Synthetic Oil Facts and
We hear a lot of different opinions here at
about the pros and cons of synthetic oils. We
personally use it in our car and pickup truck. We've had good
results, but the controversy remains. The following is an
article written about the subject by Amsoil's marketing manager.
It's a fact of life that behavior is influenced by what
people believe, whether true or not. Numerous cases from history
bear this out. For example, sailors were once fearful of sailing
outside the sight of land lest they would fall off the edge of the
world. In the early
19th century, the train was considered dangerous because it was
believed that if you moved faster than 25 miles per hour, you’d be
traveling too fast to breathe. At a later date, the New York Times
warned that electric light would cause blindness. Microwave ovens,
automobiles and airplanes have had
equally vociferous opponents.
Looking back, it's easy to laugh at some of the things people once
held as true. But these people were not stupid. They were
misinformed. In many instances they had simply drawn conclusions
before all the facts were in. How easy it is to make the same
In our own time, synthetic motor oils have been the object of
numerous misconceptions held by the general public. Many people,
including some mechanics, have been misled by these persistent
PARAMETERS OF THE DEBATE
Synthetic motor oils are fuel efficient, extended life lubricants
manufactured from select base stocks and special purpose additives.
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 in size, shape and
weight, 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
In responding to the objections most commonly raised against
synthetics it is important to establish the parameters of the
debate. When speaking of synthetic motor oils, this article is
defending the lubricants which have been formulated to meet the
performance standards set by the American Petroleum Institute (API).
(The first such synthetic motor oil independently tested and
confirmed to meet these industry-accepted tests for defining engine
oil properties and performance characteristics was AMSOIL 100%
Synthetic 10W-40 in 1972.)
Many people with questions about synthetics haven't known where to
turn to get correct information. Is it super oil or snake oil? Some
enthusiasts will swear that synthetics are capable of raising your
car from the dead. On the other hand, the next fellow asserts that
synthetics will send your beloved car to an early grave. Where's the
truth in all this?
In an effort to set the record straight, we've assembled here ten of
the more persistent myths about synthetic motor oils to see how they
stack up against the facts.
Myth #1: Synthetic motor oils damage seals.
Untrue. It would be foolhardy for lubricant manufacturers to build a
product that is incompatible with seals. The composition of seals
presents problems that both petroleum oils and synthetics must
overcome. Made from elastomers, seals are inherently difficult to
Ultimately it is the additive mix in oil that counts. Additives to
control seal swell, shrinkage and hardening are required, whether it
be a synthetic or petroleum product that is being produced.
Myth #2: Synthetics are too thin to stay in the engine.
Untrue. In order for a lubricant to be classified in any SAE grade
(10W-30, 10W-40, etc.) it has to meet certain guidelines with regard
to viscosity ("thickness").
For example, it makes no difference whether it's 10W-40 petroleum or
10W-40 synthetic, at -25 degrees centigrade (-13F) and 100 degrees
centigrade (212 degrees F) the oil has to maintain a standardized
viscosity or it can't be rated a 10W-40.
Myth #3: Synthetics cause cars to use more oil.
Untrue. Synthetic motor oils are intended for use in mechanically
engines, that is, engines that
don't leak. In such engines, oil consumption will actually be
reduced. First, because of the lower volatility of synlubes. Second,
because of the better sealing characteristics between piston rings
and cylinder walls. And finally, because of the superior oxidation
stability (i.e. resistance of synthetics against reacting with
oxygen at high temperatures.)
Myth #4: Synthetic lubricants are not compatible with petroleum.
Untrue. The synthesized hydrocarbons, polyalphaolefins, diesters and
other materials that form the base stocks of high-quality name brand
synthetics are fully compatible with petroleum oils. In the old
days, some companies used ingredients that were not compatible,
causing quality synlubes to suffer a bum rap. Fortunately, those
days are long gone.
Compatibility is something to keep in mind, however, whether using
petroleum oils or synthetics. It is usually best to use the same oil
for topping off that you have been running in the
engine. That is, it is preferable
to not mix your oils, even if it is Valvoline or Quaker State you
are using. The reason is this: the functions of additives blended
for specific characteristics can be offset when oils with different
additive packages are put together. For optimal performance, it is
better to use the same oil throughout.
Myth #5: Synthetic lubricants are not readily available.
Untrue. This may have been the case two decades ago when AMSOIL and
Mobil 1 were the only real choices, but today nearly every major oil
company has added a synthetic product to their lines. This in itself
is a testament to the value synthetics offer.
Myth #6: Synthetic lubricants produce sludge.
Untrue. In point of fact, synthetic motor oils are more sludge
resistant than their petroleum counterparts, resisting the effects
of high temperature and oxidation. In the presence of high
temperatures, two things can happen. First, an oil's lighter
ingredients boil off, making the oil thicker. Second, many of the
complex chemicals found naturally in petroleum base stocks begin to
react with each other, forming sludge, gum and varnish. One result
is a loss of fluidity at low temperatures, slowing the timely flow
of oil to the engine for vital component protection.
Further negative effects of thickened oil include the restriction of
oil flow into critical areas, greater wear and loss of fuel economy.
Because of their higher flash points, and their ability to withstand
evaporation loss and oxidation, synthetics are much more resistant
to sludge development.
Two other causes of sludge -- ingested dirt and water dilution --
can be a problem in any kind of oil, whether petroleum or synthetic.
These are problems with the air filtration system and the cooling
system respectively, not the oil.
Myth #7: Synthetics can't be used with catalytic converters or
Untrue. There is no difference between synthetic and petroleum oils
in regards to these components. Both synthetic and petroleum motor
oils are similar compounds and neither is damaging to catalytic
converters or oxygen sensors. In fact, because engines tend to run
cleaner with synthetics, sensors and emission control systems run
more efficiently and with less contamination.
Myth#8: Synthetics void warranties.
Untrue. Major engine manufacturers specifically recommend the use of
synthetic lubricants. In point of fact, increasing numbers of high
cars are arriving on showroom
floors with synthetic motor oils as factory fill.
New vehicle warranties are based upon the use of oils meeting
specific API Service Classifications (for example, SJ/CF). Synthetic
lubricants which meet current API Service requirements are perfectly
suited for use in any vehicle without affecting the validity of the
new car warranty.
In point of fact, in the twenty-eight years that AMSOIL Synthetic
Lubricants have been used in extended service situations, over
billions of miles of actual driving, these oils have not been
faulted once for voiding an automaker's warranty.
Myth #9: Synthetics last forever.
Untrue. Although some experts feel that synthetic base stocks
themselves can be used forever, it is well known that eventually the
additives will falter and cause the oil to require changing.
Moisture, fuel dilution, and the by-products of combustion (acids
and soot) tend to use up additives in an oil, allowing degradation
However, by "topping off", additives can be replenished. Through
good filtration and periodic oil analysis, synthetic engine oils
protect an engine for lengths of time far beyond the capability of
Myth #10: Synthetics are too expensive.
Untrue. Tests and experience have proven that synthetics can greatly
extend drain intervals, provide better fuel economy, reduce engine
wear and enable vehicles to operate with greater reliability. This
more than offsets initial price differences. All these elements
combine to make synthetic engine oils more economical than
In Europe, synthetics have enjoyed increasing acceptance as
car buyers look first to
performance and long term value rather than initial price. As more
sophisticated technology places greater demands on today's motor
oils, we will no doubt see an increasing re-evaluation of oil buying
habits in this country as well.
Since their inception, manufacturers of synthetic motor oils have
sought to educate the public about the facts regarding synthetics,
and the need for consumers to make their lubrication purchasing
decisions based on quality rather than price. As was the case with
microwave ovens or electric lights, a highly technological
improvement must often overcome a fair amount of public skepticism
and consumer inertia before it is embraced by the general
But the word is getting out as a growing number of motorists
worldwide experience the benefits of synthetic lubrication. The wave
of the future, in auto lubes, is well under way.
About The Author
Ed Newman is Marketing Manager for AMSOIL INC., manufacturer of the
original synthetic motor oil for automotive applications. He has
published more than 200 articles as a freelance writer on a wide
range of important topics.
So, of course, the marketing manager of a company that produces
synthetic oil is going to be in favor of it. We aren't trying to
create any converts and we don't personally sell Amsoil. I
thought the article had some valuable information to share and I
thought others might enjoy reading it.