In the life of an engine oil formulator, the decision of when to go synthetic is determined by the performance requirements of the lubricant balanced with the cost the market will bear. For consumers, choosing whether or not to purchase synthetic engine oil involved a similar thought process. Of course, you want to buy the best lubricant for your vehicle, but you have to find a balance between performance and cost as well. 

The Benefits of Synthetic Oils

The main component of engine oil is base stock – often greater than 90% of the formulation. Synthetic base stock consists of engineered molecules that exhibit the same beneficial traits of engine oil. They are the result of closely monitored chemical reactions that produce a molecule that has:

• Superior cold temperature flow characteristics

• Superior high temperature lubrication properties

• Increased thermal breakdown resistance

Illustrating the Differences

Picture a jar full of marbles and a jar full of rocks of a similar size. The marbles represent a synthetic lubricant – they are smooth and uniform; they pour out of the jar easily; and you can stick your hand into them with little resistance. The rocks represent conventional oil – they are not uniform; they don’t pour well; and it’s difficult to stick your hand into them because they do not move as easily against one another. 

Now, imagine this on a microscopic scale inside your car’s engine. You can begin to understand the difference between synthetic and non-synthetic engine oils. 

Advantages Depend on Application

Strictly from a quality of lubrication standpoint, synthetic oil is better than mineral oil. However, it can prove more effective in certain applications. For example, a 1996 Honda probably won’t benefit from putting synthetic oil in the engine. But a more modern engine that’s designed to perform at higher levels, such as a turbocharged Ford Ecoboost, is a perfect candidate for a premium synthetic oil. Ford’s Ecoboost is just one example of how today’s automotive engines run hotter, burn leaner, and are built to more precise tolerances than those of even 10 years ago. Proper lubrication is critical, and the role oil plays in engine cooling continues to grow as technologies advance. Without a doubt, synthetics are the best oil choice for the majority of modern automobiles. In fact, most new cars leave the factory with at least a synthetic oil blend, if not a full synthetic, in the crankcase. 

The Benefits Outweigh the Costs

Synthetics may cost more up front, but that cost is offset with longer oil change intervals. This, combined with their superior lubrication qualities, can make synthetic lubricants the best choice for budget, performance, and overall cost of ownership. The next time you are deciding between a synthetic and conventional oil, you can rest assured knowing that a synthetic will provide strong value for your hard-earned money.