Eating crow, Fram oil filters, and my visit to Fram's R&D facility in Dayton Ohio
The subject of oil filters, like conventional vs. synthetic oil, is an emotional subject for many. I have to admit that over the past 10-15 years, I was caught up in the oil filter debates and formed some very strong opinionsÖ particularly about Framís oil filters. Based on what I had seen posted on the Internet, I became a fairly vocal anti-Fram oil filter type individual.
Personally, I had settled on AC-Delco and Purolatorís oil filters and they are what I had been running in all my vehicles. I was comfortable for many years with my opinion that AC-Delco, Purolator, Wix, etc. oil filters were good and that Fram was bad.
Much to my personal embarrassment, I recently learned that I have been wrong about Framís oil filters.
Through a friendship formed over several years with Jay Buckley, Technical Manager and Trainer for Autolite, a sister company to Fram, I was one of ten ďjournalistsĒ (their word, not mine) invited to tour Framís Research and Development facilities in Dayton Ohio.
We were to be the first-ever outsiders to be granted access, much less be given a full in-depth tour with presentations by Framís top engineers and staff. The other nine members of my group were primarily made up of automotive magazine editors, with a university petroleum educator (a VERY impressive individual) in the group as well.
I was half-expecting a sales job on why Fram was so great. I did not get one.
Instead, we were introduced to Gary Bilski, Framís Chief Filtration Engineer who was to be our host and leader for the dayís tour of their R&D facility. Gary had spent the majority of his career with Fram and it soon became clear he is a true expert on oil (and air) filtration. Gary turned out to be no salesman there to turn us around on Framís filters. He is an engineer by education and doesnít have a sales bone in his body.
We began the day in a conference room with introductions, an informal discussion on current filtration technology, and what we would be seeing. I came prepared to ask some very tough questions, complete with URL addresses and printouts of the various anti-Fram information I had bookmarked over the years.
It turned out I neednít have bothered bringing my own ammunition. Framís engineers soon got to all that and began showing us on a large overhead display the same exact web pages and anti-Fram reports I was going to ask them about.
I was shocked Gary Bilski brought that one up so soon in our meeting; it was a [censored] video that could not have been a tougher subject for them to have to address. Gary and several others from Fram spoke after the video was over and basically said the video was true and it was a very embarrassing one for them. What? Wow! Fram actually admitted what that video showed was factual and they were all greatly embarrassed over it. It was a tough one for them.
Then Gary further explained the video had to be showing an oil filter manufactured more than five years ago because such a filter could not make it past their current vastly improved Quality Control program. What is different now vs. before five years ago? Fram installed a series of computerized ďmachine visionĒ systems throughout their manufacturing facility. Their new machine vision systems now visually inspect every single filter throughout the manufacturing process for any variances and reject any with problems. If you know how machine vision systems work, youíll understand they are highly effective at picking up on any abnormalities, even those barely perceptible to the human eye. So that type of problem, the non-secured filtration material, as well other manufacturing problems. will no longer make it past their significantly improved Quality Control system.
We watched and discussed other videos and it soon became clear that the others simply werenít true. For example, one showed a really ugly sludge issue that was hysterically blamed on the Fram oil filter but it didnít take a genius to realize the oil just hadnít been changed in years.
One early subject we brought up was Framís use of cardboard end caps. Gary (again, their Chief Engineer) was prepared and covered that subject thoroughly. He explained how the pleated filtration material, which is flexible, is glued to the caps and that the added flex of the end caps prevents the pleated filtration material from pulling loose. Hereís a good example that adds credence to Garyís explanationÖ think flexible control arms vs. non-flexible control arms that are well known to tear control arm mounts away from what they are welded to. They use cardboard end caps for the Extra Guard and Tough Guard simply because it holds better than if it were to be glued to inflexible metal end caps.
Fram does use steel end caps on the Extended Guard oil filter but get away with that because the pleated filtration material used inside the Extended Guard is reinforced with a metal screen. That type of filter is designed for those who donít change their filter as frequently as most of us here do. What you gain in filtration life, you lose in filtration efficiency thoughÖ the Extended Guard has a 97% filtration efficiency vs. a 99% filtration efficiency with their Tough Guard filter. Their lowest-cost Extra Guard has a 95% filtration efficiency rating.
How do they come up with that Efficiency rating? By adding very precise amounts of specific sizes (measured in microns) of laboratory-quality ďdirtĒ (media) to the oil and then measuring what is left in the oil after the filtration process. The test equipment I saw gave direct readouts of the oil filterís efficiency. You could actually see the various efficiencies of the filters being tested on lab equipment like below.
So for example, let's say they pour exactly 100 grams of 10 micron laboratory grade media into the oil to be filtered. After the test is complete, they measure how much of the 100 grams of the lab media is left. If 99 grams have been filtered out, the filter is said to have 99% efficiency.
Nitrile is not as desirable to use in this job as silicone is but keep in mind Fram only use Nitrile in their entry-level lowest cost Extra Guard filter. Nitrile only starts to harden at around 258 degrees so for most conditions, it is ok. However, silicone is good to at least 400 degrees. For that reason, I personally would stick with an oil filter that uses a silicone anti-drainback valve. With Fram, that includes the Tough Guard, Extended Guard, and High Mileage filters.But just so you know, I learned that even their nitrile anti-drain back valves are tested to over one million cycles.
It was very interesting to note that Framís Tough Guard filter, which has a 99% filtration efficiency, was actually outperforming and out-filtering some far more expensive filters from Framís competitors. The R&D facility had a large assortment of the competitionís filters there being tested. Fram continually compares their filters against the competition which is very smart.
One of the more interesting series of tests were pressure tests that show how well the filter can contain the pressures oil filters can be subjected to. This particular piece of test equipment continually ups the oil pressure until the oil filter ruptures. We saw several cycles of tests and as I recall, the filters were withstanding 340+ psi of pressure before they blew out.
The below test apparatus was a pressure cycling machine that continually and repeatedly cycles the oil pressure 0-300+ psi over one million times. Each location has a digital readout over the top of each filter and I could see they were already over the million cycle mark. The pressure cycles made the filter cans swell in and outÖ spooky appearing, kind of like a row of beating hearts.
Oil pressures vary widely on our vehicles. It isnít unusual to see 0-125 psi spikes, especially on cold days when the oilís viscosity is thick. Other testing systems cycle the oil filters from -60 to >300f degrees.
There are a whole lot of various lab testing systems scattered throughout the facility and I honestly donít know what many of them do, we didnít have time to stop to watch each one of them work or have their functions explained.
What was my final conclusion? As stated early above, that I had been wrong about Fram. It was, frankly, embarrassing since I had been so anti-Fram oil filter for so many yearsÖ as some here still are. After having seen first-hand all the testing they put their filters through, the efficiencies of their filters vs. some very expensive oil filters, I changed my mind about Fram. It was a good lesson that serves to reinforce the fact that not everything we read on the Internet is true or at least is greatly exaggerated.
I fully expect a few to accuse me of having sold out to Fram after my visit. Thatís ok, I have seen first-hand what no one else here or anyone else outside of Fram has seen before. Again, my group of ten was the first outside group to have ever been invited to tour their R&D facility.
I too was anti-Fram and it wasnít easy to do so but I have been turned around. I have to eat crow for a few others as well. Mrblaine has been telling me the same thing for years, that Framís filters are fine and that the internet claims are either false or grossly exaggerated. Blaine, you were right.
In closing, I did something 4 weeks ago that would have been unthinkable to me only a few months ago. My wifeís pride and joy, her Lexus LS-430, needed an oil change. It got its usual 5 quarts of 5W-30 Valvoline engine oil but this time, I installed a Fram Tough Guard oil filter. That crow I ate at the cash register that day while buying the Fram oil filter wasnít the best I have tasted over the years. That isnít to say Iíll only run Fram oil filters from now on but I will say I will happily run their Tough Guard oil filter in any of my vehicles.