Lubricant additives are chemical compounds that improve the lubricant performance of base oil (or oil "base stock"). The manufacturer of many different oils can utilize the same base stock for each formulation and can choose different additives for each specific application.
Nearly all commercial motor oils contain additives, whether the oils are synthetic or petroleum based. Essentially, only the American Petroleum Institute (API) Service SA motor oils have no additives, and they are therefore incapable of protecting modern engines. The choice of additives is determined by the application, e.g. the oil for a diesel engine with direct injection in a pickup truck (API Service CJ-4) has different additives than the oil used in a small gasoline-powered outboard motor on a boat (2-cycle engine oil).
Oil additives are vital for the proper lubrication and prolonged use of motor oil in modern internal combustion engines. Without many of these, the oil would become contaminated, break down, leak out, or not properly protect engine parts at all operating temperatures. Just as important are additives for oils used inside gearboxes, automatic transmissions, and bearings. Some of the most important additives include those used for viscosity and lubricity, contaminant control, for the control of chemical breakdown, and for seal conditioning. Some additives permit lubricants to perform better under severe conditions, such as extreme pressures and temperatures and high levels of contamination.