Most of todays lubricants contain some combination of additive components which are designed to provide the proper performance in a given application. Some lubricants may need only a single component, such as a rust inhibitor, but others require complex mixes of a number of different components. Engine oils are a particularly intriguing mix of chemistries that, taken together, provide the protection and performance modern engines require to do their job.
Broadly, an additive does one of three things: It protects the base oil, enhances base oil properties or protects the surfaces that it contacts. There are some which are multi-functional, providing more than one facet of the protection and enhancements required for an engine oil.
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Over the years a number of different oil marketers have touted their additive systems as unsurpassed, unequaled or some other superlative in an effort to capture a greater share of the engine oil marketplace. Consider, for example, the old Pennzoil Z-7 program which dates to the early 1950s. For those too young to remember, Z-7 was shorthand for a set of performance components in the oil: 1) Pour point depressant; 2) oxidation inhibitors; 3) antiwear; 4) rust and corrosion inhibitors; 5) detergent/dispersants; 6) friction modifier; and 7) antifoam.