The Snake Oil Story

The term “snake oil” is used to describe the “medicines” sold by traveling salesmen who claimed they would cure whatever might ail a person. The era of snake oil salesmen is, for the most part, dead. But the same type of too-good-to-be-true advertising lives on with some modern day automotive elixirs, which we have dubbed “snake oils”.

Why pay $3500 for a new engine when all you need is a couple of magic pellets dropped through the spark plug holes. Why pay $600 for a new power steering rack when a $5.00 bottle of power steering stop leak is “guaranteed” to work. Why spend $300 on a new converter when a bottle of “Guaranteed to Pass” is a mere $15.00.

A trip down the aisles of your local Kragen Auto Parts will demonstrate that I did not make these claims up — you’ll find them on the backs of various products. But the old axiom, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, still holds true. That’s not to say that there are no good bottled automotive products, there are. And that’s what this page is about.

Below is a list of our favorite snake oils — the ones that actually, on occasion, perform miracles.

Bars Leak

Bars Leak is a cooling system sealer. It works great. It can even seal head gasket leaks, sometimes. Bars Leak will not work on leaks in hoses. Nor will it work to seal a leak at the water pump Bars Leak will seal leaks in radiators, heater cores, and gaskets and O-ring of all types. Bars Leak will not clog radiators like some other types of cooling system sealers. Even though Bars Leak is a wonderful product, you would be wise to repair whatever is causing the leak rather than using bars leak to patch it. Remember that replacing an engine is never cheap and that’s what you are gambling with.


Lubeguard is a product designed help your automatic transmission shift better. This product seems to work especially well on Honda transmissions. We have seen a two Honda/Acuras that were stuck in one gear. On one of them we changed the fluid and added Lubeguard and after about a mile of driving the car began to shift normally. On the other one we did a transmission flush and added Lubeguard and the transmission immediately shifted normally. We have also had several cases were Lubeguard did not improve the shifting at all. It’s worth the gamble though. Many transmissions cost $2000 or more so it makes sense to spend $50 (without a flush) to $200 (with a flush) to make sure you really need to replace the transmission. You will have a hard time finding this one in your local parts store. It is sold by wholesale transmission parts houses only. Macy’s in Oakland, CA carries it. Of course we have some too.


Rislone is an oil detergent additive. All modern motor oil has detergent, Rislone just has a lot more of it. Rislone works to clean the inside of the engine, and will sometimes help free oil control rings that are stuck in the ring groove. Oil control rings are like windshield wipers for the cylinder walls. They wipe the excess oil off the wall so it does not go past the compression rings and into the combustion chamber where it is burned and pumped out the exhaust When the oil control rings get stuck, they don’t wipe properly. If the Rislone successfully cleans the gunk holding the oil control rings in the ring grooves, oil consumption will be reduced, and an engine overhaul can be avoided. If you use Rislone, be sure to change the oil more frequently than normal. All the dirt and grime being cleaned will be absorbed by the oil, so you’ll want to get it out of your engine.

No Smoke, Motor Honey, STP, etc..

These are all oil thickeners designed to reduce oil consumption by making the oil so thick it has trouble seeping past the piston or valve stem into the combustion chamber. The problem is that they also may make the oil so thick that it has trouble being pumped into the bearing surfaces when the engine is cold. No Smoke is best left as a last resort for tired engines that just aren’t worth rebuilding.