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Synthetic Oil: Scam or Real Deal?

Should You Switch to Synthetics?

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating
User Rating 4.5 Star Rating (4 Reviews)


Dinosaur oil cruds valves.

Synthetic oil won't do this.

photo courtesy Amsoil
Look on the shelf of your local auto parts house and you'll see more oils than breakfast cereal choices at the supermarket. It wasn't so long ago that you had about a half dozen to pick from, and since they were all made from the same gunk, it didn't matter much anyway. Then in the early 1970s popped up a new batch of lubricants -- synthetic oils.

The Slick Truth on Synthetic Oil

Made popular by brands like Amsoil and Mobil 1, die-hard gear heads, racers and enthusiasts started using synthetic oil exclusively. Unfortunately, it wasn't until almost two decades later that the major oil companies started offering synthetics to the masses. Despite the number of benefits over mined oil (the stuff they pump out of the ground), Americans still haven't fully embraced this advanced technology.

So what's the difference? Synthetic oil is produced in a lab, which means the only stuff in it is what they put in it. Despite the high-tech refining of crude oil, there are still contaminants in the oil that can build up and eventually damage an engine. Changing your oil and filter removes any loose particles that form, but often the build-up occurs in an isolated area of your engine, usually where it gets really, really hot. This build up can clog oil passages and valves, which can eventually lead to reduced engine life.

There are also ecological benefits to using synthetic oil. Its viscosity (ability to lubricate) stays higher than mined oil at high temperatures, enough to even affect your gas mileage. Since it breaks down much more slowly than petroleum-based oil, you can greatly extend the time between oil changes. One truck driver drove his semi 409,000 miles on synthetic without changing the oil! Think of how much less oil would have to be collected and recycled if we used half as much every year.

The bottom line is synthetic oils are an easy choice. The extra bucks you spend for an oil change will be returned in no time.

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 4 out of 5
A nit, perhaps..., Member BobcatALR

Though there are 100% synthetic oils based on 100% synthetic base stocks, they are impractical for widespread commercial use. Commercially-available synthetic oils and ""Mined"" (or mineral) oils all start out in the same place - a hole in the ground. The primary difference between them is that the synthetic stock is taken from a different ""fraction"" of the crude oil distillation process, and is modified via chemistry (hydrofinishing, hydrocracking, additives, etc.) to develop its lubricating properties.

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