Many questions surround the subject of synthetic motor oil: What is so good about it? How long does it last? Is it okay for use in my car? Synthetic oil is a lubricant made up of artificial chemical compounds. It is manufactured from chemically modified and highly-refined petroleum products or from other raw materials. You are probably familiar with conventional motor oil. Here we offer answers to some of the questions you might have about synthetic oil.
When did synthetic motor oil first come out?
Synthetic oil was first developed in the 1920s but did not begin to see widespread use until WWII when Germany found itself in need of a solution to a crude oil shortage. Later, advances in aerospace technology that required higher-performing lubricants, as well as the oil crisis of the nineteen seventies, expanded the need for synthetic solutions.
Who made the first synthetic motor oil?
In 1972, AMSOIL came to market with the first fully-synthetic motor oil to meet API (American Petroleum Institute) service requirements. They were followed a couple of years later by Mobil Oil Company. By the nineties, most major oil companies added their own synthetic oil products to store shelves.
What is synthetic oil made from?
Where conventional motor oil is derived and distilled directly from crude oil, synthetic motor oil is made artificially in a lab. The base oil used to develop synthetics may originate from a highly-refined crude oil product or from some other compound.
What is the difference between synthetic and conventional motor oil?
Because conventional oil is made from crude oil taken from the ground, it contains impurities and its molecules form chains and rings of random sizes and shapes. Long tangled chains of carbon atoms will lead to a thick fluid that flows slowly. Shorter chains produce oil with better flow. The molecules in synthetic oil have been refined and sorted so that they are small and uniform in size. Impurities are also eliminated making synthetic motor oil a superior product to conventional oil.
What are the benefits of synthetic oil?
Synthetic oil boasts several advantages over conventional motor oil.
- Better resistance to breakdown over time
- Fewer impurities that would lead to buildup and engine sludge
- Improved protection against engine wear
- Better flow in extreme temperatures
- More consistent viscosity (how thick the oil is)
- Longer potential intervals between oil changes
How often does synthetic oil need to be changed?
There was a time when “three months or three thousand miles” was the standard duration between oil changes. While that mantra can still be heard today, the truth is that most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing the oil somewhere between 5K and 7.5K miles. Synthetic motor oils are capable of longer intervals. Recommendations differ from one vehicle to the next, but a good rule of thumb is to change synthetic oil every 7.5K to 10K miles. But for optimum engine protection, maintain the manufacturer’s recommendation for conventional oil when you use synthetic.
Can I use synthetic oil if my car does not require it?
Yes. Some engines require the use of synthetic oil, but most do not. However, synthetic motor oil can be used in place of conventional oil even if the vehicle manufacturer does not require it.
What is the difference between synthetic and semi synthetic oil?
Semi-synthetic motor oil is a blend of conventional oil and synthetic products. With synthetic oil, regardless of the base compounds used in its makeup, the product is artificially made, with all of the benefits that come from that process and from the additives included in the formula. Synthetic blends or semi-synthetics contain some percentage of less-refined conventional oil and its accompanying downsides. Industry specifications, while stringent for full synthetics, do not exist for semi synthetics.
Is it okay to mix synthetic and conventional oil?
Synthetic oil can be mixed with conventional oil. The result would be something similar to that of a semi-synthetic or synthetic blend. But all of the benefits of synthetic oil are diminished by adding conventional oil. To get full benefits it is better to use full synthetic oil.
Can I use regular oil after synthetic?
Yes, it is a myth that once you change to synthetic oil you can’t go back. The truth is, you can change back and forth whenever you want to. In fact, synthetic oil blends are a mixture of synthetic and conventional oils.
Will switching to synthetic oil cause leaks?
No, not really. That is another synthetic oil myth. Synthetic oil will not cause leaks or damage engine seals. On the other hand, if your engine already has a leak or damaged seal, synthetic oil just might help you find it. Because of its molecular uniformity and low viscosity, synthetic oil has a better chance of flowing through small spaces. That is good when it comes to working its way through the tight tolerances of a modern engine. Not so good if your engine already has a sliver of a leak that conventional oil might find hard to flow through, but that synthetic oil can navigate. And sometimes, sludge from conventional oil actually plugs a leak; synthetic oil can clean out the plug and leak out.
Is synthetic oil bad for your engine?
There was a time early in its use when synthetic oil was thought to be bad for an engine. This was largely because some of the detergent additives included in synthetic formulas to clean the engine could weaken engine seals. Today that is not the case. Synthetic motor oil is safe for use in any engine.
Is it okay to use synthetic oil in older cars?
While it is safe to say that synthetic oil is safe in any engine, that does not mean that it might not cause trouble in some. Older cars, those dating before 1990 or so, had engines manufactured with larger tolerances than late-model vehicles. Synthetic oil can sometimes leak from the gaps in engine seals. Conventional oil often formed sludge that plugged those gaps, but synthetic oil does a great job of cleaning engine sludge – and opening up those gaps. Modern synthetic oil products contain detergents that are less harsh on engine seals. Some oil companies even supply formulas made specifically for high-mileage vehicles.
How long does synthetic oil last?
Synthetic oil does not need to be changed as frequently as conventional motor oil. Many are rated between 10K and 15K miles; some upwards of 20K. But most oil companies will advise oil changes short of the maximum lifespan of their products – somewhere between 7.5K and 10K miles.
What are the disadvantages of using synthetic oil?
Some of the disadvantages of synthetic oil (for instance, the minimization of friction needed during a new engine’s break-in period, or the lack of lead-suspending properties necessary in engines requiring leaded gasoline) are relics of the past – or are at least relegated to a select few vehicles. The biggest downside to synthetic oil really comes down to cost. Synthetics cost significantly more than conventional oils, especially if you maintain the same interval between oil changes. If you choose to extend the time between oil changes, the cost difference can be offset.
How often should I change the oil filter?
The oil filter on your engine should be replaced with every oil change.
Can synthetic oil be recycled?
Yes. Synthetic motor oil can be recycled and is reused as mineral oil.
Is synthetic oil worth the cost?
That depends. Are you looking for superior performance and potentially fewer oil changes? If so, yes. Synthetic will allow you to go longer between oil changes, offsetting the increased cost of synthetic oil. If you choose instead to stick with your manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals when using synthetic, “worth it” will mean something different. Some experts suggest that a well-maintained engine containing conventional oil can perform similarly to one with synthetic; others insist that synthetic performs better no matter what. Certainly, there is no harm in switching to synthetic, so your “worth it” might simply be the peace of mind of using a superior product in your engine.
Columbia Auto Care and Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright September 2019
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