Auto Tech

What's a dry sump and how does it work? Steph Papadakis explains

One of the smartest racecar builders around breaks down the difference between a dry sump system and the oil system in a normal car.

I love cars, but even more than just driving them, I love the technology that makes them work. One piece of tech that I was always curious about but never fully understood was the dry sump oiling system.

What's a dry sump oiling system? Well, it's probably easiest to explain what it isn't. It's not like the oil system on most production cars. In most cars, your engine has an oil pan or sump at the bottom of the block where all the engine's oil is collected via gravity and then sucked up by a single pump to be circulated throughout the engine.

A dry sump system also has an oil pan at the bottom of the block, but it is much smaller and has a few extra components, as the magnificent Stephan Papadakis of Papadakis Racing shows us in his video. It's also a lot more expensive, which is why it's usually seen on sports cars and race cars.

A wet sump system is simple, easy to manufacture and enough for 99 percent of cars on the road. A dry sump comes into play when you have a vehicle that experiences exceptionally high G-forces from cornering, rapid acceleration and strong braking.

In a wet sump engine, your oil will slosh around under those conditions and could cause the oil pump pickup tube to be uncovered, starving the engine of oil. In a dry sump, the multiple oil pickups in the sump, each with individual pumps all feed to a large oil tank that supplies the engine under pressure. The design of the tank is such that the engine cannot starve for oil unless the tank was empty.

Another benefit of dry sump oil systems is a reduction in friction inside the engine. When an engine's crankshaft is spinning, it will whip the engine's oil up into the crankcase and form a fog of oil. This is denser than air alone and can cause a loss in power and efficiency. Many dry sump systems are designed to keep the inside of the crankcase at a vacuum, dramatically reducing resistance.

So there you go, thanks to Steph now you can watch a Ferrari or an air-cooled Porsche 911 drive by and admire more than just its looks or sound; you'll know that it's got a super cool oiling system too and that makes you a nerd, like me.