If you’ve ever wondered about the pros and cons of synthetic versus conventional oil, you are not alone. So, what is synthetic oil and is it suitable for your vehicle? First, you should understand what makes conventional oil and synthetic oil different.
The Origins of Oil
If you think “oil,” you probably think “petroleum,” which is where most of the world’s oil comes from. Conventional motor oil is exactly that: crude petroleum siphoned from underground deposits and refined. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, does come from petroleum deposits, but is instead synthesized from other chemical bases, such as methane gas, atmospheric carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, among other compounds.
Synthetic Oil Properties
As a result of the process by which it is made, synthetic oil is typically more expensive than conventional oil, but it is more beneficial for your engine than conventional motor oil. Here’s why:
- It contains almost no impurities such as sulfur or wax, and is far less prone to oxidation, which means it lasts longer in your engine.
- Synthetic motor oil can dissolve deposits left by contaminated and oxidized conventional motor oils before it, resulting in a cleaner, longer-lasting engine.
- Synthetic oil is more uniform in molecular structure and contains same-sized hydrocarbon chains throughout the mix, meaning that oil viscosity and flow can be more easily tuned. This results in more power and greater fuel efficiency.
Synthetic Versus Conventional Oil Myths
Even though synthetic oil isn’t all that new, it seems to have attracted a lot of undeserved criticism. You may have heard anecdotes such as “I spent twice as much on a synthetic oil change, and now my engine leaks oil,” or “Once you switch to synthetic, you can’t go back to conventional.” Interestingly, neither of those statements are entirely true. Here are a few common misconceptions surrounding synthetic oil:
- “Synthetic oil is expensive.” Although synthetic oil may cost more, the upfront expense is well worth the better fuel economy, longer engine life and longer oil change intervals it affords.
- “Synthetic oil causes oil leaks.” Since synthetic oil flows better, it can help you to identify failing oil seals and replace them. Switching over to synthetic oil in a well-maintained engine (every 5,000 miles without fail) rarely causes a problem.
- “You can’t switch back and forth.” If synthetic oil isn’t available at your next oil change, you don’t want to shell out the cash, or you just want to switch back to conventional oil, it won’t cause any problems. Still, you should always use the grade of oil recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
- “I don’t need synthetic oil because my car is a commuter, old or doesn’t require it.” Thanks to the many superior qualities of synthetic versus conventional oil, it can benefit any engine . There are, however, a number of special engines, such as rotary engines, that cannot take synthetic. When in doubt, consult a mechanic or your car manufacturer’s specifications.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider using synthetic oil at your next oil change if it makes sense for your needs. Still, if your car hasn’t been well-maintained or you don’t have the time and money to replace worn oil seals, sticking with conventional oil may be the better choice.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.