Pour It In And Pour It On

Fluids for Performance

Kevin Harper - September 06, 2012 10:00 AM


1 Filling up the fuel tank requires knowing what your car needs. Octane rating and ethanol content are key considerations.


2 Sometimes, the performance of your car requires you to pull past the pump and head to the racing gasoline. The higher octane product should be used only on modified engines.


3 Fuel systems need periodic cleaning and dumping in a bottle of a product like this is quick work.


4 The ethanol content of pump gas could be increasing and that could bring up issues. Bell Performance has developed Ethanol Defense to combat these worries.


5 Engine treatments will help the lubrication to reduce friction and prolong the life of your internal engine parts.


6 Pay close attention to the type of transmission fluid you’re getting. Mercon Dexron III is only the right choice for some Fords.


7 There are specialty power steering fluids, available for when the system drops below its operating point and steering becomes a real challenge.


8 There are plenty of engine oils out there, including special formulations for cars over 75,000 miles. We are holding to the cars longer and they’ll have greater needs.


9 In the event that water begins to escape from the radiator, this Justice Brothers Stop Leak can put an end to it. You want the cooling system in top shape.


10 New to the U.S market, CATACLEAN gets the job done in the fuel system but also works on the catalytic converter. This is an area of performance that has been ignored … until now.

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The higher SAE numbers mean greater “thickness

There is no overstating the importance of the variety of fluids that make up an automobile. These chemical compounds, ranging from simple water, to products that require refinement processes and beyond, are the lifeblood of a vehicle’s performance.

At rest, they simply pool up in a reservoir or tank, standing ready to perform when called. A simple turn of the ignition switch will spring the fluids into life, assisted by various pumps and sending units to get them to where they need to go in order to do their jobs. It’s a symphony of synchronized action that keeps the cars running smoothly and performing to the top ability.

For many, understanding how it works is as important as why it works. We may not know all of the chemical interactions that make a product what it is, but instead rely on professionals who can create the products to do what they need.



Easily the fluid that gets replaced most often, gasoline serves as the propulsion fluid with others generally providing the action for lubrication or cooling or any other function where a liquid provides the best performance. For many, gasoline doesn’t offer much choice. It’s often a brand preference or a price point decision. There is also the choice of octane level, which has an effect on price point.

Gasoline is blended with the idea of being very volatile to assist in starting and, as the car is propelled, in drivability. Octane is actually an average number based on testing done on a one-cylinder engine based on the fluid’s ability to resist knocking. Simply put, octane is an anti-knock rating.

While standard passenger cars can function on the lowest octane (aka regular 87 octane gasoline), some prefer to go with higher octane and these are usually performance cars that have engines that need that extra protection. Running a higher octane in a car that doesn’t need it may not be necessary, but it doesn’t hurt. Running an octane too low will result in knocking, pinging or worse. Higher horsepower, race-specific cars are usually tuned to accept higher octane than is available at the pump, going to “racing fuel” which carries octane ratings in excess of 100.

Those with older cars have been through the discussion of fuel for over 40 years. The use of unleaded gas in pre-1971 cars can be dangerous to valve seats and some simply get around it by switching to hardened seats. Others choose the lead additive route, which is not a popular choice of the government for environmental reasons.

Fuel systems tend to build up deposits in places like the injectors, so there are other fluid products that can help you get back the performance and mileage you were getting in the past. They contain detergent elements that clean up deposits that have collected at various points in the system. Each manufacturer will have recommended intervals and instructions, but most are just simply dumped into the fuel tank during a fill-up. Results may not be immediate, which is why there are interval suggestions (like “every oil change” or “every 4,000 miles”) in the instructions.

While the unleaded gas has been a bane to the collector, the daily driver has to also deal with the ethanol content of gasoline. Recent government moves to increase the ethanol content in cars have had a concerned citizenry paying close attention to what is going on at the gas pumps. Studies have found that, while there is some merit to becoming less dependent on oil, ethanol in gasoline lowers fuel mileage and allows for increased water collection.

A product called Ethanol Defense has been developed by Bell Performance. The product contains no alcohol. It combines the proven benefits of a multi-function fuel additive with water-absorbing ingredients. Ethanol Defense coats areas where ethanol attacks, like rubber, plastic and resin materials. Its cleaning properties will remove carbon, sludge and gum deposits from the fuel system.


Engine Oil

While you may have a few choices for the gasoline you pour into your car, the number of options when it comes to engine oil gets a little bigger. If you have walked into an auto parts store lately, you will see a whole wall devoted to different colors of bottles, many in the quart size, though some manufacturers are starting to sell their oil in “jugs”, which usually covers the complete oil change.

The rainbow of colors can be mesmerizing, but you have to remember it is what is inside the bottle that is going to be inside the car.

The bottles carry a seal from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that show the latest classification. Periodically, it is determined that oils for today’s cars need to have certain properties. The API had used a grading system that uses two letters with the first being an “S”. It started with SA in the early days and the second letter has progressed in the alphabet with each change. SN is now the latest, having come into use in 2010. An “API Service SN” is the latest standard. (SN is a slight variation of SM, which is still acceptable for use).

The engine oil’s viscosity is a key property to know. Most auto manufacturers offer a recommendation of the type of oil to be used based on viscosity. The viscosity is a liquid’s thickness and/or resistance to flow. The Society of Automotive Engineers sets standards for motor oil performance and also set the standards for motor oil viscosity.

Royal Purple scientists have an interesting chart that puts viscosity in perspective. Water at 70 degrees has a viscosity of 1 (high flowing). Blood, a bit thicker than water, has a viscosity of 10. SAE 10 motor oil has a viscosity of 50 to 100 while SAE 30 is measured 150 to 200. The higher SAE numbers mean greater “thickness”. The chart also gives viscosity for blackstrap molasses (5,000 to 10,000), peanut butter (150,000 to 250,000) and window putty (100 million).

When you’re looking at an oil, the series of numbers (and the letter W in some cases) hold different meaning. Using 5W30 as an example, the first number (5) is an indicator of how well the oil flows at cold temperature. The “W” infers a winter grade for use in cold climates. The last number, in this case, 30, reflects the viscosity grade of the oil at operating temperatures. It is probably the more important aspect of the grade. Straight weight oils, those with single number designations, are showing the viscosity grade.

There are still plenty of myths about synthetic, synthetic blends and conventional oils, but that’s a discussion for another time.



Lack of fluid inside an automatic transmission is going to be an immediate danger. The transmission fluid pools up inside the pan and circulates through the unit via a variety of pumps and passages. Friction breaks parts and leads to expensive repairs.

Transmission fluid is generally produced for specific applications and this is an area where it is critical to follow the recommendation of the auto manufacturer or, in the case where a performance transmission has replaced the original, the maker of the transmission.

Fluid level should be checked via the dipstick and added as needed.



The radiator is the main line of defense in keeping everything within an operating temperature range, preventing heat build-up. It is imperative to maintain the proper level with the best coolant to be nothing more than water. There are products on the market that can assist in the cooling process and these can be found at just about any retail location with an auto section. Antifreeze can be used, often in a 50/50 mix with water. In cold climates, anti-freeze is more than a good idea. Water freezes at 32 degrees and outside temperatures can drop well below that. When water changes properties and becomes a solid, it no longer has the capability to perform the flow necessary. Antifreeze will lower the freezing point of the liquid mixture to perform when the key is turned.



Inside the engine compartment, you will often find a plastic (or in the case of older cars, metal) reservoir that holds the brake fluid. This liquid is dispatched with the pressing of the brake pedal through lines to the calipers.

Brakes fluids are glycol-ether based to avoid problems with seals. The Department of Transportation is in charge of separating the types that are available, known simply by their “DOT” number. The differences come from the boiling point of the fluid, which is measured as “wet” and “dry”. The wet boiling point is the fluid’s boiling point after absorbing a tested amount of moisture. The dry boiling point is the pure point and usually higher. Brake fluid must be kept in a sealed container and it is recommended to use as much as you can at once since the boiling points will fade after coming in contact with the atmosphere.


Power Steering

There are specialized power steering fluids available, but some cars can utilize automatic transmission fluid for similar purposes. It is best to know what is right for your own car. Problems with steering can often be traced to leaks in the power steering system, which must be fixed immediately. A reduction of fluid in the reservoir (not to mention the puddle under the car) is usually the sign that simply adding more will not solve the problem.



One of the most unique fluids that adds to a car’s performance is a product now offered through Prestolite Performance. CATACLEAN starts by cleaning the vehicle’s fuel system. While some products will stop there, CATACLEAN moves on to clean the surface of the catalytic converter, resulting in improved airflow and reduced emissions. It also cleans the upper cylinder valve heads and stems, improving compression and reducing sticking valves.

For maximum efficiency, the product should be used four times a year. You simply dump it into a tank of gasoline when the car is at the ¼ mark. You drive about 15 miles and then completely fill the tank. CATACLEAN goes to work to do all of the jobs intended.

For Your Information


Bell Performance

(407) 831-5021


Prestolite Performance

(216) 688-8300


Royal Purple

(281) 354-8600