What's the Difference Between Conventional Oil and Synthetic Oil?
August 27th, 2015
Updated March 15th, 2017 Falls Church, Virginia - When you get your, a question that is often asked is whether or not you want synthetic or conventional oil. To the uninitiated, this may seem like a somewhat insignificant distinction, but in the world of engine oil, there's a lot more to this question than meets the eye.
Synthetic oil is generally regarded to be superior to conventional oil when it comes to its consistency and function. Simply put, conventional oil pales in comparison to synthetic in terms of longevity, as well as the ability to handle extremely high temperatures without losing its effectiveness. While the performance superiority of synthetic oil is readily apparent, this added robustness also comes with a higher price tag; synthetic oil can cost as much as twice (and sometimes more than) what you would pay for conventional oil.
So is synthetic oil really worth its higher price tag? The answer to this question is not as straightforward as it may seem. There are quite a few important variables that should be factored in, but to summarize the general consensus of the experts, synthetic oil is regarded as the "lesser of two evils" for the time being. The rationale for this conclusion is not so much a matter of quality, but quantity. Most of us are familiar with how harmful conventional oil waste is to the environment, and synthetic oil is comprised of man-made chemicals that are equally harmful to the ecosystem, but since synthetic oil lasts longer than conventional oil, this means that less oil waste is being dumped per year when using synthetic oil versus conventional oil. Although recycling your used oil helps a little bit, it is a very involved process, so the less it has to be done overall, the better. Since synthetic oil lasts up to three times as long as conventional oil, you're essentially able to reduce the total amount of used oil being recycled or dumped into the environment on a yearly basis.
When it comes to performance, synthetic oil is formulated to be "cleaner" than conventional oil, which means that its volatility is generally lower; this prevents the oil from vaporizing out of the exhaust quite as quickly as its conventional counterpart. Synthetics have also been found to improve the horsepower of an engine by producing less resistance among all of the engine's various moving parts. This translates into improved fuel efficiency, which means that the engine is using less gas to perform essentially the same job.
There's been quite a bit of debate when it comes to how often you should change your oil, with some experts saying that it is necessary to do so every 3,000 miles, while others think that you can allow for a little bit more time between oil changes. With some synthetic oils, it is possible to go up to 20,000 miles before having to change your oil. Of course, this number is somewhat of a "moving target", because much of what is considered to be necessary maintenance for your car will depend upon how often you drive, the average distance that you drive, and what type of climate you live in.
Manufacturers also offer synthetic blends, which are basically a blend of conventional and synthetic oil. This category of engine oil is primarily aimed at the budget-conscious consumer who wants some of the benefits of using synthetic oil without having to pay such a hefty price tag. While synthetic blends do not have the same type of longevity that full synthetic oils do, you can at least rest assured that they will contribute to slightly better engine performance, and may possibly extend the amount of time you have before your next oil change.
Your safest bet is usually to just stick with the type of oil that is recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer; this information can be found in your owner's manual. A conventional engine really doesn't need any super-special type of oil, but if you have an engine with a lot of miles on it (e.g., over 75,000), you may want to consider purchasing a high-mileage engine oil to best match the performance needs of your vehicle.
*Always check your owner’s manual for your vehicle model’s specific instructions before attempting any type of repair. Copyright Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto March 2017 www.hoganandsonsinc.com