Synthetic vs. Regular Engine Oil

If you have ever had a conversation with anyone about engine oil, then you have undoubtedly come to the realization that almost every person out there has their own opinion regarding what represents the best option for both their own and your own automobile. Mechanics, performance enthusiasts, friends at work and even your own family are likely to hold varied points of view on the subject of engine lubricants and what you should be putting in your car when it’s time for your scheduled oil change.

Few aspects of any engine oil conversation attract such spirited debate as the question of whether synthetic or standard oil is the best option for a given vehicle. Breaking things down even further, true gearheads will launch into long examinations of what type of synthetic oil is truly worthy of consideration. Oil is a hot topic, whether you are being given advice at the local quick-change shop or around the water cooler in the office, and it helps to know a bit about the basics in order to understand the main differences between synthetic and standard oil.

Regular engine oil is refined from the same crude oil that is used to produce gasoline. Since it comes out of the ground and is the product of millions of years of pressures acting on ancient biological materials, it is also known in some circles as ‘dino oil,’ named after the dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth and whose remains now form part of our fossil fuel reserves.

Synthetic oil has a far different origin and takes a much more complicated journey before ending up in the bottle on the shelf of your dealer’s parts department. Synthetic oil is so named because it is created in a laboratory in order to provide a very strict grade of lubrication.

What does this mean for your engine? Can it really tell the difference between the two different types of oil? Yes and no. ‘Dino oil’ has been in use for decades, and its ability to protect a motor from the stress of every day use is well established by reams of test data and the experience of millions of drivers. Fundamentally, there is nothing ‘bad’ about standard oil, and it continues to be the engine lubricant of choice for many automakers.

Why, then, was synthetic oil developed?

The answer lies in the desire to meet the needs of more specialized engine designs and operating environments. Since synthetic oils are artificially created, manufacturers are able to be quite specific about the characteristics of each grade of lubricant they produce. Thanks in part to uniform molecule size and carefully controlled manufacturing conditions, synthetic oil is better able to resist heat, which makes it far less likely to break down when pulling extreme duty. Some synthetic oil also flows and protects better at very low temperatures.

In addition to these characteristics, synthetic oil is packed with a number of additives that differ from those found in regular oil. These additives can help to keep some types of engines cleaner inside, as they fight against the build-up of deposits and varnish that can occur in certain driving situations. Finally, since synthetic oil is more resistant to heat breakdown, it usually has a longer life inside an engine than regular oil, which can mean fewer oil changes over a given period.

If synthetic oil is so amazing in terms of performance, then why aren’t all engines simply switched over to this type of lubricant? The answer to this question is cost. All of those lab development and materials costs add up, leading to per-litre pricing for synthetic oil that is much higher than that for regular oil. Beyond this, however, is the question of need. The majority of engines run perfectly with standard oil, and to use synthetic would, in most cases, impart no real advantage.

Ultimately, if you are curious as to what engine oil would be best for your car, or if you are thinking of switching to synthetic, there is only one opinion you should seek: that of your dealer’s service department. These technicians are experts on your vehicle, and they will be able to discuss your driving habits, your engine type and your expectations regarding oil performance in frank and easy to understand terms. Whenever you have specific questions about your automobile, it’s always a great idea to go right to the source; when it comes to engine oil, the answer is no different.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Greetings from Alaska! I found that very informative. Thanks for the comment. I will be back to check for more info when I can.

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