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More On Oil

In the Aug. '11 issue, we did a story titled "How to Break in That Flat-Tappet Cam." In that story, we also tested several different break-in oils for both zinc and phosphorous (commonly referred to as ZDDP), two major antiwear additives that have been reduced in current API SM- and SN-rated oils for late- model cars intended to reduce efficiency loss in catalytic converters. One of the oils we tested came from Brad Penn, and as mentioned in the story, we were surprised to learn the amount of zinc and phosphorous in the company's Break-In Oil was lower than we anticipated, especially because Brad Penn has a very good reputation for providing high-quality lubricants.

Not surprisingly, we heard from representatives from Brad Penn, and they offered an explanation of those particular antiwear additive levels. According to Mike Kozminski, manager of Research and Development, and Richard Glady, VP of Sales & Marketing for American Refining Group Inc., which owns Brad Penn Lubricants, there is more to the story than just the concentrations of ZDDP in the oil.

According to the letter we received, "Brad Penn Break-In Oil is formulated to contain a nominal 1,000 ppm (parts per million) of ZDDP. Because with a ‘green engine' break-in process, it is essentially a controlled component ‘wear-in/run-in' period, the amount of anti-wear additive concentration (i.e. ZDDP) in the break-in oil must be carefully balanced to protect the cam and bearings to take the required ‘set' and at the same time seat the rings properly. Excessive amounts of ZDDP can interfere with these processes and may result in glazing of the cylinder wall, preventing the rings from seating properly. Too little ZDDP may result in bore ‘polishing' where the rings have worn down the cylinder crosshatching, essential for maintaining a lubricant film. The same is true regarding the presence of detergents (i.e. calcium) in break-in oils. Too much or too little of these components can be a source of potential difficulty. In response to Mr. Lake Speed, Jr.'s comments regarding detergents, industry studies and testing have shown that when detergent-type additives were included in oil formulations in properly pre-determined concentrations along with ZDDP, a ‘synergistic' effect was seen. It has been proven that the anti-wear properties of the zinc-containing additive and the oiliness of the detergents act on metal surfaces cooperatively. Under boundary lubrication conditions like those found in the valve train area (cam lobe/flat tappet contact points, etc) the zinc is the main actor. Therefore, when considering a break-in oil purchase, the fact that the oil contains detergents should not be considered a negative factor in the decision. A properly formulated and chemically balanced oil like Brad Penn Break-In Oil that contains both anti-wear and detergent additives will provide excellent engine protection and performance during the normal engine break-in process. In addition, with the unique Penn-Grade base oil cut, it provides tremendous wetability and enhances the performance with both Brad Penn's Break-In Oil and Penn-Grade High Performance Oils."

What is interesting about the Brad Penn lineup of oil is that while the Break-In contains a nominal 1,000 ppm level of ZDDP, it's worth considering the level of ZDDP in the oil that Brad Penn recommends after the engine has established its wear patterns. On Brad Penn's own website (, the company lists the Penn Grade 1 10W-30 as containing zinc levels of 1,565 ppm, with phosphorous levels of 1,332 ppm, based on testing from Southwest Research, a highly respected research firm. These are figures that our research has indicated are acceptable levels of ZDDP, both in break-in and daily-use conditions. According to Brad Penn, engine builders who use Brad Penn Break-In Oil have had success breaking in flat-tappet cams with valvespring pressures up to 150 pounds of seat pressure and 350 to 400 pounds open. The company also claims break-in success in roller-cam engines with valvespring pressures of up to 450 pounds closed and 1,000 open. Brad Penn says a majority of cam manufacturers recommend Brad Penn Break-In Oil and Penn Grade 1 High Performance Oils to protect their cams. It is also important to note that there are dozens of factors involved with lubrication, especially in a brand-new engine using flat-tappet followers. Focusing on just the levels of ZDDP may not be the whole story. But combined with a historical perspective, it is clear that camshaft lobe failures seemed to spike at exactly the same time that the API-reduced ZDDP levels dropped below 1,300 ppm, and we feel this evidence is the best reason for focusing on these antiwear additives. The bottom line here is that Brad Penn offers several performance engine oils that do an outstanding job. Choosing the proper lubricant for your particular application is still not difficult, once you know more about what goes into each of those bottles of oil. Our goal is to give our readers that information so that they can make intelligent choices regarding the components they use in their performance engines.

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