While it’s a natural inclination for enthusiasts like ourselves to gravitate toward engine upgrades that provide instant results, all the output in the world is useless if it’s not reliable. As the life blood of an internal combustion engine, it’s crucial that the oiling system is up to task – if the engine is starving for lubrication, the chances of mechanical failure go up astronomically.
When an OEM puts together an oiling system for a particular production engine – be it for use in a garden variety commuter or a high-performance muscle car – the combination and design of the parts chosen are based around expected uses and a specific output. That’s perfectly fine for powerplants that are left in stock form, but what about when modifications enter the picture?
When we design our performance oil pans we focus on using as many of the oil control features as we can reasonably build into the pan. -Jeff Behuniak, Canton Racing Products
Beyond performance expectations, OEM engines are designed to fit into specific engine cradles and around specific suspension layouts. So when you’re looking to swap, say, an LS-series engine into a car that wasn’t originally designed to house an LS, fitment issues quickly come into play as well, and oil pan design can play a huge factor in whether or not you’ll be able to shoehorn that LS into a 50-year old engine bay.
Canton Racing LS Oil Pans
- PN. 13-274: Drag racing pan designed for installing LS1/LS6 blocks into earlier chassis. Fits A, F, Y, and 1970’s X-body cars
- PN. 15-276: Front sump road race/drift car oil pan designed for GM LS1/LS6-powered cars that require a shallow front sump oil pan
- PN. 15-284A: Road race pan, deep rear sump for Dart LS Next blocks.
- PN 15-286A: Road race pan, deep front sump for Dart LS Next blocks.
Even if your project isn’t a full-on competition build, there are still a number of reasons you’d want to consider opting for an aftermarket oil pan rather than sticking with the OEM piece. “The first reason – and one that’s a performance improvement regardless of the specific use – is weight,” says Thor Schroeder of Moroso. “Our aluminum oil pan that was used on the 2014 COPO Camaros was six pounds lighter than the cast aluminum production oil pan that was used on the 2012 and 2013 COPO Camaros.” And that weight savings can be even greater when compared to the typical pans used on street cars.
“Chassis restrictions when performing an LS swap is the second reason,” Schroeder continued. “Crossmembers will interfere with an OEM pan in certain situations, so an oil pan is needed that has a shorter front to back sump to clear these crossmembers. Also, some swaps can require a front sump oil pan instead of a rear sump oil pan.”
Additionally, if there’s a good chance the car might see performance use beyond the street at some point, it’s wise to consider future-proofing the oil system. “If the car is going to be used on the road course, autocross or drag strip occasionally and the builder wants to make sure that they are protecting the engine from oil starvation or putting extra heat into the oil from an unbaffled OEM oil pan, an aftermarket piece that’s designed to address these issues provides added protection.”
All high-performance oil pans are not designed in the same ways. Pans designed for drag racing have specific features that enhance both performance and protection based specifically on the demands of drag racing.
These oil pans help maximize engine output by keeping excess oil off of the rotating crankshaft, thereby reducing the crankshaft’s “mass” and allowing it to spin with the maximum amount of efficiency. However, there are some LS-specific factors to consider here.
“When we design our performance oil pans we focus on using as many of the oil control features as we can reasonably build into the pan,” explains Jeff Behuniak of Canton Racing Products.
“The LS is a different beast because of its skirted block. With a typical small-block we could build in power pouches to really free up the crank and reduce the parasitic power loss, but with the LS we are limited to a windage tray to remove the oil from the crank.”
Behuniak points out that this issue is addressed with some aftermarket LS blocks though.
“Dart has actually addressed the skirted block issue with their LS Next block and our LS Next pans are able to utilize the old style power pouch to really free up the power.”
Road Race, Low Clearance
With the high lateral g’s generated at speed when cornering, combined with the high stress on the engine that’s inherent to extended wide open throttle acceleration, road racing is perhaps the most demanding racing discipline on engine components – and a situation where you want to make absolutely sure your motor is getting proper lubrication.
An oil pan designed for road racing will make an excellent drag race oil pan, but an oil pan designed for drag racing would be a horrible choice for road racing because the lack of a reserve of oil during cornering. -Thor Schroeder, Moroso Performance
“Road race oil pans will have baffling that keeps oil contained in the oil pick up during cornering. For instance, if you make a left turn, a trap door on the right side of the oil pan will swing open and let a reserve of oil go to the oil pump pick up area,” he continued. “The trap door on the opposite side of the oil pan will swing shut so that oil can’t escape from the oil pump pick-up area. If you make a right turn, a trap door on the left side of the oil pan will swing open and let a reserve of oil go to the oil pump pick-up area and the trap door on the opposite side of the oil pan will swing shut so that oil can’t escape from the oil pump pick-up area.”
These road racing pans will also have the same features at the front and back of the pan to compensate for the g forces experienced during rapid acceleration and hard braking.
Occasionally the oiling demands of road racing and fitment requirements of engine swaps can be addressed simultaneously.
“A perfect example of that is our Front Sump LS Drift Pan (PN 15-276),” says Behuniak. “We worked with a number of guys that were putting LS engines into the Nissan 240sx chassis. Due to the chassis restraints they needed a unique pan to make the engine fit, but they were also going to be using it for something that needed oil control, so we designed around the space constraints and built in oil control features as well.”
Dry Sump SolutionsWhether it’s a purpose built race car or a high performance daily driver, oil starvation can be a serious concern with vehicles that are capable of high lateral G cornering, and dry sump systems offer the most comprehensive solution to oil starvation issues.
The main idea behind using a full dry sump design is the ability to have complete mechanical control over the oiling system rather that simply dictating the oil flow behavior by the pan’s design.
While a traditional wet sump system is fine for most vehicles, using a dry sump system resolves the potential issues of crankshaft windage and oil aeration by running it through the external components of the dry sump system.
Another important consideration is to ensure that the oil pick-up tube you’re using is designed to work properly with the oil pan you’ve chosen. Changing the pan depth without changing the pick-up tube in turn can result in it being too close to the bottom of the pan, where it will repeatedly toss up impurities that have settled at the bottom of the pan – or even worse – prevent oil from flowing to the oil pump.
Too far away can be equally detrimental, as it can increase the chances of the pump being starved for oil under high g-force situations, like hard acceleration, heavy braking, or high speed cornering.
And like the pick-up tube, an aftermarket oil pump should be considered when you’re using other non-OEM oil system components to ensure the system is supplying the right amount of oil to the engine.
If you’re building an engine that creates significantly more power than it did in stock form, a high volume oil pump will help to increase oil pressure, in turn bolstering protection. However if you’re using an aftermarket block you’ll want to consult that company’s specifications, as some use oiling systems that differ from the stock design and they may not recommend using a high volume pump in certain applications.
Avoiding An Expensive Paperweight
It’s understandable if your engine build doesn’t include oiling system components toward the top of the wishlist, but the higher you go up the performance food chain the more crucial proper oiling becomes to make sure the engine doesn’t tear itself apart.
“With high-dollar engines a rebuild can sink a lot of people,” Behuniak points out. If you’re going to invest a chunk of change into performance parts, it only makes sense to do what you can to make sure they’re going to last. When you’re in the midst of competition, these are the kinds of considerations that can make the difference between a podium finish and a DNF.