From the Expert

Filtering Out Some Misconceptions About Oil

Q&A with Len Groom, technical product manager at AMSOIL

Oil is oil. It’s not affected by riding in mud and water, or adding big tires, tracks and other mods to your ATV, right? Not exactly. To get some insight on engine oil and other lubricants, we visited with Len Groom, technical product manager for powersports at AMSOIL. Here’s what he had to say.

By Dave Halsey

Q. What’s your goal at AMSOIL, Len?

A. Everybody is doing extreme things with their vehicles. “I know I shouldn’t do this but I’m going to do it anyway.” We anticipate that when we build our products. So from a technical standpoint we look at what you could do with the machine and then we formulate and test based on that. If it’s really hot running, we can formulate to keep deposits away. We can formulate against breakdown. Let’s say it’s a super wet environment, we can formulate to have extra rust and corrosion protection. We spend a lot of time, effort, and money on the development of the product so that it’s very specifically built for some of these machines. That’s what we’re trying to do, so people can have more time having fun and less time working on their machines.

Q. So not all oils are created equal?

A.You could build a cookie-cutter product for a standard ATV, yea we could do that. But it’s better when you can make these small adjustments that really make a difference when you’re in the dunes with sand paddles, or in a turbo holding it to the floor and the oil temperature climbs up over 300 degrees. Formulating for that helps the buyer know what they can do when they buy the right product. We know because we’ve tested it. 

Q. Do different riding styles require different oil?

A.The person that’s running the dunes can run the same product that grandma is running to the mailbox. Most of our products are overbuilt, which eliminates the need to have different grades of fluid. That creates confusion. Most of our powersports products are formulated to the high end of what’s going to happen.

Q. What’s the main misconception riders have about oil and lubricants?

A.The thing that people overlook is that the weak link on some machines tends to be in the lubricants. As you start modifying, you start stressing out some of the parts. A lot of times, the lubricants are not designed to take some of those stress loads. You’re seeing front differential failures because of overheating. It barely holds a half quart of fluid, if that. You’re asking it to do a lot of work. You get a ton of heat built up in there and what ends up happening is, if the boil is not up to the task, it will break down and you end up getting wear. And once you get wear in that front differential, it’s a snowball effect, especially if you put big tires on it or you’re making it do a lot of work in mud. And then you throw water at it. People don’t understand that when you sink these things in water as far as you are, you’re going to get some ingress of water. That  adds a whole new problem to that oil’s job because you’ve polluted it with water.

Lubricants tend to be forgotten about. The fluids are overlooked. In some situations, the OEM fluids will not hold up to some extreme use. And, as you add mods, you have to make sure you’re not stressing out the lubricants which, long-term, is going to create a failure down the road.

A. What happens when you add tracks?

We’re in Minnesota. We understand the popularity of tracks. The problem is, you don’t want to burn the belt, so the dealers are saying run them in low gear. Well, if you’re in a UTV with tracks in low gear, you know it only goes about 10 mph, so you’ve got the thing right to the floor and it’s about 6500 rpm everywhere you go. Those high rpm’s create stress on the entire rotating assembly of the engine, not only from a stress load standpoint, but it creates heat and foam. If you have an oil that foams a little bit, you can get air running through there in the bearings and that creates wear. Just think, you’re holding it to the floor at high rpm all winter long. You have to think of those things when you’re formulating.

Q. What about transmission fluid?

A.Transmission is the next issue. It’s a CVT, but the power has to get to the ground and that’s a box full of gears and it gets hot with extended use. Oil as it gets warm tends to thin out and you’ve got to formulate against that, to maintain viscosity at high temperatures. Viscosity provides the film strength that provides the wear protection.

You put big tires on and you start stressing the transmission. I hear a lot of people say it’s the CVT, it’s the belt. No, there’s a whole pile of gears that are getting that power to the ground after it goes through the belt. The dealer understands that, but I don’t think the average consumer does. The belt is the weak link that breaks. Down the road you’ve got transmission problems, you don’t know what happened. They’re not well versed in diagnosing something like that. They go to the dealership and they may never know what happened. “Your transmission failed, you’re going to need a new one.”

Q. Any advice on maintenance?

A.People shouldn’t be afraid to attack the oil change themselves. It’s not that difficult. And we have a flexible gear lube pack that makes it easy to get into the transmission and differentials. We went with a  packaging solution to help avert some of the fears that people have. A full-service oil change is going to run you $300 dollars or more, and you might lose the machine for a week or more, depending on how backed up the dealerships are. We have oil change kits for all the Can Am and Polaris models offered currently; the oil filter and O-rings it’s all in there.

Q. Bottom line?

We’re writing a preventable prescription to keep the vehicle out of the dealership. You don’t want it in there, you don’t want to lose weekends. 

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