is overheating or some situation where adequate lubrication isn’t available. AMSOIL offers 75% more protection when you need it and our diesel oils offer 6X more protection than required by industry testing.

The by-products of this reaction form highly reactive compounds that further degrade the lubricant. Their by-products react with other contaminants, forming organic acids and high-molecular-weight polymeric products. These products further react, forming the insoluble product known more commonly as sludge.

What begins as a thin film of lacquer or varnish deposits on hot or cold metal surfaces and bakes into an expensive mess.

The effects of engine sludge

Sludge can block the oil passages and oil-pump pick-up screen, resulting in oil starvation. Often, the negative effects are cumulative rather than sudden.

Many engines with variable valve timing (VVT) use oil-pressure-operated mechanical devices to change valve timing, duration and lift. Sludge can plug the solenoid screen or oil gallies and impact the operation of VVT mechanisms, eventually leading to a costly repair bill. Sludge reduces efficiency and increases time and money spent on maintenance.

Who doesn’t want a cooler engine? Sludge, even the early stages prevents the engine from dispersing heat efficiently. Why would you risk a Group III “synthetic” which does leave deposits adding to or resulting into an engine which struggles to exhaust heat.

Synthetic oil helps prevent engine sludge

Fortunately, sludge and varnish deposits are something oil manufacturers can control. Using thermally stable synthetic base oils reduces the rate of degradation (oxidation). (Yes – and that is “Real 100%” Synthetics – not the ones they currently call “Fully”..

Anti-oxidant additives help reduce the rate of degradation as well. One of the most widely used is zinc dithiophosphate. Not only is it an excellent oxidation inhibitor, it is an outstanding anti-wear additive as well.

High-quality additives fight engine sludge

We can further address many of the issues occurring after the initial oxidation stage.

Additives, such as detergents and dispersants, are commonly part of motor oil formulation. They help promote the suspension of contaminants within the oil and keep them from agglomerating.

Detergents, which are also alkaline in nature, assist in neutralizing acids generated in the sludge-building process. Anti-oxidant, dispersant and detergent additives are consumed during use.

To achieve maximum life expectancy, use an oil with high concentrations of anti-oxidant, dispersant and detergent additives.

AMSOIL Signature Series Synthetic Motor Oil, for example, has 50 percent more detergents* to help keep oil passages clean and promote oil circulation. It provides 90 percent better protection against sludge**.

Signature Series Synthetic Motor Oil was subjected to the Sequence VG test to measure its ability to prevent sludge. Signature Series produced an oil pick-up tube screen virtually free from sludge. Our unique combination of detergents and high-quality base oils control oxidation and sludge to keep engines clean and efficient.

PDF of the test where AMSOIL has this done (Southwest Research)

AMSOIL Signature Series virtually prevented engine sludge on this oil pick-up screen.

Buy Signature Series

Severe service invites engine sludge

Equipment operating conditions also influence the likelihood of sludge or varnish issues.

Stop-and-go driving, frequent/long-term idling and operation in excessively hot or cold weather can increase the likelihood of sludge and varnish, especially if using more volatile conventional oils. If sludge has already formed, you can use an engine flush to clean sludge from your engine.

Interestingly, most auto manufacturers note in their owner’s manual that operation under any of the above conditions is considered severe service and requires more frequent oil changes.

From a mechanical standpoint, things like adding too much oil to the oil sump, antifreeze contamination, excessive soot loading, excessive oil foaming, poor engine-combustion efficiency, excessive blow-by and emission-control-system issues can all lead to the formation of sludge and varnish.

By practicing good maintenance and using properly formulated, premium synthetic lubricants, like AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, your vehicle won’t succumb to the “black death.”

Taking it a step further which many of our customers do – to make sure your vehicle is always running in peak condition one thing is to have your oil analyzed. I do it not so much to see how the oil is doing but to measure what may be going on in the engine to deplete detergents or to test for any out of typical wear levels, fuel in the crankcase, and to see if the viscosity is still on par.  Oil analysis kits are easy to use especially when you have the dipstick extraction pump.

*vs. AMSOIL OE Motor Oil
**Based on independent testing of AMSOIL Signature Series 5W-30 in the ASTM D6593 engine test for oil screen plugging as required by the API SN PLUS specification.

Is an Engine Flush Good or Bad?

Should you be concerned using Engine Flush?

To flush or not to flush. (One of our best sellers here in Sioux Falls)

It’s a question whose answer is obvious in the bathroom, but vigorously debated in the garage.

Let’s get right to the point. Is an engine flush good or bad?

Spend a few minutes perusing online forums and you’ll find a range of answers to this question, often involving a 1980s Trans-Am, Camaro or other car that someone thrashed on for years, parked in a pasture for a decade and now wants to revive with an engine flush.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is an engine flush?
  • How deposits and sludge form
  • Can engine sludge be removed?
  • Is an engine flush necessary?
  • Engine flush as part of maintenance
  • 5 benefits of an engine flush
  • Engine flush products
  • Watch: How to do an engine flush (video)

What is an engine flush?

An engine flush is an aftermarket chemical additive designed to clean accumulated deposits, sludge and other gunk from your engine. You pour it into your engine’s oil-filler port and idle the engine for about 10-15 minutes. It mixes with the oil and circulates through the engine, helping dissolve sludge and clean deposits. Then, you drain the oil (along with much of the gunk, in theory), change the oil filter, add fresh oil and return to the business of driving.

How deposits and sludge form inside an engine

If it did its job, your engine’s performance will return to the heady days of its youth, when it delivered maximum power and efficiency. Over time, however, harmful deposits and sludge may have accumulated, causing power and performance loss.

The tiny openings in the oil pickup tube screen can easily plug with sludge, starving the engine of oil.

Deposits and sludge can form for several reasons, including…

  • Frequent short trips that don’t allow the oil to fully warm up and evaporate moisture
  • Ingestion of air-borne dirt
  • Fuel dilution
  • High heat breaking down the oil

As it settles, sludge can clog narrow oil passages or the screen on the oil pickup tube, restricting oil flow to vital parts, especially the upper valve train. Deposits can cause the rings to stick, reducing engine compression and horsepower.

Can engine sludge be removed?

Yes. The proper detergents in the correct concentration can dissolve engine sludge, deposits and varnish. Ideally, sludge won’t form at all; however, sometimes mechanical issues arise, such as a leaking head gasket, and the formation of sludge occurs. If sludge does form, the oil’s detergents help dissolve and disperse sludge to clean the engine.

This is more challenging than it sounds. For starters, the oil must perform several functions, not just help prevent engine sludge. For that reason, oils contain a limited concentration of detergents (compared to an engine flush product) to ensure room in the formulation for other additives that protect against wear, fight oxidation, combat rust and more.

An engine flush product, on the other hand, is designed solely to clean. AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, for example, contains nothing but potent detergents, making it a more effective cleaner than motor oil. Plus, it cleans at the molecular level, ensuring deposits are dissolved and properly exit the engine with the oil when it’s drained. This is important since some motorists fear that an engine flush will free large chunks and cause an avalanche of debris to clog passages inside the engine. AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush guards against this scenario.

Is an engine flush necessary?

A good engine flush can help loosen deposits and dissolve sludge, returning your engine to like-new condition. However, in old engines with high miles, sludge may be the only barrier keeping oil from seeping through worn or cracked seals. Removing the sludge exposes the seals for what they really are – junk. Soon, your engine begins leaking oil, and you’re mind instantly associates the engine flush product with an oil leak.

In reality, the seals were already bad; the flush simply revealed their true condition.

If you suspect your vehicle falls into this camp, leave well enough alone and skip the engine flush. It’s probably not worth trying to revive an engine in such poor condition without first fixing the bad seals or other defects.

In effect, you’re choosing your problem: either sludge and deposits robbing performance or, if you clean the engine, the seals showing their true condition.

An engine flush is part of a good maintenance regimen

But that’s not to say an engine flush is never a good idea. In fact, it’s often the first step in helping restore a neglected vehicle to top-notch performance. And, often when you buy a used vehicle, that’s what you’re getting – a vehicle whose owner found antiquing on Saturday afternoon more enjoyable than changing oil or dropping the transmission pan. Consequently, your “pre-owned” ride, while not complete junk, may boast a sketchy maintenance record.

In these cases, a potent, detergent-based flush can help prepare the engine for new oil, loosening sticky valves or rings and helping remove harmful sludge. While not a required step when switching to AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, we do recommend flushing your engine if you want to give your vehicle a fresh start.

5 benefits of an engine flush

1. Prepares your engine for new oil

An engine flush helps loosen sticky valves or rings and remove harmful sludge and other contaminants. By cleaning the engine prior to installing fresh oil, you ensure the new oil functions as intended and delivers maximum protection. The oil won’t last as long or protect as well if it must contend with sludge and deposits from the previous oil.

By the way, we don’t require use of AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush before switching to AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, but we recommend flushing your engine if you want to give it a fresh start.

2. Helps increase fuel efficiency

Contaminants circulating throughout the engine can lead to oil breakdown and increased viscosity – and higher-viscosity oil requires more energy to circulate throughout the engine. Sludge and deposits on engine parts can also increase resistance, which wastes fuel to overcome. Cleaning the engine helps ensure parts move efficiently, maximizing fuel economy.

3. Helps reduce emissions

If deposits in the piston-ring lands cause the rings to stick, oil can migrate into the combustion chamber, where it burns. This not only leads to harmful deposits, it also increases exhaust emissions as the burned oil exits the tailpipe. A good engine flush helps free stuck rings and reduce oil consumption, in turn reducing emissions.

4. Helps reduce heat

Excessive heat is bad for your engine and the oil. Extreme heat reduces engine efficiency while increasing the rate at which the oil oxidizes (chemically breaks down). Sludge and deposits act as insulators that prevent the engine from dissipating heat as designed. Flushing your engine helps ensure it manages heat properly for optimum efficiency and oil life.

5. Convenience

This might not apply to every engine flush, but it applies to AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush. It delivers results after just one application. And it only takes 10-15 minutes to use. Plus, you can safely use it in gas or diesel engines and automatic transmissions. While some solvent-based flush products require a cumbersome disposal process, AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush uses a detergent-based formulation. As such, you can dispose of it easily with waste oil.

Cylinder head pre-cleanup. Note the sludge around the valve springs and push rod openings.

Post-cleanup with AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, the cylinder head is noticeably cleaner.

Engine Flush Products: I use AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush

For the record, I’ve used AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush on three different pre-owned vehicles in my time, and it’s worked great. One of them, a 1999 Honda CR-V, accumulated more than 220,000 miles before rust forced me to replace it. Another, an Oldsmobile Intrigue, ran great until a computer problem forced me to trade it off…for the CR-V. The third ran great, but I sold it off after it, too, rusted out.

In sum, flush your engine if you want to give your vehicle a new lease on life. AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, as the name indicates, also works great for cleaning automatic transmissions. Check out this post to determine if a transmission flush or pan drop is better for you. But if you have any reservations about disturbing sludge or deposits that may be holding your old, high-mileage engine together, consider skipping it. It’s up to you.

How to do an engine flush

If you are looking for the best way to flush your engine this weekend, here’s a quick video that will walk you through the process, courtesy of MyJeepStory.

Signature Series Battles Sludge

Signature Series Battles Sludge

The health of your engine depends on motor oil circulating quickly and efficiently through the system, but sticking components and obstructed passages inhibit motor oil from lubricating, cooling and protecting your engine. Engine “sludge” occurs when oxidized oil and contaminants build up on engine surfaces. It can restrict the flow of oil to the point of engine failure and costly repairs.

Warehouse note: The so called “fully synthetics” which are mostly group III’s or a combination of a majority group II and a fraction III ($3.50 synthetics)  to a majority III and a fraction of IV ($8.50 synthetics) – all based on price and what the stock holders allow to be used for a desired profit.. Note that all of these WILL leave deposits in the form of sludge. Turbocharged engines must avoid these brands which include the silver one shaped like a shampoo bottle. 

Sludge: Where It Starts & How It Ends

  • The valve cover and oil pan are generally the first areas sludge appears.
  • The oil pick-up tube screen is often the next spot it accumulates, impeding oil flow through the system.
  • What begins as a thin film of lacquer or varnish deposits eventually bakes into an expensive mess.

 

The Sequence VG Engine Test

Engine failures due to sludge are often caused by a clogged pick-up tube screen – the motor is effectively starved of oil. The Sequence VG Engine Test determines how well an oil resists sludge formation and keeps the lubricant flowing freely throughout the system. The test is required for API SN PLUS – a specification recommended by most domestic vehicle manufacturers.

TEST PARAMETERS

 

Engine Ford* 4.6L V-8
Duration 216 hours
Measures Sludge and varnish deposits, piston ring sticking, clogged oil pump screens and roller pin wear
Simulates Taxi, delivery or commuter vehicle service
Requirement Oil pick-up tube screen limited to 10 percent blockage

 

The Results

Signature Series Synthetic Motor Oil was subjected to the Sequence VG to measure its ability to prevent sludge. As expected, Signature Series produced an oil pick-up tube screen virtually free from sludge (see image). Our unique combination of detergents and high-quality base oils control oxidation and sludge to keep engines clean and efficient.

 

Signature Series has 50 percent more detergents1 to help keep oil passages clean and promote oil circulation. It provides 90% better protection against sludge2.

Warehouse Note: Thankfully our efforts here in Sioux Falls have made the Signature Series our top seller and on the minds of many who want their investment to remain like new beyond 250,000 miles. People are realizing that it’s not all about change frequency as a non “true synthetic” can cause damage in just 10 miles in GDI engines due to LSPI.. Not to mention why I adopted AMSOIL back in the day – the added power and performance!!

1 vs. AMSOIL OE Motor Oil
2 Based on independent testing of AMSOIL Signature Series 5W-30 in the ASTM D6593 engine test for oil screen plugging as required for the API SN PLUS specification.
*All trademarked names and images are the property of their respective owners and may be registered marks in some countries. No affiliation or endorsement claim, express or implied, is made by their use. All products advertised here are developed by AMSOIL for use in the applications shown.

How Engine Sludge Forms. And How To Prevent It.

How Engine Sludge Forms. And How To Prevent It.

It’s ugly. It’s sludge.

Sludge.

It’s a disgusting phenomenon. Even the word sounds gross, like the thing it’s describing. The word for this is onomatopoeia, a strange word that many of us learned in high school English class. Splash. Grunt. Whoosh. Swish. Hiss. Frumpy. You know what I’m talking about.

What is sludge?

Sludge is a black gelatinous goo that renders equipment inoperable if not dealt with. And long before the engine’s demise, sludge can foul its sensors and interfere with performance. Some mechanics call it the “black death.”

How does motor oil, which is fluid, become a semi-solid paste or gel inside an engine?

How engine sludge forms

Essentially the formation of engine sludge is the result of a series of chemical reactions. The lubricant itself degrades as it is exposed to oxygen and elevated temperatures. The higher the temperature, the more rapid the rate of degradation. The by-products of this reaction form highly reactive compounds that further degrade the lubricant. Their by-products then react with other contaminants, forming organic acids and high-molecular-weight polymeric products. These products further react, forming the insoluble product known more commonly as sludge. What begins as a thin film of lacquer or varnish deposits on hot or cold metal surfaces eventually bakes into an expensive mess.

Synthetic base oils help prevent sludge

Fortunately, sludge and varnish deposits are something we oil manufacturers have a measure of control over. Using thermally stable base oils reduces the rate of initial degradation (oxidation). A good example of this is the use of common synthetic base oils such as API Group III, PAOs and Esters. Anti-oxidant additives help reduce the rate of degradation as well. One of the most widely used is zinc dithiophosphate. Not only is it an excellent oxidation inhibitor, it is an outstanding anti-wear additive as well.

So do high-quality additives

We can further address many of the issues occurring after the initial oxidation stage. Additive chemistry such as detergents and dispersants are commonly part of motor oil formulation. They help promote the suspension of contaminants within the oil and keep them from agglomerating. Detergents, which are also alkaline in nature, assist in neutralizing acids that are generated in the sludge-building process. Anti-oxidant, dispersant and detergent additives are consumed during use. To achieve maximum life expectancy, use an oil with high concentrations of these additives.

Severe service invites sludge

Good lubricants minimize sludge and varnish issues. How the equipment is used also has a bearing on the likelihood of sludge or varnish issues.

Stop-and-go driving, frequent/long-term idling and operation in excessively hot or cold weather can all increase the likelihood of sludge and varnish, especially if using more volatile conventional oils.

Interestingly, most auto manufactures note in their owner’s manual that operation under any of the above conditions is considered severe service and requires more frequent oil changes. From a mechanical standpoint, things like adding too much oil to the oil sump, antifreeze contamination, excessive soot loading, excessive oil foaming, poor engine combustion efficiency, excessive blow-by and emission-control-system issues can all lead to the formation of sludge and varnish.

By practicing good maintenance and using properly formulated, premium synthetic lubricants, like AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, your vehicle won’t succumb to the “black death.”

LOOK UP MY VEHICE

 

All ADVANCED AMSOIL products are available NOW in Sioux Falls at your full time AMSOIL store: The Synthetic Warehouse at 4610 W. 12th St. Sioux Falls, SD 57107

Just 1 block west of I29! 605-274-2580