Oil Additives 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Improving your engine’s performance doesn’t always need to involve expensive parts or accessories. Sometimes using simple oil additives can enhance the performance of your car’s engine without needing to spend a fortune to do it.

In case you’re unfamiliar, oil additives are a mixture of chemicals added to lubricants and motor oils to aid in reducing the damage done on engine components, enhancing the efficiency of fuel usage, lowering emissions, and enhancing engine performance and extending its lifespan.

Now I get that you may not have a PhD in oil additives, so I’ve written this guide to help explain in laymen’s terms what exactly oil additives are and why they are really important to use in any car or truck. I’m also going to go into detail on which oil additives are available and how well they perform, or for some, don’t perform. I’ll also go over what the best oil additives are for your specific engine’s current condition.

So by the time you read all of this, you should clearly understand what oil additives are, why you need to be using them and which ones are the best oil additives available on the market at this time. So read on…

What Are Oil Additives?

As the name implies, Oil additives are man-made synthetic chemical compounds that are designed to boost the lubricating properties of your engine’s normal motor oil.

This is because over time, non-synthetic motor oil breaks down due to be heated in the engine. When the oil breaks down, it loses a lot of its ability to lubricate correctly. This is where oil additives can help the oil stay stable thus extending the life of your oil and saving you money while doing it.

And extending the life of your motor oil isn’t all these additives can do. Depending on what your engine needs, you can choose from additives that include detergents, dispersants, viscosity improvers, pour point depressants, rust inhibitors, extreme pressure agents, antifoaming agents, and friction modifiers all designed to enhance your oil and car’s overall performance.

  • Detergents prevent hazardous residues from accumulating on pistons and valves.
  • Dispersants help keep surfaces free of sludge, varnish, and other deposits. They are used to break down any contaminants in your oil into tiny droplets that will float in the oil until it’s changed.
  • Pour point depressants help reduce the viscosity at which a liquid (in this case, oil) begins to solidify upon cooling after it’s been heated. 
  • Rust inhibitors prevent rust and corrosion on interior components such as the pistons, rings and heads of your engine.
  • Antifoam chemicals prevent the formation of foam produced by fast-moving liquids, while friction modifiers reduce internal drag, which results in the improvement of your engine’s fuel efficiency and a decrease in emissions.

Oil additives are crucial to the overall smooth performance of any engine, gas or diesel. His comes down to their long laundry list of functions and the advantages they offer, such as extending your engine’s lifespan, lessening pollutants, improving fuel efficiency, and reducing the damage that can hinder your engine’s performance.

Benefits of Using Oil Additives

Oil additives often work on a molecular level and sometimes it’s even hard to tell how hard they are actually working. This makes them essential for every car owner who actually cares about the wear and tear they save your engine from on a daily basis by minimizing the stress on your engine’s moving parts, decreasing its fuel intake, and prolonging its overall lifespan.

There are two primary uses for engine oil; Engine oil keeps your engine running smoothly by reducing friction between moving parts and preventing rust and corrosion on metal surfaces. Oil additives can also help reduce engine noises like lifter ticks.

The problem is engine oil that hasn’t been treated with oil additives breaks down quickly and stops functioning the way it was intended. For  example, if you’ve ever owned a brand new car, chances are it ran perfectly for a while and you never needed to even think about the oil doing its job correctly.

While on the other hand, if you’ve owned that car for years, or you’ve bought a used car before that had a lot of miles on it, you know from looking at the oil change the oil is often thick and dark, almost looking like charcoal. This is all due to all the impurities that are ‘stuck’ or suspended in the oil itself.

And that’s where oil additives come in. They may not be able to reverse the damage that’s already been done, but they can definitely improve the situation by cleaning out any rust or corrosion that’s accumulated over the years thus improving the vehicle’s performance.

And engine performance isn’t the only plus oil additives add to your car. They also make your car greener, or more eco-friendly, an important buzz word these days by drastically cutting harmful emissions.

How many times have you seen a car driving down the road spewing out a ton of white or black smoke? I bet they weren’t using oil additives. And now the engine has probably sustained too much damage to be repaired easily or cheaply.

And speaking of repairs, oil additives can end up saving you a ton of money by minimizing engine wear that results when heated metal parts aren’t properly lubricated. This situation also puts stress on the entire engine which again results in more costly repairs more often.

Then there is the cost of fuel. Gas is expensive. And the harder your engine needs to work to achieve the same performance levels, the more gas it’s guzzling along the way. And of course that means more money going into the tank and out of your pocket.

So there are many benefits when it comes to using oil additives. Everything from decreasing costly repairs, saving the environment, to saving money at the pump. For a low cost application, oil additives can save you big.

Choosing the Right Oil Additive

Each type of the oil additives you can purchase comes with its own set of positives and negatives. And there are plenty of choices when it comes to what type of additive you can get.

Detergents, dispersants, viscosity improvers, pour point depressants, rust inhibitors, extreme pressure agents, antifoam agents, and friction modifiers are only a few of the most common. And both synthetic and conventional motor oils are both compatible with all of them.

But one word of caution here, don’t buy a cheap oil for your car and expect an oil additive to make it a thousand times better, rather buy quality base oil products and enhance its natural qualities with an oil additive.

Although friction wear can be mitigated with conventional oil additives, synthetic oil offers superior protection against oxidation and extreme temperature stability while regular natural oils tend to deteriorate more rapidly under severe heat or cold than their synthetic counterparts do, resulting in less effective performance.

For normal engine use in a newer car, a simple dispersant and rust inhibitor product is often the best oil additive to buy. This is because your car’s engine shouldn’t have much build up or other problems, so here were are using preventive maintenance to improve the quality of the oil rather than including harsher chemicals that aren’t necessary.

But for older cars, or cars that are already showing signs of engine problems like emitting smoke on start up or while you’re driving will need a more inclusive oil additive.

In this situation the inclusion of detergents, dispersants and friction modifiers will do more to help your car’s motor to run smoothly than other oil additive options.

All of these types of additives have specific benefits and drawbacks; nevertheless, when utilized properly in conjunction with motor oils, they can offer excellent engine protection. Budgetary considerations, weather or temperature, and personal preference will all factor into whether you opt for a synthetic or conventional oil additive.

Risks and Side Effects of Using Oil Additives

There are certain potential dangers and harmful effects associated with the improper or excessive use of oil additives, despite the fact that they can improve engine performance. Read more about how they work here.

Sometimes due to age and improper care of the engine and infrequent oil changes, a buildup of sludge on the engine’s internal parts can start to break away too rapidly and in larger parts than the oil can handle when oil additives are used. This can lead to damage, decreased performance, and increased fuel consumption. 

When this happens, frequent oil changes are necessary to ‘flush out’ the contaminants and allow the additives and oil to work more efficiently. If you don’t change out the oil frequently enough during this process, it’s possible to do more damage to your car than not including an oil additive at all.

It’s also crucial to use oil additives in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent any unwanted damage or side effects. This includes not using more than the suggested amount or a product that isn’t designed for use with the motor oil your car uses. 

Always understand that oil additives should be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions due to the risks and damaging effects they can have when their directions aren’t followed and too much of the additive is used or too often. And even though there are plenty of benefits when you use an additive for the right reason, remember they can be just as bad for an engine when used in the wrong way.

How to Use Oil Additives

Including oil additives in your regular maintenance schedule is a great way to guarantee peak performance of an engine and extended its life. They’re also helpful in making older cars more Eco-friendly and saving you money at the gas pump. 

But before you start pouring anything into your engine, be sure to read and understand your chosen product’s instructions thoroughly. Once you understand how the product you’ve chosen is supposed to be used, gradually add your additive over the course of a couple of days so your car can get the most out of its effects. 

Pour in 10% on the first day, then slowly add 20% daily until you have reached the right amount. This will give the additives a chance to fully incorporate into the oil, which can help improve your car’s performance without overwhelming it.

Most experts advise using between 1 and 2 ounces of oil additive for every 5 quarts of motor oil that your car’s oil reserve holds. And the additive should be used every time you do an oil change so it is mixed with fresh oil and has a chance to work as best that it can.

Oil additives, when used in conjunction with routine engine maintenance, can assure top performance from a vehicle’s engine without exposing it to the wear and tear that could result from the excessive use of oil additives or a lack thereof.


As you can see, oil additives can significantly improve engine performance, help fix common problems and increase the lifespan of your vehicle when you use them as they were intended to be used. So take the time to learn about the different types of additives and their intended uses so you know which one your car’s engine needs most. 

You should always also be paying attention to the recommended limits, application frequency, and manufacturer’s instructions in order to to get the most out of these oil additives.

When integrated into your car’s regular maintenance program, oil additives can improve engine overall performance and prolong the engine’s life while saving you a lot of time and money in the long run.


As a user of The Automotive Men (theautomotivemen.com), please note that we participate in the Amazon Associates Program. This means that “As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” We are not directly sponsored or endorsed by Amazon, but our website may contain affiliate links that provide us with a commission when you make a purchase through them. Thank you