Is Synthetic Oil Better for My Car?

July 28, 2011  

Produced initially for high performance engines, the debate continues with regard to whether synthetic oils are better than traditional fossil fuel oil. Although, some high-end automobiles specifically state the need to use synthetic oil; and not doing so will void your vehicle’s warranty. Always follow manufacturer’s stipulations as to what oil to use in your vehicle’s engine!

What is Synthetic Oil?

As the name implies, synthetic oil is produced from components other than the distillates of crude oil. The first process discovered, the  Fisher-Tropsh method of producing synthetic oil, derives liquid hydrocarbons by converting carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane. This process was developed in Germany during World War II, producing millions of tons of synthetic oil in 1944, to compensate for crude oil shortages during the war. South Africa currently produces most of their diesel fuel with the Fisher-Tropsh method.

The Alberta, Canada kcmq Syncrude Sands Plant produces synthetic oil by removing bitumen (highly viscous) from oil sands that are mined close to the plant. Using a number of processes, the bitumen undergoes hydrogenation, turning it into synthetic crude oil. Approximately 14% of Canada’s petroleum is produced by Syncrude.

“Synthetic oil base stocks are made from organic compounds or synthetic hydrocarbons using a process that re-arranges the structure so all the molecules are uniform insize, shape and wight, a phenomenon that does not occur in nature. In contrast to petroleum oils which are pumped from the earth and refined, synthetics are custom-designed to produce, in effect, the ideal lubricant.” (www.jimsrepairjimstractors.com/synthetic-oil-facts.htm)

Semi-Synthetic Oils (Synthetic Oil Blends)

Using man made oils base stocks, blended with mineral oils produce Semi-Synthetic Oil (Synthetic Blend). The first synthetic blend was introduced in 1968 by Motul. A blend is a combination of mineral oil a follows:

Synthetic Oil ≤ 30% of total volume  +  Mineral Oil ≥ 70% of total volume

In other words, a synthetic blend is a combination of mineral oil and synthetic base; with the base totaling no more than 30% of total volume of the blend.

Advantages of Synthetic Oil

  • Better viscosity at extreme temperatures (hot and cold)
  • Better shear and chemical stability
  • Evaporative loss decreased
  • Resists oxidation and thermal breakdown
  • Less frequent oil changes
Disadvantages of Synthetic Oil
  • Possible stress of plastic (polyoxymethylene) in contact with polyalphaolefins 
  • Expensive, and shows no considerable benefits for extreme stop-and-go driving. (NYC Taxi Study)
The Choice is Yours
Depending on your vehicle, it may be necessary to use synthetic oils. Given the choice, the debate continues. Though some may consider that environmentally synthetic oils are superior, with extended time between oil changes, the chemicals used in synthetic oils are just as harmful to the environment. Also, to consider, is the fact that synthetic oil can cost up to 3 x what you would pay for petroleum oil. The next time you are scheduled for a Lynwood Oil Change, ask your technician!