Synthetic motor oil: an overview

Advance Auto PartsSynthetic types of motor oil were first available for cars in the early 1970s. AMSOIL was the first with a product, in 1972, with Mobil Oil Company following suit three years later. By the early 1990s, most major oil companies had synthetic options in their product lines and now it seems as though there are new brands every year.

As the name suggests, synthetic oil is a lubricant that is artificially made from chemicals, rather than directly from crude oil, although some synthetics start with crude oil as its base. There are also synthetic blends that contain conventional oil along with no more than 30% man-made fluids.

Advantages and disadvantages of synthetic oils

Synthetic oils were originally created for use in jet planes with high-temperature engines. So, not surprisingly, this man-made oil flows better than conventional oil in extreme heat. It also operates better in extremely cold temperatures. These oils:

 

  • have lower rates of evaporation, which means that less oil is consumed
  • have less sludge buildup
  • can help with fuel economy
  • cause less wear on the engine and therefore help with engine longevity

Overall, a synthetic choice holds up better over a longer period of time; this is why some manufacturers state that users can go longer between oil changes. As a caution, pollutants build up in the engine with conventional OR synthetic motor oil and so it’s important to follow recommendations given in your car manual.

Synthetic motor oils are more expensive, typically twice as much as conventional oil, because of the added cost of the refinement process. If you don’t drive your car hard and/or in extreme conditions, and if you don’t tow heavy loads or supercharge your engine, and if you change your oil promptly on schedule, the price increase to switch from conventional oil may not be worth it to you.

Early synthetic motor oil offerings were known to leak, especially when people switched back and forth between conventional and synthetic, but that is no longer a problem.

Before you decide whether you should switch to synthetic, check your owner’s manual to get your car maker’s recommendations. Switching to a type of oil that goes against recommendations could affect your warranty.

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Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts offers great savings on motor oil, oil filters and more