"We've gone back and poured as little as a shot glassful of one additive into a blend of several thousand gallons of oil to bring the additives into line with the oil's specifications," one technician whispered. A shot glass?
"It's the interaction and interplay of the components that provide the benefits and give the oil its performance attributes," said Monarchi. "Too much of one component can actually make the performance worse - more is not always better unless everything is increased or decreased in the same proportion."
In one lab at the Southwest Research Institute, metal plates - pieces of marine engine cylinder sleeves - are doused in oil, heated, doused again and so on. The technician hands me one plate, which has a nearly invisible tinge of what looks like grease baked on a cookie sheet. Another looks like the bottom of a Griswold iron skillet. Additives on the first plate were working.
In another area, salt fog hissed from tiny jets, drenching still more plates. The tech handed me two of the fragments.
"This is your engine on generic oil," he said pointing at the rusty red one. The other was nearly rust-free. "This is your engine on premium oil."
Formulating, testing formulations and verifying performance can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some additives are pricey as well, oil blenders say. They spend this money proving premium oils exceed minimum standards and hope you, as their customer, buy into their effort.
What about marine engine oil brands?
Marine engine makers go through a similar expensive process. Additionally, they test oils in not just a few engines, but many of them.
Whether we're talking about oil makers or engine makers, branding of oil doesn't come without careful thought and expensive verification of performance. I still can't tell you what the formula is, but I can tell you that I'll buy better oil now, after my peek backstage.