Well-Lubricated – A Guide to Automotive Fluids and Lubricants
Where would we be without automotive fluids, oils and lubricants? Mechanical brake systems aren’t going to cut it for high-performance applications, and can you even imagine trying to dodge the cones of an autocross course without power steering?
It boggles the mind to think that the only thing separating the main bearings from the crank journals is a thin film of oil. Thousands of rpm and high temperatures with spinning pieces of metal all bolted together and protected only by a scant film of oil. Quite an engineering feat and a testament to lubrication engineers (and a nod to bearing manufacturers and engine builders).
The driveline of our hot rods simply would not survive without proper lubrication from grease, oil, and other hydraulic fluids. Automatic transmissions would not exist without a fluid that works as a coolant, lubricator and hydraulic device, not to mention working in concert with different friction materials. Other important vehicle fluids include power steering fluid, bearing grease, brake fluid, and even engine coolant.
We reached out to several leaders in the driveline fluid and lubricant side of the industry to see what was new in their world and came back with a number of products and a new appreciation of what these automotive fluids accomplish. During this winter season, you may want to consider a little more than simply an oil change when it comes to completing your hot rod’s annual maintenance schedule. A brake fluid flush, fresh power steering fluid, or coolant cleanse will all add protection to prepare you for a trouble-free summer of cruising in the new year.
Once your brake system is dialed in and stopping effectively, most people don’t give the fluid a second thought. For street rods that see a couple thousand miles a year, that may not be an issue for a while, but if high performance driving is in your wheelhouse, maintaining and choosing the right fluid is imperative.
Baer Brake Systems now offers a specially formulated, high-temperature brake fluid. The fluid has a minimum dry boiling point of 608°F making it able to withstand any condition from daily driving to the extreme conditions seen in high performance applications. Baer’s DOT4 brake fluid meets or exceeds SAE J1704 and FMVSS 116 specifications for DOT4 brake fluid and mixes safely with all SAE DOT3, 4 and 5.1 brake fluids.
Firing up a freshly rebuilt engine is always exciting, though at the same time, can be a nerve-racking experience. There are a lot of things to confirm to cross before hitting that starter button. One of the most important things to consider is the oil you’re using during the critical break-in process.
Due to government regulations, in recent years oil manufacturers have removed the zinc and many other additives from their motor oils. Using a new off-the-shelf oil during the initial running time of a classic engine can lead to premature valvetrain failure and improper surface mating of the rotating assembly. COMP Cams understands the need for an oil that has been designed specifically for the break-in process such as their Engine Break-In Oil and Additive. These lubricants are formulated with a special blend of extreme pressure additives (including Zinc, Phosphorus, Molybdenum and detergents) to extend the durability of internal engine components of a fresh engine.
Red Line Oil
Antifreeze plays an important role for millions of daily drivers through the winter, but most hot rodders know this radiator fluid as coolant – as in what keeps the engine cool on those hot summer cruises. We all know it’s the same fluid with two names and two objectives and is extremely important to the health of your engine.
With winter upon us, you may be more worried about the anti-freezing capabilities of your coolant, but come spring, you’ll be looking for ways to help keep things cool. Red Line’s newest anti-freeze/coolant, SuperCool, is designed to lower coolant temperatures by as much as 20°F while simultaneously protecting against harmful rust and corrosion. They offer a prediluted 50/50 version called SuperCool Performance along with a SuperCool Concentrate, for those who prefer to create their own water-to-coolant ratio. Both products are formulated for use in modern and classic cooling systems.
Detroit Speed – Power Steering
Kyle Tucker of Detroit Speed explained how important it is run a properly sized power steering pump as well as a quality fluid. The pump should provide adequate flow at engine idle and proper flow during more demanding times. To achieve this, pumps are equipped with a flow control valve which limits the discharge from the pump and recirculates the excess fluid internally, and a pressure relief valve that can be tuned to the system demands.
“The leading failure we see with pumps is related to heat, which is most commonly caused by cavitation and contamination,” Kyle explained. “It is critical to flush any debris when a system is installed or a component is replaced and equally important to bleed the air from the system. A quality synthetic fluid should also be used, we recommend Valvoline Professional Series Power Steering Fluid.”
Automatic Trans Fluid
Trick Shift transmission fluid was originally developed by B&M for racing but is also ideal for towing in light truck and performance applications. Trick Shift is a scientific blend of foam inhibitors, pressure agents, and shift modifiers that will provide extended transmission life and drastically improve shift firmness and feel.
Synthetic Trick Shift is the easiest way to measurably improve the transmission performance of your vehicle with just a simple fluid change. It can be mixed with stock-type transmission fluids; however, to attain maximum improvement, Trick Shift should be used exclusively. (Note that Synthetic Trick Shift is not recommended for electronically controlled transmissions, so check with B&M other fluids available.)
Trans Cooler and Line Cleaner
Automatic transmissions are hydraulically controlled wonders which is why it is so important to use a high-quality fluid and to properly maintain the system. TCI offers a line of high-quality trans fluids as well as their Max Shift High Pressure Transmission Cooler Cleaner & Flush to effectively clean out the transmission cooler.
The TCI Cleaner & Flush doesn’t rely on gravity like other conventional flushing devices. Instead, this cleaner completely fills the entire cooler and forces out metal shavings and other contaminants through the opposite direction in which they originally became lodged. TCI uses a patented high-pressure cleaning agent that rapidly expands when it comes in contact with air to back flush and prevent pollutants from becoming wedged deeper inside the cooler. Available in a single pack with 5/16-inch fitting or in packs of two with either 5/16-, 3/8- or universal barb fittings.
Starting your engine, especially after several days of rest, can be extremely tough on metal surfaces until proper oil pressure is observed. Lucas Oil understands the importance of constant lubrication which is one reason they developed their Heavy Duty Oil Stabilizer.
When added to your engine, the Lucas Stabilizer mixes with the oil to make it cling to metal surfaces, producing a protective lubricant film between the engine’s moving parts. This lubricant is active not only when the engine is running but promotes strong film strength so that at the moment of start-up, lubrication is there, even before the oil pump begins to deliver oil pressure.
Gearstar Performance Transmission – Automatic Transmission Fluid
Automatic transmission fluid is the lifeblood of your transmission and should be checked on a regular basis. Zack Farah of Gearstar Performance Transmissions recommends using a full synthetic fluid such as Castrol’s Transmax Dexron-6. “We recommend servicing the fluid at 15,000 miles and be sure to visually inspect the fluid when you check the level. If the fluid is darker or has a burned smell, it could be the start of internal issues and needs to be looked at by a transmission specialist.” Zack also noted the importance of using an external fluid cooler to help lower the trans fluid temperatures to improve the performance and longevity of your transmission.
Driven Racing Oil
When you’re assembling a new engine, it’s just as important to lube the rotating components as it is to check each specification and clearance. Driven Racing Oil understands the importance of both, but really focuses on the lubrication side with their new GP-1 Assembly Gel.
This new Gel is a specialized no-drip formula designed to stay exactly where you apply it. Not a traditional assembly lube nor a grease, it’s a unique gel compounded from Pennsylvania Petroleum. The GP-1 Assembly Gel features Driven Racing Oil’s proprietary zinc and molybdenum additive package contained within the compound for added wear protection at initial startup. Unlike a grease that contains thickeners that actually compete against the additives, Driven’s Gel compound provides better additive response, resulting in better protection during the initial break-in.
Champion Brands knows how to lubricate nearly anything mechanical, from racing engines to lawn mowers and everything in between. When it comes to classic trucks and muscle cars, they understand the complexities of vintage parts mixing with modern components, which is why they developed a unique synthetic oil just for classics.
Champions’ Classic & Muscle 10W-30 Synthetic Blend motor oil contains their exclusive TVS (Thermal Viscosity Stabilizer) technology to deliver unmatched film strength at high temperature with better piston ring seal for maximum compression. These oils also contain special lubricity modifiers to reduce friction to unlock the full potential of any engine. Also available in 20W-50 in one quart or 55-gallon packaging.
Summit Racing Equipment
Can you say “Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate?” Neither can we, so we’ll just call it ZDDP, which is a critical component in delivering enhanced anti-wear protection to your engine while making sure flat tappet camshafts live a long and happy life. You’ll get all the ZDDP your engine needs with Summit Racing’s ZDDP Performance Motor Oil. The oil formulation is ideal for engines in street rods, muscle cars, and classic vehicles with flat tappet or roller camshafts. Plus, this mineral-based oil has rust and other corrosion inhibitors.
Summit Racing’s ZDDP Performance Motor Oil is available in 5W30, 10W30, 10W40, and 20W50 weights. They also offer a straight 30-weight break-in oil specifically blended for initial break-in of camshafts and piston rings.
One of the most common questions about choosing an engine oil is its viscosity. Oil viscosity, sometimes referred to as weight, is essentially the fluidity or thickness of the oil. A high viscosity such as 40W is thicker like honey in comparison to 5W, which is more like water (for the sake of comparison).
Going with a straight 30W in the summer could be perfect in some engines, but during the winter the oil thickens and could result in poor lubrication during start up or even drag the engine down during cranking. Conversely, a thinner oil such as a 5W, may become too thin at higher temps and not provide adequate protection.
The good news is there are multi-viscosity oils designed to cover the seasons and ever-changing environments we cruise in. Oils such as 5W-30 or 10W-40 are designed to cover cooler weather and higher temps and are generally recommended in most engines today. Higher mileage engines may benefit from a higher weight oil, but always consult with your engine builder for a recommendation when it comes to engine oil.
Maxima Racing Oils
Power Steering Fluid
Another fluid and hydraulic system most of us take for granted is the power steering. Steering fluid undergoes tremendous temperature swings and can really heat up in performance applications. Maxima Racing Oils understands the importance of a fluid capable of delivering consistent performance under extreme loads, which lead to their full synthetic SynPSF power steering fluid.
The extensively developed formulation provides unmatched steering response by ensuring proper low temperature flow while preventing breakdown due to high temps or shear. Exotic esters combine with an advanced additive system to reduce pump drag, minimize wear and prevent foaming to ensure the ultimate power steering system performance and protection.
Lucas Gear Oil
Gear oils have a harsh job to handle and have needed improving for years, especially when it comes to the high-performance industry. Lucas Oil looked to the technology and experience they gained in developing their Heavy Duty Oil Stabilizer when it came rethinking gear oil. The result is their 80W-90 Gear Oil.
This gear oil formula is fortified with special anti-wear agents and lubricity agents to control wear and drag along with special additives to minimize heat. These are features not found in ordinary gear oils. Lucas’ gear oil is both excellent for race cars and any heavy-duty application where standard gear oils just aren’t good enough. Also available in an 85W-140 weight.
Extreme braking conditions require brake fluids that have higher boiling points and low compressibility while being repeatedly heated and pressure cycled. The fluid also needs to have low moisture affinity to slow the natural absorption rate of water vapor. Wilwood is well aware of all of these requirements in a brake fluid, which is why they developed their EXP 600 Super Hi-Temp Plus brake fluid.
The true test of any high-quality fluid on the racetrack under extreme conditions, which is where Wilwood tested their EXP 600. The fluid conforms and exceeds U.S. specification FMVSS No. 116 DOT 4, is compatible with ABS systems, and has been proven to maintain a firm pedal feel and quick response under rigorous conditions.
Bowler Performance – Manual Trans Fluid
When selecting a fluid for your new Tremec five- or six-speed transmission, Bowler Performance recommends using a quality synchromesh synthetic fluid. “Remember, today’s modern manual transmissions don’t use the same heavy gear oil as the classic muscle car gearboxes. Instead, they use a fluid more like an automatic trans,” explained Craig Meyer of Bowler. “We’ve tested many different fluids over the years, and Royal Purple Synchromax has proven to be one of the best choices for shift feel and longevity. Also, we recommend changing the fluid after the initial 500 miles of use, after that, every 25,000 – 30,000 miles.”
Wheel bearings go through a tremendous heat-cycle range not to mention the amount of forces. When picking a grease to pack between each bearing surface, it certainly makes sense to stick with the manufacturer’s recommendation, such as Timken’s Automotive Wheel Bearing Grease.
With years of experience manufacturing bearings, Timken leveraged their knowledge of anti-friction bearings, lubricants and wheel-end systems, to develop this multi-application grease. Their bearing grease is a premium high-temperature red grease formulated with corrosion inhibitors, anti-wear and water-resistant additives for stronger performance in even the most challenging automotive environments.
Just For Fun!
Blinker Fluid – Snipe Industries
When it comes time for your hot rod’s yearly maintenance, don’t forget to check the blinker fluid. There’s just no excuse for slow, grinding blinks or a complete failure when you’re on the road. This Blinker Fluid is compatible with LED and filament/incandescent bulb types and works with 6- and 12-volt electrical systems. Specially formulated for right and left signals (as well as front and rear).
No one ever said building or even owning a hot rod was easy. It seems like there is always something to fix or improve, maintain and of course, keep it looking sharp. It takes a bit of Elbow Grease (from the Busted Knuckle Garage) to keep up with your street rod or muscle machine