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What You Can’t See Can Hurt Your Camshaft
A human hair is about 80 micron, and the smallest particle you can see with a naked eye is about 40 micron. That seems pretty small. Can something so small you can’t even see it really cause problems?
By Lake Speed, Jr.
To put things in perspective, .0015˝ is
equal to 32 micron. These particles are small enough to get into that space just
ahead of the cam lobe and lifter contact area. Small particles can get in between
the roller and the axle on a roller lifter. Even worse, hard particles can
score the bore of the plunger in hydraulic lifters, and this can cause
hydraulic lifters to bleed down. This leads to lifter “rattle” on start up.
In any case, the cams and followers
(both flat tappet and roller) need to be properly cleaned and lubricated prior
to installation and break-in.
Here are a few practical steps can you
take during the assembly and initial break-in of an engine to rid yourself of
these unseen assassins.
- Wash off the cosmoline coating that is
on the parts just prior to installation. A
foaming degreaser is recommended to really lift the greasy film from the part.
That film seals out moisture and keeps it from reaching the surface of the
part, but it also traps fine particulate. You don’t want an abrasive slurry
working on your flat tappet lifters, so make sure the metal surfaces have been
degreased before you apply the break-in lubricant.
- Apply a high zinc break-in oil before
assembly. Break-in oil is like primer for your
engine. The Break-In oil establishes an anti-wear film in your engine, and that
is the foundation for lasting protection. After cleaning the camshaft, dip the
camshaft in the break-in oil. Next, clean the lifters, and dip them in the
break-in oil. For hydraulic lifters, allow them to soak for several hours on
their side with the oil hole pointed up.
For flat-tappet lifters, apply engine
assembly grease to the foot of the lifter prior to installation. It is better
to get an extra coat of primer, than to leave a few spots thin.
- Use a finer micron filter during break-in. A
production car filter will have a finer micron rating than a racing filter will
have. For example, a WIX 51061 small block Chevy filter has a nominal micron of
21 with a GPM flow rate of 11. A WIX 51061R racing filter has a flow rate of 28
GPM and a nominal micron of 61. WIX even offers a specific break-in filter for
Prime the pump before firing the engine.
It is critical to have a supply of oil to the cam and lifters at initial
start-up, so the oil system must be primed to avoid a dry start.
Do not idle the engine. Upon
start-up, bring the engine up to 2,500 RPM. Vary the speed of the engine by a
few hundred RPM for 20 to 30 minutes.
- After the initial 30 minute break-in, change the oil filter.
Now you have removed all the larger particles that could cause problems. Now
you need the high flow rate filter when you start making dyno runs or go to the
The tighter the micron, typically the
less flow you have. Ideally, you want a micron tight enough to filter out
clearance sized particles and a flow rate high enough to supply the required
volume of oil to your engine.
- Change the oil. Most of the wear metals
that will be created in an engine’s life will occur during the first 1 hour of
operation. While everyone hates to throw away something that looks perfectly
good, it is cheap insurance to change the oil after the initial break-in. Again,
high quality break-in oil is like primer for your engine. It establishes the
anti-wear film in your engine, and that is the foundation for lasting
is especially true for a hydraulic lifter engine. Any particle that gets
trapped in the lifter can cause the lifter to bleed down and make noise. The
best plan of action is to a high quality break-in oil to reduce the amount of
particulate created during break-in, and then change the oil and filter after
initial break-in. Continue to use a high quality break-in oil during dyno runs,
the first weekend at the track, or for the first 500 miles in a street car.
After that, change to a high quality oil designed for that application and
follow normal change intervals.
Keeping clean, high quality oil in the
engine is insurance against lubrication related problems because what you
can’t see, can hurt you.
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