Face it. Not everyone is searching for the same thing. Some people are willing and able to pay extra for quality. Alfred Sloan recognized this in the early nineteen-hundreds and organized General Motors holdings into a tiered system. If you were looking for an entry-level automobile, you bought a Chevrolet. Something a little fancier, a Pontiac or a Buick. Better still? You pulled away in a Buick. And if you wanted top-of-the-line, you drove a Cadillac.
The same is true today. Whether you are purchasing gasoline, carpeting, or house paint, you will face a question. Do you prefer cheap, middle-of-the-road, or top-shelf? Regular, Special, or Super? Retailers recognize that their customers enjoy options when it comes to pricing.
But is there an advantage to moving up the price ladder? Is “better” really better than “good”? And is “best” the best? Sometimes it depends on the qualities of each product. For instance, ceramic brake pads are not necessarily better than semi-metallic pads. They are quieter, smoother, and produce less brake dust, but they do not have the same stopping power when pulling heavy loads. Your choice really depends on your particular needs.
Well, when it comes to motor oil, there is a clear difference in quality, even within a single brand. The quality and condition of your oil can affect your engine’s performance, so your best bet is not to reach for the cheapest oil you can find. Sure, your engine will operate on any type of oil. But it will thrive if you opt for synthetic motor oil over conventional oils.
Whereas conventional motor oil is derived and distilled from natural crude oil, synthetic oil (such as industry-leading Mobil 1™) is created artificially in a lab. Starting from high-quality base oils, synthetics are carefully engineered to have molecules that are uniform in shape and size. Synthetics contain far fewer impurities and include enhanced additives for optimum performance.
Many vehicles today come factory-equipped with synthetic motor oil and require that you stick with synthetics at each oil and filter change. Others come with conventional oil. In that case, you have the choice to upgrade to synthetic oil at any time. But why would you? Consider these four advantages of synthetic oil.
1. Consistent Viscosity
Viscosity could be defined as a fluid’s resistance to flow. That translates to how thick or thin a substance is. Water has a very low viscosity when compared to syrup or honey. Your engine’s oil needs to have a high (thick) enough viscosity to provide proper lubrication – to form a barrier between the pistons and cylinder walls and other moving parts – and yet be thin enough to seep between all of those parts.
Different engines call for different grades of viscosity. You have likely seen terms related to oil viscosity (or “grade”), such as “5W-30”, where the 5 represents the viscosity when the oil is cold (the “W” stands for winter) and the 30 represents its viscosity when warm. One motor might call for 5W-30 oil and another for 0W-20.
Because of its higher-quality base oil and uniform molecular makeup, synthetic oil achieves a more consistent viscosity across a wider temperature range and for a longer duration.
2. Reduced Friction
Not only does its molecular structure keep synthetic oil at an even viscosity (and allows it to be made to a lower viscosity than conventional oils), it also helps to reduce friction in your engine. By way of contrast, the inconsistent size and shape of the molecules in conventional oil have a more difficult time reducing friction. But that is the job of motor oil. To reduce friction between all of the moving parts inside your engine. Synthetic oil does it best.
What’s more is that conventional motor oil comes from petroleum distilled from crude oil. Not only are the shapes and sizes of the molecules in conventional oil random and uneven, but it also contains impurities that are not all removed through the refining process. These impurities build up and coat engine parts, eventually leading to sludge.
These variations affect the performance of the oil in your engine. When oil loses its ability to reduce friction, it needs to be replaced. All oil does at some point. But synthetic oil reduces friction for a longer time than does conventional oil.
3. Higher shear strength
Shear strength is your oil’s ability to withstand the physical stress enacted on it by the moving parts it is trying to protect. Any type of motor oil is subject to shearing – breakdown in viscosity – over time. And shearing occurs most at higher engine temperatures.
Conventional motor oil has a relatively low shear strength. It tends to change in viscosity when it gets hot. And it breaks down sooner, meaning less potential service life – fewer miles. Synthetic oil displays a much higher degree of shear strength, both in terms of the temperatures it can withstand and the length of life it provides. Synthetic motor oil stands up to the abuse inside your engine better than its conventional cousin.
4. Longer Life
You might be getting the picture that synthetic oil provides superior engine protection and longer service life than conventional oil does. The list of reasons why is long. Besides its consistent viscosity, reduced friction, and higher shear strength, it also boasts other advantages:
- Decreased evaporative loss
- Resistance to oxidation
- Resistance to thermal breakdown and sludge formation
- Better cold-weather starting properties
- Superior detergents to keep your engine clean
- Advanced protection for turbochargers and superchargers
- Increased horsepower and fuel efficiency
Along with these advantages, you have the possibility of changing your oil less frequently. If your car came equipped with conventional oil, you can change to synthetic oil and enjoy all of its benefits – including less-frequent oil changes. In any case, synthetic oil may help your engine to last longer.
Certainly, there are times when, given a choice, you would avoid choosing the cheap option. Would you trust your safety to a cheap brake repair service? Or your engine to the shade-tree “mechanic” down the street? Probably not. So, why trust your engine to anything but the best lubrication possible? Whether you drive a Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes – or a Chevy, Buick, or Cadillac – the next time you take your vehicle for an oil change, insist on the benefits of synthetic oil.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | January 2020
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