Understanding Motor Oil Options

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All responsible vehicle owners know that regular oil changes are crucial to the proper operation of the motor, but when forced to choose among types of motor oil, many are stumped. What is synthetic oil? A synthetic blend? Are the benefits worth the extra cost? Here is a quick rundown of the different types of oil and their attributes.

What is motor oil?

A vehicle motor has moving parts, and motor oil is the substance used to keep those parts moving smoothly with less friction and wear. The oil keeps the engine clean, lubricated and cool. Over time and use, the oil level lowers and the oil becomes dirty, necessitating an oil change.  

Types

Motor oil is made by blending a base oil with substances that will lend it qualities like improved corrosion resistance or better viscosity. Conventional oil is created using crude oil that is mined from the ground. Synthetic oil starts with crude oil, however it is then refined, distilled and combined with chemicals, resulting in an oil that is more stable and has more consistent molecules and fewer impurities. Synthetic blend oil is a mix of conventional and synthetic oil.

Synthetics

Synthetic motor oil and synthetic blends have many benefits over traditional motor oil. 

• Motor oil breaks down over time, losing its ability to protect the engines, causing a need for an oil change. It takes much longer for synthetic oil to break down however, so vehicles can operate for longer periods between oil changes.

• Fewer oil changes mean less oil waste, which is better for the environment.

• Synthetic oil has an advantage over conventional in weather extremes, since the chemicals added to synthetic oil make it more viscous so it flows better when temperatures dive and breaks down less slowly in hot weather.

• As motor oil moves through an engine over time it gathers deposits and becomes sludgy. The additional processing that synthetics undergo creates a purer oil, which stays clean longer.

• Better quality synthetic oil can extend the engine’s life.

Drawbacks of synthetic motor oil include:

• Synthetic oil is significantly more expensive than conventional. Synthetic blends are less costly, but also less effective than synthetic oil.

• Synthetic oils don’t work well with rotary engines, which burn synthetics, causing a gummy substance.

Conventional

• Conventional oil’s primary benefit is its low cost compared to synthetic oil. 

• Conventional oil is a good choice for older vehicles, those made around the year 2000 or earlier, with engines that weren’t built to take advantage of the benefits of synthetics.

• Most auto manufacturers supply new vehicles with conventional oil in the factory and recommend continuing its use for the first 5,000 miles.

Drawbacks include:

• Conventional oil is less effective in cold temperatures and breaks down faster in hot temperatures.

• Because conventional oil breaks down quicker than synthetic oils, more frequent oil changes are necessary, which can be an inconvenience.

Synthetic oil is best for most vehicles but at a significantly higher cost than conventional oil. A synthetic blend offers many of the benefits of synthetic oil at a more economical price. Conventional oil is at its best in areas that don’t experience extreme temperatures. Now, the next time the mechanic asks what type of oil you want, you will be prepared.