The guys on Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters have exposed some pretty incredible myths.

But when it comes to debunking some of the most common motor oil myths, you’d be hard pressed to find a better source than Driven Racing Oil. Formulated by the engine gurus at Joe Gibbs Racing, Driven Racing Oil motor oil and break-in oil have protected Joe Gibbs’ 9,000-rpm, flat-tappet engines for over 500 miles of competition.

Those same Joe Gibbs engine gurus recently set the record straight on four common motor oil myths:

Myth #1: Viscosity Equals Protection

As much as 70 percent of the wear on an engine occurs at start up, according to Driven Racing Oil.

A thinner, lower viscosity oil flows more easily right at startup and gets to those critical areas more quickly. Because of that, a thinner oil can actually do a great job of reducing the wear an engine sees when it is first cranked. Plus, that lower viscosity helps free up some horsepower because the oil pump doesn’t have to work as hard to move the oil throughout the engine.

While a thicker, higher viscosity oil does usually provide a stronger film surface to protect the bearings, advanced chemistry has enabled modern motor oils to provide superior protection with lighter weight viscosities.

Myth #2: More Additives Are Always Better

According to Lake Speed Jr. of Driven Racing Oil, there are chemicals in many common additives that actively counteract the effects of other additives.

That means these additives have to be carefully matched to ensure they will work with one another.

And more of one particular additive isn’t necessarily better either. For example, the popular Zinc additive ZDDP is recommended for use on engines with flat-tappet camshafts, because it provides a protective barrier between the cam lobes and lifters. However, more Zinc doesn’t mean more protection. Instead, an extra helping of Zinc only means the additive will last longer before it’s used up.

Myth #3: Reducing Friction = Reducing Wear

The common myth of breaking in a new engine is that new parts need to “wear” in.

“The problem with this myth is that people often don’t realize that there is a very real difference between reducing friction and reducing wear,” Speed said. “While it sounds like the same thing, it’s not. ZDDP is a great example. It is very important for the break-in process, especially if you are using a flat tappet camshaft, to use the right type and amount of ZDDP because it reduces wear. But ZDDP doesn’t reduce friction.”

Synthetic oils are designed to reduce friction, and your engine needs friction to get the ZDDP to activate and help “chemically” mate the parts without wearing out the parts during the break-in period. Low friction motor oils, especially synthetics, are designed to reduce friction which will substantially lengthen the amount of time required to break in an engine.

Speed says that a well-designed break-in oil prevents excessive wear while quickly mating the parts. This approach reduces wear and completes the break-in process faster.

Myth #4: Racing Oil is Always Better

Even if you have a high-horsepower engine built using a lot of racing components, that doesn’t mean an oil formulated for racing will be the best choice.

You must consider the application.

Since street engines—even high-horsepower engines—rarely go above part throttle, they don’t usually push oil temperatures high enough to boil off contaminants. Remember, racing oils contain very little detergent and are designed to be changed after every few races, so contaminants can build up quickly if you follow the standard 3,000-mile oil change rule for the street.. Eventually, these contaminants can damage the cylinder walls, leading to blow-by and poor oil control.

Lake Speed Jr. and the Driven Racing Oil team have a lot more to say about the “racing oil myth”—and the three other myths. Check out their full article for additional, expanded information.


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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.