Why Today’s Advanced Engines Require Advanced Oil

Modern automotive engines eclipse their predecessors in nearly every category. They deliver more power and torque, use less fuel and produce fewer emissions – all in smaller, lighter and more reliable packages.

A host of technologies – most pioneered decades ago – make today’s engines possible. Automakers are increasingly using turbochargers, direct injection (DI), variable valve timing (VVT) and other advancements that help meet today’s strict CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) and emissions requirements while dramatically increasing power and fuel economy.

Engines are producing twice the horsepower they were 25 years ago, yet they are half the size. This quantum leap in performance, however, comes at a price that the motor oil ends up paying. Oil today must:

• Resist elevated heat without breaking down. Average engine operating temperature is up to 235ºF, and even higher under heavy loads.
• Resist deposits and sludge so intricate engine systems can function properly and last as designed.
• Neutralize increased contaminants and provide protection throughout today’s longer drain intervals despite smaller sumps and oil filters.

Conventional oils are quickly being left behind.

What’s Old is New

Most of these “breakthrough” technologies are nothing new. Automotive fuel injection and turbocharging, for example, date to the 1920s. Carl Benz designed an engine using aluminum – far lighter than cast iron – in 1901. Lack of metal-working knowledge and high prices doomed widespread use of aluminum, while mechanically operated fuel-injection systems were simply too inefficient and difficult to control to overtake the carburetor.

When aluminum prices dropped after World War II, automakers experimented with lighter, more efficient engines. Buick introduced an all-aluminum small-block V-8 in 1961. Land Rover debuted an all-aluminum engine based on the Buick design in 1967. Use of aluminum culminated with the aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 introduced in 2015, which shaves up to 700 pounds compared to previous models, saving fuel.

Electronic Age Sparks Improvement

As revolutionary as lighter materials have been, the advent of electronics has been the most critical development. Modern engines cannot function without an engine control unit (ECU) regulating

ignition timing, air/fuel mixture, fuel injection, idle speed, variable valve timing and other functions. The ECU gathers data from an array of sensors – mass airflow sensor, throttle-position sensor, oxygen sensor and several others – and adjusts engine parameters based on split-second calculations.

Direct Fuel Injection (DI)

Fuel injection didn’t reach its potential until the age of electronics. Traditional port-injected fuel systems took off in the 1980s. They improved fuel economy and cold-weather starts, signaling a step ahead in engine design.

Modern direct injection goes a step further. DI delivers more accurate and rapid distribution of atomized gasoline. While traditional fuel-injection systems spray fuel into a manifold, DI systems locate the injectors in the combustion chamber, which enables much more control over the amount and timing of fuel injection, improving combustion efficiency. Spraying the fuel directly into the chamber also provides in cylinder cooling, which helps allow higher compression ratios, increasing efficiency. DI engines use a mixture of 40 parts (or more) air to one part fuel during light loading, while traditional gasoline engines use a mixture of 14.7 parts air to one part fuel. The 40:1 ratio means less fuel is burned during combustion, resulting in better fuel economy.

Direct-InjectionWhat it does:                                  Offers greater control over fuel delivery, improving power and efficiency

How it challenges motor oil:           Increases heat and the potential for fuel to contaminate oil

Amsoil advantage:                          Maximum heat resistance, excellent protection despite fuel contamination


Electronics have also allowed precise tuning of turbochargers. Ford* EcoBoost*, GM* EcoTec* and Ram* EcoDiesel* engines, for example, rely on turbos to increase performance. Most vehicles today include at least one turbocharged engine as an option.

Turbos push more air into the combustion chamber, and tuning for efficiency can improve fuel economy, especially when combined with other technologies, such as direct injection (DI). Operating at up to 150,000 rpm, turbos create extreme operating temperatures that can cause low-quality oils to quickly break down, creating deposits and shortening the life of the oil.                                                                                  turbochargerWhat it does:                    Introduces more air into the combustion chamber, increasing efficiency and power

How it challenges motor oil:  Increases heat, which hastens chemical breakdown

Amsoil advantage:    Max.resistance to heat and chemical breakdown, promoting long turbo and engine life

Variable Valve Timing (VVT)

VVT has steadily grown since the late-1990s, and can now be found in nearly all 2011 and later vehicles. VVT permits the opening and closing of valves to occur sooner, or be delayed, relative to the position of the piston. This makes it possible to achieve optimal fuel economy and performance at low speeds and when passing someone on the highway. It also results in lower emissions.

Many VVT systems use oil-pressure-operated mechanical devices to change valve timing, duration and lift. They are generally non-serviceable, and many common problems associated with VVT systems are linked to poor oil or filter performance. Sludge or deposits can plug the solenoid screen or oil galleries and impact the operation of VVT mechanisms. This not only disrupts performance, it can be the first step toward a costly repair bill.

Cam-Shaft-Moving-Pistons-300x297What it does:                          Allows finer control over valve timing, improving airflow and increasing efficiency

How it challenges motor oil:  Uses components sensitive to sludge and deposits

Amsoil advantage:                 Superior resistance to sludge and deposits helps VVT systems operate properly

At one time, using high-quality synthetic motor oil was considered a luxury. No longer. Maximizing the life and performance of sophisticated modern engines leaves no room for low-quality conventional oils. AMSOIL boasts more than 40 years formulating synthetic lubricants that meet or exceed the requirements of the most demanding engines.