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A Defining Moment For Synthetics, by Katherine Bui, Lubricants World, 1999

Back in 1999, Castrol and Mobil 1 fought over what could be advertised as “Synthetic.” The result had far-reaching effects on the automotive lubrication industry across the world. I was recently able to pull up the original article on a few other AMSOIL dealers’ websites and figured I’d add it here as well for convenience.

Part 1

While the field is not wide open, a new ruling confirms that the definition of “synthetic” is still largely in the hands of marketers.

Synthetic. The word has become almost a proscription in the industry, especially among scientific and technical organizations, such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Ask a marketer of motor oil products formulated with hydroprocessed mineral oils, and you might get a definition that involves cost-efficiencies and consumer choices. Ask an engineer involved in manufacturing polyalphaolefins (PAOs) or esters, and composition might be the determining factor. Despite the intense debate over the origins of synthetics, an absolute definition has remained in limbo for many years, with much of the responsibility placed on base oil manufacturers and lubricant marketers.

It was only recently, in a decision by the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, that the first basic action and ruling in the United States set a strong precedence for a broader description in the marketing of synthetics. In this first installment of a two-part story, Lubricants World takes a look at the NAD’s ruling and explores the revived debate surrounding the definition of “synthetic.”

The Ruling
In a ruling released April 1999, the NAD addressed complaints filed by Mobil Oil Corp. regarding the truthfulness of Castrol North America Inc.’s claim that its Syntec® provides “superior engine protection” to all other motor oils, both synthetic and conventional, and that Syntec’s esters provide “unique molecular bonding.” Mobil charged that the advertisements inaccurately represented that the current formulation of Syntec is synthetic. The challenge was filed based on statements Castrol made in a series of television commercials, Web site publications, package labels, and brochures.

The NAD divided its decision to address three issues raised in the complaint. Is the reformulated Syntec synthetic motor oil? Has Castrol substantiated its superiority claims? Has Syntec been degraded?

Synthetic?
The NAD determined that the evidence presented by the advertiser constitutes a reasonable basis for the claim that Castrol Syntec, as currently formulated, is a synthetic motor oil. NAD noted that Mobil markets hydroisomerized basestocks as synthetic in Europe and elsewhere. NAD noted that the action taken by the SAE to delete any reference to “synthetic” in its description of basestocks in section J354 and API’s consequent removal of any mention of “synthetic” in API1509 were decisions by the industry not to restrict use of the term “synthetic” to the definition now proffered by Mobil. Further, the SAE Automotive Lubricants Reference Book, an extensively peer-reviewed publication, states base oils made through the processes used to create Shell’s hydroisomerized basestock, severe cracking, and reforming processes may be marketed as “synthetic.”

Superior?
Despite its prior ruling, the NAD advised that Syntec could not advertise a superior protection claim.

Degraded?
The NAD determined that though Mobil presented clear evidence that Castrol has made a major change to Syntec’s formulation, it was not sufficient to demonstrate that Syntec has been “degraded.”

Industry Reaction
In a statement to Lubricants World, Castrol’s legal counsel said, “The NAD’s decision was clearly correct. In accepting Castrol’s position on the appropriate definition of synthetic basestock and concluding that Castrol Syntec is a fully synthetic oil, the NAD accepted the overwhelming evidence Castrol presented, which included the opinions of leading scientists . . .and statements from Shell, Exxon, and other industry sources. The NAD also relied on the SAE’s rejection of a restrictive definition of the type advanced by Mobil. In fact, although it had the right to do so, Mobil did not attempt to appeal the NADS’s decision.”

Mark Sztenderowicz, a senior research engineer from Chevron Products Co.’s Base Oil Technology Team, stated his company agreed with the NAD’s decision. “We feel strongly,” he said, “that ‘synthetic’ is a fairly broad term and a number of basestocks besides PAOs fit the description. To the extent that the NAD came to a similar conclusion and was unwilling to limit ‘synthetic’ to a narrow definition, we agree. We further agree with what we consider to be a commonsense interpretation that consumers perceive the word ‘synthetic’ to mean something man-made, but not made necessarily from a particular compound or component.”

Mobil’s Position
Mobil contended that Castrol misleads consumers that Syntec is a fully synthetic motor oil despite the fact that Syntec is no longer synthetic. The challenger alleged that after years of manufacturing Syntec with PAO, Castrol replaced the PAO, which had constituted nearly 70% of the volume of the product, with hydroprocessed mineral oil in approximately December 1997. As a result of an independent laboratory test conducted by Savant Inc., Mobil maintained that samples of Syntec purchased in June and December 1997 contained 93% and 80% PAO. Other samples of Syntec, one purchased in December 1997 and four purchased in 1998, contained no PAO, and instead contained 100% mineral oil.

Furthermore, Mobil alleged that Castrol degraded Syntec by substituting hydroprocessed mineral oil for PAO to the detriment of the consumer. Even though Syntec was able to meet the minimum industry standards, Mobil contended that in no way does it prove the current Syntec is as good as it was when it was made with PAO.

Castrol’s Position
Castrol defended its claim that Castrol Syntec is synthetic based on the nature of the basestocks used in the formulation (Shell’s hydroisomerized basestocks). This is substantiated by the opinions of chemistry experts; authorities from Shell and Exxon; the SAE’s Automotive Lubricants Reference Book; a paper by Dr. Martin Voltz, a Mobil scientist; and an independent motor oil expert. Castrol also contends that its data show the current formulation of Syntec provides more protection than the old formulation and is, in fact, superior to Mobil 1®, Mobil’s synthetic oil.

In response to Mobil’s contention that Castrol deceived its consumers by not informing them of the change in the formulation, the advertiser submitted a statement by Richard Kabel, a motor oil expert. Kabel asserted that motor oil manufacturers, including Mobil, regularly make changes in their formulations without disclosing these changes to consumers. He stated that the industry certification and licensing program is designed to provide motor oil manufacturers with the flexibility to modify their formulations as long as the oil continues to meet industry standards.

The Definition of “Synthetic”
The debate regarding the use of the word “synthetic” created a tumult in the early 1990s when a push by the lubricants industry urged the API and the SAE to set a standard or official definition for the material. The argument centered on the development of very high viscosity index (VHVI) base oils that some argued provided properties similar to PAOs but cost only half as much. VHVIs or hydroisomerized basestocks are created by chemically converting the molecules of a selected feedstock to a different set of molecules, predominantly through chemical rearrangement or decomposition of the structure of the feed molecules. PAOs are derived from a chemical process that combines small molecules to make larger complex molecules of a desired type.

SAE, unable to resolve the debate, stripped references to the word “synthetics” from its terminology books and guides (J357) in 1995 and 1996, respectively. The API eliminated references to “synthetic” from its Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System (API1509).

Mobil’s Definition
In the complaint filed by Mobil against Castrol’s Syntec, the PAO manufacturer contended true synthetics had to be formulated from small molecules subject to a chemical reaction, not built from natural petroleum.

Mobil submitted testimony from Professor J.M. Perez, a lubrication and technology expert from Pennsylvania State University, who told the NAD that true synthetics require “the formation of chemical products from simple well-defined molecules by synthesis or chemical reaction.” Perez cited isomerization, reforming, hydrotreating, and hydrocracking as some of the many chemical and physical processing steps applied to petroleum to produce a variety of useful products, but said that they do not produce synthetic products. He argued that hydroisomerization does not create synthetic material because it does not create or build molecules, but merely rearranges the same molecules that were present in the original petroleum fraction.

Professor O.L. Chapman, an expert in synthetic chemistry from the University of California, also testified that synthetic materials are constructed from pure compounds that are themselves not natural and that the resulting synthetic material has well-defined properties. PAO and ester, he said, are built from pure small molecules that have already been subject to a chemical reaction, and are not built from natural petroleum.

Mobil also asserted that the definition of synthetic propounded by Castrol is contrary to the definition used by other motor oil manufacturers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under the EPA’s 40CFR435.11(x), “the term ‘synthetic’ material. . . means material produced by the reaction of a specific purified chemical feedstock, as opposed to the traditional base fluids such as diesel and mineral oil, which are derived from crude oil solely through physical separation processes.”

The challenger also noted that Exxon, on its Web site, stated that a synthetic lubricant is a “lubricating fluid made by chemically reacting materials of a specific chemical composition to produce a compound with planned and predictable properties. . . .” Similarly, Mobil contended Chevron, Lubrizol, Mobil, Valvoline, and Quaker State all disseminated definitions of synthetic that did not include hydroisomerized oil.

The challenger argued that Castrol does not even meet the definition of synthetic oil that it disseminates on its own Web site. Castrol’s definition reads, “synthetic lubricants are manufactured chemicals . . . created in the laboratory by combining molecules” and “a lubricant produced by synthesis rather than by extraction and refinement.” Mobil asserted that, in fact, Syntec meets Castrol’s own Web-posted definition of mineral oil: “oil that is manufactured from crude oil by a series of refinery processes.”

Despite the fact that the label does not contain the claim that Syntec is a fully synthetic motor oil, Mobil contended that Castrol’s television commercials, brochures, labels, Web sites have created an automatic association for consumers that any Syntec product is a synthetic oil. In response to Castrol’s assertions that SAE changed its definition of synthetics to include mineral oils, Mobil asserted that SAE’s legal administrator, Steven P. Daum, has stated, “SAE has neither issued an official definition of, nor adopted a Society position on, what does or does not constitute such materials. SAE does not render opinions on what products may be marketed or advertised as synthetic motor oil.”

Furthermore, Mobil contested Castrol’s claim that Section J357 of SAE’s “Physical and Chemical Properties of Engine Oils,” described the basestocks used in manufacturing motor oils, recognizes Shell’s hydroisomerized basestocks as synthetic. The challenger claimed the section is a general guide to engine oil properties and that the current version does not define or even use the word “synthetic.” Mobil also argued that Castrol’s assertion that SAE’s Automotive Lubricants Reference Book supports hydroisomerized oil as synthetic is misleading. Mobil contended the book expresses the views of the authors and not that of SAE.

Castrol’s Definition
Castrol distinguished “synthetic” from “conventional” oil in its definition. Conventional oils, according to Castrol, are taken from the ground, purified, and refined without reforming through chemical reactions. Castrol described synthetic oils as made with stocks in which the molecular structure of a substance, such as wax, has been broken apart and transformed through a chemical reaction to create a new molecule that is different from naturally occurring substances.

Castrol called Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman and Frank H.T. Rhodes, professor of chemistry at Cornell University, who defined synthetic material as “the product of an intended chemical reaction.” Hoffman also defined at least one major chemical transformation (reaction) in its manufacture of processing, but a simple “physical separation, purification, or transformation (e.g., freezing or boiling) does not constitute a synthesis.”

Sir John Meurig Thomas of the Royal Institute of Great Britain reached a similar conclusion, stating that although there is no net increase in the size of the molecule in hydroisomerization, this does not prevent the process from creating a synthetic substance. Furthermore, he noted the act of isomerizing a linear paraffin into a branched-chain paraffin makes the process of producing Shell’s hydroisomerized basestock as much of a synthesis as the buildup of larger hydrocarbons from smaller ones.

J.G Helpinstill, who works for Exxon in basestock and finished-product research and development, stated that it is appropriate to classify as synthetic materials that are not found in the earth’s naturally occurring resources in commercial quantities, but instead are made by substantive chemical modifications of other naturally occurring or physically recoverable substances.

In 1993, Castrol asserted SAE was asked to exclude hydroisomerized products from the definition of synthetic basestocks by defining synthesis as involving the buildup of larger molecules from smaller components. The SAE, according to Castrol, decided in 1995, as did the API, to revise its guidelines to eliminate any definition of synthetic. The advertiser contended Mobil’s challenge before the NAD is really an effort to reopen a debate previously lost in these industry organizations. Furthermore, Castrol contended the SAE’s Automotive Lubricants Reference Book states that base oils made through severe cracking and reforming processes may be marketed as synthetic.

Castrol also maintained that basestocks like shell’s hydroisomerized basestock are marketed as synthetic in 37 countries, including the United States, and that Mobil’s real interest is in protecting its market dominance. The advertiser argued that Mobil, through its alliance with British Petroleum, has also marketed hydroisomerized basestocks as synthetic in Europe and elsewhere.

In a private interview with Lubricants World, Castrol’s legal counsel from Paul Weiss said, “As the NAD recognized, the scientific and industry consensus view is that synthetic basestocks are manufactured through an intended chemical reaction in which the molecular structure of a substance has been transformed. Synthetic basestocks are used to produce engine oils that meet high performance specifications.” Furthermore, he contended the NAD’s decision confirmed that the use of judiciously chosen synthetic basestocks is essential to the formulation of a fully synthetic engine oil that meets the exacting performance standards consumers have come to expect from synthetic engine oils.

He said, “The NAD recognized, therefore, that both composition and performance are important characteristics of synthetic lubricants. Castrol requires that its Syntec full-synthetic engine oils meet those exacting performance specifications and surpass the performance of conventional products.”

Industry Reaction
In Lubricant World’s discussions with several lubricant companies, the case raised a diversity of opinions.

An industry expert from a major oil company prefers a description of synthetic used by the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE), which defines synthetics as man-made compounds, not naturally occurring, and that combining low-molecular-weight materials via chemical reaction into higher-molecular-weight structures makes these products. The spokesperson said, “In our opinion, that responsibility [of placing the accountability of defining synthetics in the hands of manufacturers or lubricant marketers] will yield an inconsistent application of the basestock, and inconsistencies in finished-product quality will result.”

He also argued that based on PAO synthetic products, the emphasis should be based on performance rather than composition. “This is not to imply,” he suggested, “that the only way to achieve enhanced performance is through the use of PAO. In Europe, for example, oil is formulated on various quality tiers, where the consumer is informed about what each tier will accomplish in his automobile (extended drains, high-RPM engines, etc.). The North American lubricant market has a long way to go to develop this type of market.”

Sztenderowicz, however, applies the definition in Webster’s Dictionary in the chemical context. The dictionary defines synthetic to mean, “of, relating to, or produced by chemical or biochemical synthesis, especially produced artificially,” with synthesis defined as “the production of substance by the union on chemical elements, groups, or simpler compounds or by the degradation of a complex compound.”

Chevron Products Co. manufactures a VHVI line of unconventional base oils (UCBOs) at its Richmond base oil plant. Based on these definitions, Sztenderowicz said, “Both Chevron PAOs and UCBOs fit this description.” He noted the definition clearly links synthetics to composition or origin, but not to a specific composition, origin, or manufacturing route. “We think that a basestock in which the molecules largely are altered in some way from those appearing in the raw materials might be classified as synthetic,” Sztenderowicz explained. “Performance is an issue separate from whether or not the base fluid is considered synthetic. The association is based entirely upon marketing claims. In the real world, the performance of a lubricant is a function of both the base fluid and the additives which make up the product. Although most synthetic basestocks offer certain advantages relative to conventional stocks, superior performance is not guaranteed by their use.”

Henkel Lubricant Technologies refers to the traditional definition described by ASTM D 4175 from the American Society for Testing and Materials. In this case, synthetic is defined as originating from the chemical synthesis of relatively pure organic compounds from one or more of a wide variety of raw materials. Henkel produces ester basestocks used in the manufacture of synthetic or synthesized lubricants, including polyolesters, diesters, and dimer acid esters. A spokesperson for the company said, “we feel the definition of synthetics should include a combination of performance and composition.”

Motiva Enterprises LLC defines synthetics as “man-made, not naturally occurring.” Motiva manufactures Group III base oils known as TEXHVI 3 and 4. A representative of the company said “The definition of synthetics should be based on how it is derived.”

None of the independent manufacturers contacted by Lubricants World said they had heard of the case or judgment. Denny Madden of Amalie Oil Co., which buys and manufacturers finished goods using both PAOs and VHVI basestocks, said “Personally, I have always ad a strange feeling about calling one slice of crude oil synthetic when the very nature of refining is a synthesizing process. I understand that there needs to be a way of differentiating between basestock types and that more mechanical, physical, and chemical activity takes place when one makes PAOs and other so-called synthetic stocks, but all crude is synthesized to make any number of very different products, lubricating or otherwise. So, how do I feel about the subject? Confused!”

Outcome
Castrol North America Inc. has agreed to modify its superior engine protect and “unique molecular bonding” claims in advertising for its Syntec motor oils, but continues to advertise the product as a synthetic. Castrol says it is in the process of further upgrading and reformulating Syntec. Castrol’s legal counsel added separately to Lubricants World, “The NAD’s decision does not make any changes. Instead, it confirms a preexisting consensus reached by industry groups, experts, and scientists.”

A Mobil spokesperson told Lubricants World that “Mobil is disappointed with the NAD’s decision that, in its judgment, Castrol Syntec can be advertised and marketed as synthetic motor oil. Mobil filed the challenge in order to protect consumers and the integrity of fully synthetic motor oils. Mobil 1, the top-selling fully synthetic motor oil in the world, provides several important benefits not offered by conventional blended or hydroprocessed motor oils — benefits that can significantly improve engine performance, even under extreme conditions.” Mobil currently does not have any plans to appeal the ruling.

Industry experts had mixed reactions to the impact of the decision on developing an industry-accepted definition for synthetics. A Henkel spokesperson said, “If the technical societies adopt the broader definition of synthetics, it will force more performance-driven specifications in the market and the term ‘synthetic’ will become meaningless.” One industry expert described, “The market will move in a direction that it has historically and support synthetics as they presently are defined. PAOs will continue to thrive and support the demands of niche markets that require the highest quality basestock available.

Joe Geagea, Chevron base oils products team manager, suggested, “Currently, there is no strict definition in North America of what constitutes synthetic, and we don’t expect this to change. What we really think will come out of this decision is an awareness that several types of stocks, particularly some newer UCNOs, justifiably can be considered synthetic and are viable basestocks for the formulation of top-quality synthetic lubricants. In other words, the decision sends a message that ‘synthetic’ is not synonymous with ‘PAO'”.

 

Part 2

As reported in Part 1 of this story (October 1999 Lubricants World), the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus ruled in April 1999 that Castrol Syntec motor oil can be marketed as a synthetic. The decision followed a complaint filed by Mobil that as of December 1997, Castrol no longer used polyalphaolefins (PAOs) but hydroprocessed base oils to formulate the product. The decision is final, but the impact it might have on the lubricants industry could open the floodgates on how synthetics are marketed.

The PAO commercial market can be traced as far back as the early 1970s, when specialized products were formulated from PAOs. However, it was not until Mobil Oil commercially marketed its Mobil 1 products 25 years ago that PAOs became a major consumer-sought lubricant product.

Since that time, the PAO market has traveled a long and winding road, enjoying slow but steady growth while fending off criticisms of high cost compared to conventional oils. In the last 10 years, the PAO market took off significantly, first in Europe and then in North America, expecting as much as double-digit growth. In part, the growth might be attributed to the stricter specifications in Europe that created a market niche for synthetic and semi-synthetic products. The demand has since extended to North America and other continents.

It was the invention of the hydrockracking process in the late 1950s, followed by Chevron’s development of hydrodewaxing or hydroisomerizing in the late 1980s, that created the process for the development of the hydrorocessed market.

The 1990s brought a change to the hydrodewaxing technology, making large volumes of high-quality basestocks available at lower cost. Much of this capacity is used to produce Group II base oils. The introduction of Group III basestocks made solely through hydroprocessing in 1996 by Chevron, Petro-Canada, and a few other base oil companies created a second generation of very high viscosity index (VHVI) oils in terms of both quality and potential capacity—that is, high-performance basestocks had gone mainstream. These base oils, which cost more than the Group IIs yet less than PAOs, do not usa a solvent-refining process and some say they may have a much higher performance level than conventional oils, almost approaching that of PAOs.
Increased severity of lubricant specifications has been the driving force in both the need and availability of PAOs and VHVIs, but it is still too early to tell in which niche these types of basestocks fall in the marketplace. Nevertheless, the NAD ruling has raised several issues regarding the marketing and application of the word “synthetic” that arguably would resolve some of these discrepancies. In this second of out two-part series, Lubricants World posed the question of the market impact of the NAD decision to a sample of representatives from a variety of segments in the lubricants industry.

Impact on Individual Companies
When asked how the NAD decision might impact individual companies, the answers were as diverse as the products each company markets. Castrol, whose formulation of Syntec utilizing hydroisomerized base oils instead of PAOs initiated Mobil’s complaint, stated it is “gratified” by the outcome of the decision.

“Castrol is proud to be a major worldwide provider of synthetic formulated lubricants, and looks forward to continued participation in this exiting market,” said a company spokesperson. “Castrol is committed to upgrading its products and producing the highest quality synthetic engine oils. We will continue to explore ways to ensure that Syntec remains a leading performer in the synthetic category.”

Mark Pernik from Chevron Chemical said, “To this point, most lubricant manufacturers are taking a conservative approach to the decision and continue to use a PAO in their synthetic formulations. In fact, Mobil has already raised the quality bar by developing a new Mobil 1 Tri-Synthetic PAO formulation. For the past 5 years, Chevron Chemical has produced a new generation of PAOs that enhance performance for longer drain intervals. These products improve on important properties such as VI, oxidative stability, and volatility from traditionally available PAOs.

Joe C. Costa, manager of specialty/niche lubricants at Conoco Lubricants, said, “This decision will have a minimal impact on our company as we are poised to provide the optimum lubricants to meet our customers’ needs, regardless of the marketing definition of ‘synthetic base oil.’ Conoco has made a major decision to commit to heavily hydroprocessed/hydroisomerized basestocks. And yet, we also supply lubricants based on ‘chemically synthesized’ base oils, such as PAOs…We continue to provide a complete offering to our customers so that they always have the highest value product to meet their needs.”

Chevron, which produces both unconventional base oils (UCBOs) and PAOs, believes the impact on its market will depend on customers’ needs and preferences. Joe Geagea, manager of the Chevron Base Oils Products Team, argued, “overall, we expect significant growth in the UBCO segment at some short-term expense of the PAO segment, followed by growth of both segments in the long term.” Brent Lok, Chevron Base Oils Product Development manager, added, “In addition to the expected growth in UCBO sales, our finished-oils colleagues are looking at options for the use of UCBOs in Chevron’s synthetic product lines.”

Henkel, which produces ester basestocks used in the manufacturing of synthetic or synthesized lubricants, could see little impact on the company based on the NAD’s ruling. A Henkel spokesperson said, “Henkel’s products are performance driven and customer focused.”

Ed Newman of added, “AMSOIL has been the recognized leader in the development of synthetic motor oils, and we always strive to maintain the highest performance criteria for our products. For this reason, we do not foresee any negative impact because [our] customers tend to focus more on performance criteria rather than name tags.”

Valvoline’s official position regarding the decision was stated as follows: “Valvoline will not comment on rulings or decisions which impact our competitors. Our own product formulations are confidential for competitive reasons.”

Like many of the independent manufacturers Lubricants World surveyed, Amalie Oil Co., an independent blender and packager for motor oil companies that purchases and manufacturers finished goods using both PAOs and VHVIs, said it had not heard enough about the case to make a judgment. However, Denny Madden of Amalie described the decision as shocking and confusing for the market.

George Crow, president of Cross Oil Refining and Marketing Co., responded to the NAD decisions as follows: “Let’s start off with one very important premise, that motor oil is, after all, mainly a marketing-driven event. We are not talking [about] whether these oils meet the requirements for which they were blended; rather, we are talking about the attack on Mobil’s long-held dominance in the synthetic market. And they built this position around PAOs. If another product actually can give equal performance to PAOs, then Mobil is at a cost disadvantage. It will definitely affect Mobil, being a producer of PAOs…It will enhance the standing of the VHVI producers, which are becoming more numerous. In this case Petro-Canada, Chevron, Shell Europe, Exxon, Texaco, and soon Sun will be able to compete, economically, with Mobil. In the past, this was not the case.”

Crow continued, “Now, after saying all of this, and if Mobil is able to keep their brand image and advertising strong, they will be able to continue to maintain their number one position in synthetics. They may have to reduce their price on PAOs, or have to revert to using all or some VHVI material to economically compete. Or just not make as much money as their competitors will on the sale of a quart of synthetic product. I think this will make PAOs become more competitive with VHVIs and enhance the demand for VHVIs in the future. I think it is a good move for the industry, a good move for Castrol, and an unfortunate event for Mobil. For Cross Oil, it will not have an immediate impact at all. But down the road a bit, if we want to get into the finished-oil package business, it will allow Cross to make more money on the sale of synthetic or semi-synthetic products, assuming PAOs stay at a higher price than VHVIs.”

Impact on the Synthetic Base Oil Market
In the past 7 or 8 years, synthetics, in general, have seen increased activity. One brand that exemplifies this trend has been Castrol’s Syntec, whose market share in the last 5 years has climbed from virtually nothing to 20%. Nearly every major oil company currently has a synthetic product line. Based on this trend, the NAD decision has set a tone that may significantly impact the “synthetic” base oil market, specifically the supply and demand of PAOs and VHVIs.

A Castrol spokesperson assessed, “As the NAD’s decision reflects, synthetic engine oils formulated with high-quality hydroisomerized basestocks—like the basestock used in Castrol Syntec—clearly match the performance specifications of synthetic engine oils formulated with PAO basestocks. For that reason, such stocks have been, and will continue to be, competitive with PAO basestocks. Castrol believes that consumers will continue to benefit from that competition.”

An expert familiar with PAOs disagrees. He said, “The market is reading too much into the decision and trying to cast a broader net for other mineral oil basestocks. It is very important to note that Castrol’s claim was made for a very specific product from a very specific feedstock. Castrol argued that Shell’s XHVI from a slack wax stream is synthetic. The spokesperson indicated this is the part of the decision that has the largest potential impact. The quality of Group III products in inconsistent, and their physical properties are different from one manufacturer to the next. If these products were to be classified as synthetic, and suppliers use some of the poorer quality Group IIIs in the synthetic market, consumers will be misled and the high-margin niche that has been developed by present-day synthetics will erode.”

Costa of Conoco Lubricants suggested, “Presently, the supply and demand for PAOs as lubricant basestocks are generally in balance. Thus, a decision or ruling allowing the use of another (particularly less expensive) oil into the segment of the market now occupied by PAOs will obviously create a temporary softness in the PAO market.”

Lok of Chevron contended the jury is still out on the impact of the NAD’s decision. “Many of our customers are still studying this ruling and deciding what course of action to take. In the immediate future, high-performance Group III base oils will probably gain some volume at the expense of PAOs. But the enhanced competition can very likely expand the total size of the synthetic market, allowing for continued growth of both PAO and Group III UCBOs.” Lok said he believes the PAO market will always be a niche market because of the limited availability of PAO feedstocks.

“The availability of new fully hydroprocessed Group III base oils, whose capacities are measured in thousands of barrels per day, will allow manufacturers to specify high performance in mainstream applications,” said Lok. He further suggested, “We think that this development can further increase the already healthy growth rate of the synthetic market, to the point that both PAO and Group III UCBOs can co-exist in the market place.”
A Henkel spokesperson said, “We believe that the market would begin to differentiate products by performance rather than by a definition that may have been ompromised.”

Newman of AMSOIL suggested, “We’re concerned about the message to consumers. The NAD decision will result in increased confusion in the marketplace among consumers. Even the experts aren’t entirely in agreement on this matter. If a Group III basestock is acceptable as ‘synthetic,’ it helps all Group III products and weakens the meaning of the word ‘synthetic.’ Not all Group III lubricants are created equal.” He added, “True synthetics will continue to offer significant performance advantages, including high- and low-temperature performance under extreme conditions, oxidative stability, and lower volatility, to name a few.”

What’s Ahead?
The synthetic market faces many challenges other than those directly related to the NAD ruling. Consolidations, mergers, and acquisitions are changing the key players in the industry. Driven by demand and increasing specification hurdles, both base oil manufacturers and aftermarket formulators may have to address the performance, composition and supply of synthetics. Economics will also play an important role in driving the market.

However, these factors are all uncertain. What is certain is that “synthetics,” a component of higher performance, will remain a strong presence in the marketplace. At its current precarious state, any ruling — whether it is through the court system or the NAD – may tip the scales in determining the outgrowth and market of synthetics, whether they are PAOs or hydroisomerized basestocks.

Exposing the Flaws in 540RAT’s Rebuttal

A little bit ago, I wrote an article titled, “EXPOSTING THE FLAWS IN 540RAT’S “ENGINEERING TEST DATA” BLOG.” This article was written out of an annoyance of having to constantly explain why extreme pressure testing is not relevant in modern engines. I came across someone today who decided to make “540 RAT,” aware of my article. He e-mailed back a rebuttal that I’ll examine and address in this post.

Note that my initial article was entirely technical and provided supporting evidence from a Q&A session held by Pennzoil representatives. I made no personal attacks against the author, but rather the testing methodology and the results provided. His response to me was, well, the opposite of that. Let’s begin. I will note my responses as comments inside his own post in red.

I read his write-up from the link you provided, which made me laugh. He obviously has some kind of agenda to try to discredit my test data, which is puzzling since the Amsoil he sells has typically performed rather well in my testing. – Perhaps it would behoove one to acknowledge that my selling AMSOIL has nothing to do with my article, else I would readily embrace it as a validation of my own marketing efforts. Clearly, it isn’t that I’ve consulted with a highly certified STLE CLS and have done my research in tribology, it’s that I have some sort of agenda. Queue a lecture on cognitive dissonance… In the process of attacking me and my Engineering test data, he totally embarrasses himself with all of his biased and incorrect statements. Yet he isn’t even smart enough to realize how foolish he made himself look. – The hallmark of a lost argument begins where one cannot separate the subject matter being attacked from their own person. 540 RAT claims I attacked him, which is odd given I only re-stated his own claims in the context of what would normally qualify one to present such information in the lubrication industry. 

He certainly is not the motor oil expert he claims to be, and doesn’t fully understand how motor oil works. He has NOT proven anything, provides absolutely no data of his own, and just sounds like a Political candidate who lies and twists the truth, in order to take a stand against an opponent. He has done everyone a disservice who reads his claims, who may be gullible enough to believe his propaganda. – Here we have the 2nd series of hominem attacks.  We are two paragraphs in, and so far, everything has been an attack not on the statements I made, but myself as a person.  

He completely leaves out facts and proof that I provide in my Blog, then selectively takes only certain things from my Blog to distort and/or completely misrepresent them. – I’m not sure what the purpose of this statement is. Given the length of this entire reply, the statement is awfully empty without specific examples, but we’ll move on in hopes we can find them. This ends paragraph 3 without any response to my technical points. 

For some reason he felt that he can pass judgment on what I do, so he belittled the fact that I show my credentials. But, he does not know that readers in my Blog and on Car Forums wanted to know my background. So, that they could put my Engineering test data into perspective. So, I provided my credentials per their request. That way, they would know whether or not I was just another Internet crackpot like him, who spews bad information about motor oil.I felt I could expose the technical flaws in his test results and methodology on the basis of an understanding of boundary lubrication. The effort is noble, but the conclusions, misguided for the reasons I mentioned. That said, we now find an interesting pattern. We find him elevating his own credibility (exactly what we saw in his blog), while at the same time attempting to reduce mine. However, we have the third series of ad hominem attacks, where I am referred to as an “internet crackpot who spews bad information about motor oil.” Keep it professional, 540 RAT. 

He, nor anyone else knows exactly what my test equipment and test procedure are. Because they are proprietary information, since I invested a lot of time, money and effort into developing them. So, I will not be sharing them with the whole world. – Exactly, which is part of the problem I identified. Nobody knows what the test equipment and procedure are, but anyone with an elementary understanding of boundary lubrication and extreme pressure testing can just about guess how one would test extreme pressure. You apply extreme pressure to a moving surface to determine when the fluid film fails. It’s not that hard to understand. The problem is that, as I noted, proprietary testing methodology cannot be validated for calibration, cannot be reviewed under ASTM testing guidelines, and cannot be verified or validated. The message is clear, “just trust me, and anyone who disagrees is an internet crackpot who spews lies.” Perhaps some of that time and money could have been spent on an STLE CLS. 

But, he takes it upon himself to declare that my testing is inconsistent, even though he does not know what my specific testing is. – All extreme pressure testing of engine oils lacks repeatability, even the Shell 4-ball wear test developed by what I consider to be one of the best large oil manufacturers in the world. Note, the Shell 4-ball wear test was developed by Tribiologists, who are qualified to evaluate lubricants. 

He takes it upon himself to declare that my testing is not repeatable, again without knowing what my specific testing or equipment is. – See above, Shell’s engineers would agree with me. Since it is practically impossible to maintain perfect consistency between test duration, temperature, and for application levels, I will stand by the claim that the test is not repeatable. My precedent for stating so is based on the Shell 4-ball wear test. The precedent for stating it is reliable is, of course, proprietary, conveniently. 

What kind of incompetent nutball thinks he can come to a final technical conclusion like that, with no specific detailed information to go on? That is NOT how Engineering works. He definitely does not sound like a qualified Degreed Engineer. So, why would anyone want to follow his bogus claims? – Here, we find our 4th ad hominem paragraph. By now, 540 RAT, the engineer, has called me a crackpot who spews lies, spreads propaganda, and an incompetent nutball, We are on paragraph 8, without addressing my supposed “biased and incorrect statements.” No technical discussion yet. I could reciprocate an ad hominem attack regarding 540 RAT being a qualified Tribiologist, but I won’t stoop to that level.

The truth is, my Engineering test procedure is very consistent and very repeatable, or I would not be using it. That is why it is proprietary. I am the only one who has developed this specific equipment and this specific test procedure that “IS” consistent and repeatable. And I make that quite clear in my Blog, yet he ignored that entirely. – The truth is that, because it is all “proprietary,” 540 RAT’s claims cannot be validated. It is fantastic that an entire industry of tribiologists around the world have not developed such an “engineering test procedure.” 

He says my testing does not reflect the real world, which is completely false. I provide numerous examples in my Blog, of how my test data EXACTLY MATCHES the real world, both on the street and in racing. But, he also ignored that as well. – 540 RAT’s testing does not reflect the real world, because in the real world, extreme pressure conditions do not exist with the exception of old flat tappet cam based engines. Therefore, any extreme pressure testing is wholly irrelevant. This is a statement backed by Pennzoil’s representatives, so it’s not just me saying it. 

He also does not understand that for wear to take place, in an old style engine, or in a new style engine, that an oil’s film strength has to be breached, in order to allow metal to metal contact, and thus wear or damage to take place. That is WHY I test each motor oil’s film strength, load carrying capability, shear resistance, using the exact same equipment and exact same test procedure. To find out how various motor oils directly compare to each other, in their ability to prevent metal to metal contact. This is not hard to understand, yet he cannot grasp the importance of it. – 540 RAT does not understand that wear is caused by many factors. Film doesn’t have to fail on order for wear to occur. Wear can occur as a result of catastrophic failure absolutely unrelated to the lubricant, such as fatigue. Wear can occur when a lubricant becomes acidic and corrosive to soft metals. Wear can occur on cold starts where oil film is not a factor as a continuous supply of oil is unavailable. I can go down the list, but the bottom line is that wear caused by a failure of film strength is not a relevant metric by which modern engine wear can be evaluated. 

He also criticizes the fact that I test brand new oil. Of course I test brand new oil, that is the only technically acceptable way to test a wide range of oils, so that they are clean and represent what their formulas truly provide. That way, they can be directly compared to each other, in a meaningful way that represents their true performance capability. – Except…an oil that shears in viscosity due to poor quality VI modifiers or a cheap base oil will inevitably compromise the film strength of that oil, so if the test were relevant, it would only be relevant right up until the oil film fails. We haven’t even talked about the effects of fuel dilution on film strength here. 

And he ignored the fact that I also made clear, that I tested a number of used oils with 5,000 miles on them, and found that there was no loss in wear protection capability. He also ignored the fact that I have an Oil Change Recommendation Tech Article on my Blog, where I recommend oil change intervals that call for changing the oil BEFORE they degrade enough to compromise the wear protection of an engine. – A number of used oils does not represent the whole. An engineer should readily acknowledge that. – I didn’t feel like responding to that bit since I’d have to give a lecture on why base number is a nonlinear function based on proprietary detergent formulations, and why evaluating oxidation (a term that is not found in the entire blog) is also a critical factor in predicting oil drain intervals. 

My Engineering test data is determined by the Physics and Chemistry involved in the testing. There is no theory, nor any opinion, involved in my tests. The Scientific results from my tests, speak for themselves, and are the real deal, even if he wants to argue with that Science. Who do you think will win that battle? – My article exposing the flaws in 540 RAT’s blog is determined by years of studying tribology publications, purchasing SAE case studies, and consulting with certified lubrication specialists in the industry. If we are to assume that all one needs to do to win an argument is to elevate their credibility, I am more qualified to comment on matters regarding tribology than someone who has a mechanical engineering degree. Of course, credibility means nothing in the absence of valid technical data, it is just an appeal to authority

He is a biased motor oil retailer, and criticizes my test data with his bogus claims, but does not provide any alternative of any kind. He simply does not know what he is talking about, and will only direct people down the wrong path. He is just another self-proclaimed motor oil guru who should be completely ignored. He should read and learn from my Blog. – Here we have our 5th ad hominem paragraph. Let’s update our scorecard, shall we? By 540 RAT’s evaluation, I am, “a crackpot who spews lies, spreads propaganda, an incompetent nutball, and a biased motor oil retailer with bogus claims that does not know what he is talking about, and a self-proclaimed oil guru who should be completely ignored.” Ah, if only ad hominem attacks ever proved a point. 

I am not involved in the motor oil industry in any manner, so my Engineering tests are totally independent and unbiased. Therefore, I have no stake in what oil anyone buys for their vehicles. Therefore, I have absolutely no reason to manipulate any of the data. I simply share my test data as a courtesy for free, however it comes out, good or bad, with other gear heads. That way, they can make more informed buying decisions, to provide the best protection for their engines. Since I do not sell motor oil, it makes no difference to me, if people embrace my data to make use of it for their own benefit, or if they ignore it and continue to guess which oil is best. – Perhaps if 540 RAT were actually involved in the motor oil industry, his data would be more relevant and useful to his readers, but as it stands, it is deeply flawed. A critical reader will note the absence of extreme pressure testing in modern engine oil specifications. Were this an important (and relevant) metric to evaluate, all modern gasoline engine oil specifications would include standardized testing of extreme pressure performance. 

I still challenge anyone, anywhere, including him, to PROVE that any of my Engineering test data is wrong. People should read my entire Blog, then decide for themselves what information they want to believe and make use of.” – I do not contest that 540 RAT’s engineering test data is wrong. Absolutely not. I believe that the results were reached using scientific process and the results themselves, for the conditions existent, were accurate. My challenge is not in whether the data is right or wrong, but whether or not the data is relevant, repeatable/consistent, or representative of real-world driving conditions. It should be noted that the context of all of my statements revolves around street driving conditions in stock, lightly modified, or moderately modified vehicles where extreme pressure conditions do not exist. Heavily modified engines making double or more power than stock or racing applications are a whole different can of worms. 

Take care,

540 RAT” – Don’t take it personally; I attacked your data, not your anonymous identity. An engineer should be interested most in providing relevant, consistent, and reliable data above defending his/her results. Industry experts overwhelmingly agree that extreme pressure testing is not a factor in modern engine oils. 

Since 540 RAT is now aware of my little blog and my existence. I would like to share a few comments.

  • I did not make my initial post lightly. The contents and conclusions drawn in that post were formulated over the course of the last three years. The conclusions were validated with an STLE Certified Lubrication Specialist I know in addition to various professional lubrication publications. To suggest that my statements were made on a whim is would be unfounded.
  • My statements had nothing to do with my selling of a product. It is worth noting that my business is a part time gig. I will not disclose my full time job for obvious reasons (the value of anonymity clearly isn’t lost on “540 RAT”). My statements were exclusively and entirely technical in nature. Even in this post, I have made a conscious effort to refrain from ad hominem attacks, against my natural tendency. I will also state that any extreme pressure testing, ASTM standardized or otherwise, that elevates the products I sell over others should be ignored with respect to modern engines.
  • Do not underestimate an individual. The absence of publicly available technical information regarding lubrication engineering does not automatically mean that knowledgeable people do not exist where you least expect them. The president of Blackstone Labs made that mistake once before on NASIOC, whose apology I respectfully accepted. If 540RAT reads this post, he would do well to avoid accusations that my statements are influenced by a conflict of interest.
  • There is a “contact” function on my website, where I can be contacted, should 540 RAT wish to hold a personal conversation. I will gladly make my cell phone number available and will entertain discussion on the merits of this post and the results provided in his blog.

If time allows, I will try to write an article in the coming weeks that will explain the metrics by which gasoline engine oils can be better evaluated.

Edit 8/23: I tried to play nice guy, but apparently that doesn’t work for some people. In his most recent reply to this post, he referred to me as hateful. Sounds like someone does a lot of projecting, given I haven’t personally attacked him, yet I’ve been insulted countless times.

I decided to do some research to see if I was the only one, since his reply to this post looked an awful lot like email I responded to here. I was pleased to find I wasn’t the only one to call him out on this. I feel sorry for everyone mislead by his “engineering data.”

https://bobistheoilguy.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/3966240/1?fref=gc

http://speedtalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=36916

Exposting the Flaws in 540RAT’s “Engineering Test Data” Blog

Exposing the flaws in 540RAT’s “Motor Oil Engineering Test Data” blog, one flaw at a time. This has been circulated in oil related threads for as long as I can remember, and I’ve debunked this as being a useless test over a hundred times in oil discussions across social media. I decided it was time to publish an article to settle this one once and for all.

The article in question, the 540RATBlog (click for link) is a series of “test data” performed by a self-proclaimed expert. Curiously, this individual begins his article not with a technical explanation of his testing, but by conditioning you to believe everything following with a list of seemingly impressive credentials. A mechanical engineer, a patent holder, a member of two societies, and a variety of automotive pursuits. It is curious that none of these includes an STLE CLS (Certified Lubrication Specialist) certification, yet he assumes himself to be one. It is worth noting that if your technical data is sound, and your conclusions valid, you should find no need to elevate their credibility by flaunting your credentials, but I digress.

The Technical Flaws

This whole testing methodology relies on one basic flaw, that extreme pressure testing is a modern, relative, consistent, and valid way to test the performance of engine oils. To achieve this comparison, an extreme pressure machine is used to apply force to a metal surface while another spins. The amount of force that can be applied before the lubricant fails and seizes the spinning surface is recorded in PSI. The concept is very simple, and various machines designed for this purpose have been employed by shady lubricant salesmen in the past. More on this later.

The author goes through a long and over-drawn explanation as to why he believes that extreme pressure protection is the most important metric to engine oil, focusing heavily on cam lobes. This would be great, were the year 1975.

  1. The first and most critical note to make is that the testing methodology is kept a secret. The details and the specific test equipment, unlike with ASTM industry standardized testing equipment and procedures, which can be calibration validated and evaluated by real industry professionals, is noted as proprietary information. This is an immediate red flag, and for obvious purposes: nobody can validate the results of this testing. 3rd party validation is extremely important in a test like this one, where results can be very easily manipulated.
  2. Extreme pressure testing (what is conducted in this test) is not relevant to modern engines. Simply put, there are no extreme pressure conditions in the overwhelming majority of modern, mass-produced engines. We use roller cams, not flat tappet cams, and where flat tappet/bucket cams are used, valve spring weight is sufficiently low, and reciprocating valvetrain mass sufficiently light, that extreme pressure protection is not required as it was decades ago. However, don’t take my word for it.

    Back in 2010, there was an FAQ session over on BITOG that was published (click for link). This list of FAQs was provided by the Pennzoil Ultra team, which consisted of Pennzoil’s global brand manager, their technology manager, their passenger car motor oil technology manager, and their lubricants technology group manager. A question is asked which states, “Compared to Pennzoil Platinum®, how does Pennzoil Ultra™ do in the 4-ball wear test (better, worse, or about the same?)”

    As a bit of background, Shell’s 4-ball wear test is an industry standardized test, represented under ASTM D2783. Unlike the author’s testing equipment, this is an industry standardized method that can be peer evaluated by certified industry professionals. This test is used to measure extreme pressure protection of lubricants. Pennzoil answers with the following: “The 4-ball wear test has no correlation with wear performance in an actual engine. It was developed to test industrial oil performance for roller bearings under extreme load. The test repeatability is very poor. However given the above then for an equivalent viscosity grade and anti-wear package (Industry specification controlled), then the performance can be expected to be equivalent.”Read that again as many times as you need. The 4-ball wear test, an extreme pressure testing methodology, has no correlation with wear performance in an actual engine. In short, extreme pressure testing is not relevant to modern engines! However, they note that test repeatbility is very poor. More on this next.

  3. The test repeatability is very poor. In order to understand how engine oils prevent wear, you must also understand the principles behind boundary lubrication and also how antiwear additives decompose. To make a long story short, antiwear additives require heat in order to decompose, at which point they cling to two metal surfaces and produce a protective layer that prevents wear in the event that the oil film would fail and the two surfaces were to meet. It’s a rather simple concept, right? Wrong.The challenge comes in two phases. First, since it takes heat to decompose antiwear additives, you must be able to measure, and keep precisely constant, the temperature of the lubricant at the point of contact at all times. ZDDP doesn’t decompose at one temperature, it decomposes in tiers. This is impossible to do with any testing methodology. Since these antiwear additives require heat, you must build that heat. The general method is to apply light pressure at first, building slowly until you place maximum pressure and force the film to fail. The duration used for applying light and medium pressure is critical, as a longer duration would build more heat and therefore decompose more additives. You cannot evaluate the performance of antiwear additives with only one temperature. While the duration may be kept reasonably consistent, it is not in the least bit representative of oil temperatures at the point of contact. An information series video presented by AMSOIL highlights this concept very effectively:

  4. Last but certainly not least, only brand new oils are tested. Most oils, over the course of their service interval, will be compromised in their ability to prevent wear in extreme pressure conditions. This is due greatly in part to viscosity shear; the thinning of the oil’s viscosity. As a result, this test is not representative of real-world conditions. It would be infeasible to test all of the oils on the list in a variety of conditions.

Conclusion

Even if a test that is consistent (his isn’t), and repeatable (his isn’t), one that is able to measure oil temperature at the point of contact (he can’t), and one that can measure performance across a variety of service intervals and service durations (infeasible) we still have to contend with the fact that extreme pressure testing provides no measure of performance in modern engines, where extreme pressure conditions do not exist. Even if you did own an engine with a flat tappet valvetrain that required the use of oils with high extreme pressure protection ability, you still must contend with the issues faced by testing an aspect of engine oils that allows for higher test results to be achieved by generating more heat between moving metal surfaces.

We should be careful not to jump on board the bandwagon of false data and blatant misinformation simply due to the lack of alternate data.

Chevy Cruze, Sonic, Trax, & Buick Encore 1.4L Turbo LUV/LUJ PCV Issues

An overview of PCV issues affecting the 1.4L Turbo engine in your Cruze, Sonic, or Trax, or Encore. This contains documentation, links to resources, and steps for diagnosis so you can get back on the road successfully.

Affected Models

2011-2015 & 2016 Limited Chevrolet Cruze 1.4L Turbo
2012-2017 Chevrolet Sonic 1.4L Turbo
2013-2017 Chevrolet Trax 1.4L Turbo
2013-2017 Buick Encore 1.4L Turbo (Excludes Sport Touring)

Overview

Turbo engines require two PCV check valves. To evacuate pressure from the crankcase, a normal engine has a valve that opens to allow pressure into the intake duct or intake manifold. With a turbo engine, the intake and intake manifold are under pressure when building power, which requires an alternate path for PCV gas to escape. As a result, an additional check valve is placed to allow gas to evacuate upstream of the turbo.

In the 1.4L Turbo, these check valves are at the turbo inlet and inside the intake manifold. If you’re reading this, you may think that there is a check valve in the valve/camshaft cover, but that is simply a PCV pressure regulator diaphragm and not a check valve. The check valve is a little round disc with a nipple inside the intake manifold.

The below image explains the PCV path for this engine.

Cruze PCV System
Cruze PCV System

A full, detailed explanation of this PCV system can be found at the following link: 1.4L Turbo LUV/LUJ PCV System Explained.

Common Issues

You’ve probably found this article because you have issues with your vehicle. The two most common issues that affect this engine’s PCV system are as follows:

  1. The valve/camshaft cover’s pressure regulator diaphragm ruptures. This is located directly under the disc that you can see if you pull the coil pack/engine cover off. When this goes out, it will cause a hissing sound, and may cause oil to be splattered about the engine bay. This is often accompanied by rough idle. If you place your finger over the vent opening, the idle will smooth out. This usually triggers a check engine light.
  2. The intake manifold check valve disappears, causing elevated oil consumption and can potentially trigger a check engine light. This can go unknown to the owner for quite some time, but the effects, when accompanied by elevated oil consumption, can be disastrous.

Both of the components that fail are made of rubber that eventually becomes brittle and breaks. There is no preventive maintenance that can prevent this failure from occurring.

A brief overview of the issues and how to check if you have these symptoms is described in the following link:  1.4L Turbo LUV/LUJ PCV Issues.

Associated DTCs (Service Codes)

If you have a check engine light and get the codes scanned, the following service codes may indicate a PCV-related issue:

P0171
P0106
P1101
P0507
P0299
P2096

Available Solutions

If the PCV pressure regulator diaphragm on the Valve/Camshaft Cover has failed, your only recourse is to replace it.

Part Required: GM Part # 55573746

1.4L LUV/LUJ Valve/Camshaft Cover Replacement Tutorial

If the Intake Manifold Check Valve has failed, you have two options.

  1. You can replace the intake manifold with a new one, at a cost of $250-$350 depending on where you purchase the intake manifold.
  2. You can fit an external check valve onto the existing intake manifold, at a cost of $145. The retrofit has the benefit of costing far less than a new manifold and lasting much longer, since it is a redesign of the flawed OEM system. A new intake manifold will inevitably fail; the retrofit is much more robust.

I love being wrong.

It occurred to me earlier this week that people don’t like to be wrong. I thought a bit more about it since I had nothing else to do at the time, and came to the realization that I love being wrong. Why is it that people always seem like they hate being wrong? Allow me to explain.

When I have debates with certain people, I bring a technical, factual perspective. If I cannot provide the technical data or factual evidence, I either don’t debate, or I accept that it is simply personal preference/opinion that I am sharing. Sometimes, I am proven wrong or corrected, and I waste no time in acknowledging that.

That being said, I often have debates with people who see them as arguments, which is understandable since I spend a good amount of time supporting my points with facts and data, and they support their points with anecdote and unsupported opinion. Even so, there are many people who, even when concretely proven wrong, will either resort to personal attacks out of frustration, or will simply regurgitate the same ineffective BS in hopes that it will have a different effect than the first time. In that sense, I feel as though people have a mental block that prohibits them from acknowledging that the facts and evidence invalidate and nullify their points.

Naturally, there are discussions based on opinion where it should be acknowledged that nobody is going to be right or wrong as you cannot concretely prove a point one way or another, but in discussions regarding things like lubrication or economics, there’s no room for opinion. Facts are inherently arrogant, and a colorless debates make one sound equally arrogant. In layman’s terms, facts and evidence don’t need to be sugar coated, and I usually opt not to.

To be honest, I love debating. I find it thrilling to engage in a solid debate against someone on technical merits, because only one side can be right, which means one side will be wrong, and I love both of those end results. If I’m right, it’s a personal victory because I win the debate. If I’m wrong, it’s also a personal victory because I learned something, so I’ll guarantee a win in the next debate.

That’s not how most people I come across are. Most people tie being “right” to their ego or sense of self-worth. They subconsciously associate being wrong with a feeling of shame (likely because small-minded people in their lives followed that with personal attacks, insults, and poking fun), and their pride and ego won’t allow them to be wrong. People like those live in a continuous cycle of ignorance because that pride doesn’t allow them to learn anything.

If you are never wrong and never make a mistake, you never truly learn from those mistakes or misconceptions. Keep repeating them to yourself, and you may eventually start to believe the lies.

I ask everyone to consider one very important question. Which benefits you more, being wrong, or being right? The answer is obvious, and so should be the reason why I spark so much debate and confrontation. Someone ends up being wrong, and in a healthy mindset, that person will learn something.

So you want to teach?

This is my first “blog” type article that doesn’t have to do with a particular topic of interest, or one in which I might be considered a subject matter expert. It is, however, related to what I do on this site and on CruzeTalk.com. It is a topic that has been on my mind for a while, and my opinions of this topic have shaped many of my decisions.

Today, I’d like to talk about the challenges in teaching.

Continue reading So you want to teach?

GM Inside Look – Performance Build Center

When I first launched this site, I wrote a couple of articles about my tour of the Flint Engine Operations plant and the GM Powertrain Global. After a long delay, I’ve decided it’s time to continue the tour articles with the Performance Build Center. The GM Performance Build Center is where a small team of engine builders hand-assembles each of the Corvette engines. Commence drooling.

Continue reading GM Inside Look – Performance Build Center

The Crux of “Audiophile” Sound Quality

I’ve spent a bit of time in the DIY audio world; designing and building home theater speakers, and designing and installing car audio systems that strive for high levels of sound quality. I’ve designed and built countless sound quality-oriented subwoofer enclosures, tuned active and passive crossovers, and worked with some fantastic equipment. While not proclaiming that I’m an expert in all fiends – I’m still always learning from those who have far more experience than I – I’ve come to the realization that there’s a crux when designing an audio system. That is, a decisive point of difficulty. It’s probably not what you think though…

Continue reading The Crux of “Audiophile” Sound Quality

What to Expect – The 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel

I recently had the opportunity to interview two chief GM engineers directly responsible for the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel during the 2013 Chicago Auto Show on media day. There are plenty of generic publications floating out on the internet and blogosphere, so I’m here to bring you some insider knowledge from GM’s lead engineers to give you an idea of what to expect if you are planning on buying or are interested in buying a Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.

Continue reading What to Expect – The 2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel

Behind the Wheel of the Chevy Cruze

Grab some popcorn and a soda, because this one long review. A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to review a 2012 Chevy Cruze LTZ for a week. GM dropped this off at my door as a courtesy so I could get some behind the wheel time with another Cruze. As some of you know, I’ve had a 2012 Chevy Cruze ECO since early January of 2012. I’ll be covering both of these cars in this review. I currently have 17,000 miles driven on this car, and as the Super Moderator of CruzeTalk.com, this is about as genuine and thorough of a review as you’ll find. This review will cover both my own Chevrolet Cruze Eco, and the Chevrolet Cruze LTZ that GM sent me.

Continue reading Behind the Wheel of the Chevy Cruze