Synthetic oil has long been a topic of debate among automobile enthusiasts and mechanics alike. Although synthetic oil offers numerous benefits, including extended oil change intervals and enhanced engine protection, there are also some drawbacks to consider. Here we will delve into the world of synthetic oil, discussing its history, benefits, and drawbacks, and answering some common questions to help you decide if synthetic oil is worth it for your vehicle.
A Brief History of Synthetic Oil
The development of synthetic oil began in 1972 with AMSOIL, followed closely by Mobil 1 in 1974. Initially, synthetic oil was valued for its ability to extend oil change intervals, sometimes by double or more. However, it is rumored that car manufacturers resisted adopting extended oil change intervals to maintain a steady revenue stream from their dealerships.
Nowadays, new oil standards such as GF5, Dexos 1(GM), Dexos 2 (GM), and 507 (VW) have made extended oil change intervals of up to 10,000 miles the norm, with synthetic oils playing a major role.
Understanding Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil is a chemically engineered lubricant created from either reprocessed petroleum or other synthetic base materials. While basic synthetic oil is often derived from petroleum, 100% synthetic oil is created in a manufacturing plant, like in the case of AMSOIL.
Synthetic Oil: Pros And Cons
Synthetic oil offers several advantages over conventional oil but has some drawbacks. Here, we will explore the pros and cons of using synthetic oil in your vehicle.
Benefits of Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil boasts several advantages over traditional motor oil. Firstly, it is engineered to be more effective in resisting oil breakdown, allowing it to last longer than conventional oil. Additionally, synthetic oils provide enhanced engine protection, as they maintain their stability while engine components move at high speeds and constantly interact with one another.
- Runs cooler with reduced friction: Synthetic oil has a lower friction coefficient, which helps the engine run cooler and more efficiently.
Superior cold and hot engine performance: Synthetic oil provides better lubrication during extreme temperatures, ensuring smoother cold starts and better high-temperature protection.
- Resists the formation of sludge: Synthetic oil has lower volatility, which reduces the likelihood of sludge formation in the engine.
- Improves fuel efficiency: Synthetic oil can improve fuel consumption by 1.8% to 7.9%, depending on the specific formulation and driving conditions.
- Extended oil change intervals: Synthetic oil can last longer than conventional oil, allowing for extended oil change intervals, which can be more convenient and cost-effective in the long run.
Under extreme conditions, synthetic oil is less prone to breaking down or vaporizing. Furthermore, synthetic oils demonstrate superior viscosity and stability at both low and high temperatures compared to conventional oil or synthetic blends.
Another advantage of synthetic oils is their high resistance to viscosity changes due to friction, heat, and chemical contaminants. They are also more efficient at cleaning engines, as they circulate through the vehicle’s engine and reduce the formation of deposits.
A 2017 AAA study found that synthetic oil offers “significantly better” protection for your engine compared to conventional oil.
Drawbacks of Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil also presents some disadvantages compared to conventional motor oil. Firstly, it is more expensive, with prices ranging from two to four times higher than conventional oil. Additionally, synthetic oils may be more susceptible to additives precipitation during cold storage conditions. Multi-grade motor oils that utilize synthetics might also demonstrate slightly reduced fuel economy at highway speeds compared to mineral oil.
Furthermore, synthetic oil can limit the break-in process for new vehicle components. It is also important to note that synthetic oil may not be compatible with older car models or vehicles with rotary engines. Rotary engines rely on injecting small amounts of motor oil into the combustion chamber to lubricate the apex seals, a task synthetic oils do not perform as efficiently.
So, the main problems are:
- Incompatibility with some older engines: Some older engines may not be compatible with synthetic oil, leading to potential seal leaks or other issues. It is essential to consult your owner’s manual or a professional mechanic before making the switch.
- Cost: As mentioned earlier, synthetic oil typically comes with a higher price tag, making it less appealing to budget-conscious drivers.
How Often Should I Change My Synthetic Oil?
The interval for changing synthetic oil can vary based on a number of factors, including your vehicle’s make, model, and production year. It is crucial to refer to your car’s owner’s manual to obtain specific recommendations on oil change frequency. The type of motor oil you use significantly influences the necessary intervals between oil changes.
The outdated practice of changing conventional motor oil every 3,000 miles has been replaced by synthetic blends and fully synthetic oils, which can last anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 miles before an oil change is needed.
Some automotive experts and offroad enthusiasts advise changing synthetic motor oil every 5,000 to 10,000 miles or between three months and one year, based on which comes first. Numerous manufacturers and mechanics who work with synthetic oils maintain that a 7,500-mile interval between oil changes is typical for most vehicles. In some cases, depending on the synthetic oil type being used, you may be able to extend the oil change interval to 10,000 miles (or approximately one year) before requiring an oil change.
What Is Conventional Motor Oil?
Conventional oil, also known as mineral oil or regular oil, is utilized as engine oil to provide lubrication and improved engine protection1. It is produced by refining crude oil and involves heating it to extreme temperatures. This process results in a heavier oil that forms the base for conventional motor oil. Drivers with straightforward engine designs and regular driving habits should use conventional motor oil instead of severe usage. Moreover, various automakers continue to recommend conventional engine oils provided they conform to the most recent industry standards3.
In summary, synthetic oil offers numerous benefits, such as extended oil change intervals, better engine protection, and improved fuel efficiency. However, it also has some drawbacks, including a higher initial cost and limited availability. Whether synthetic oil is worth it for your vehicle depends on factors such as your driving habits, the age and type of your engine, and your willingness to invest in better engine protection. Be sure to consider the information provided in this article and consult your owner’s manual or a professional mechanic to make an informed decision.
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The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. The author and publisher make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability, or completeness of any information presented. The reader is advised to consult a qualified professional, such as a mechanic or dealership, before making any decisions related to their vehicle's engine oil or maintenance.