Ten Myths About Synthetic Lubrication

By: Ed Newman

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?

What we will be discussing on this
Ten Myths About Synthetic Lubrication

  • Synthetic engine 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.
  • Petroleum oils are pumped from the earth and refined. But synthetics being custom-designed is the ideal lubricant.

Definition 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-40in 1972.)

Ten Myths About Synthetic Lubrication
In an effort to set the record straight, we've assembled here ten of the more persistent myths about synthetic oils and synthetic oil vs regular oil to see how they stack up against the facts.

1) Myth #1
Synthetic motor oils damage seals.

False! It would be silly 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 standardize.

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.

2) Myth #2
Synthetics are too thin to stay in the engine.

False! 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.

3) Myth #3
Synthetics cause cars to use more oil.

False. Synthetic motor oils are intended for use in mechanically sound engines. 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.)

4) Myth #4
Synthetic lubricantsare not compatible with petroleum.

False. 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.

However, compatibility is something to keep in mind, 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. It is preferable to not mix your oils. 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.

5) 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.

6) Myth #6
Synthetic lubricants produce sludge.

False! Synthetic motor oils are more sludge resistant than their petroleum counterparts, resisting the effects of high temperature and oxidation. 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.

7) Myth #7
Synthetics can't be used with catalytic converters or oxygen sensors.

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.

8) Myth#8
Synthetics void warranties.

Untrue. Major engine manufacturers specifically recommend the use of synthetic lubricants. Increasing numbers of high performance cars are arriving on showroom floors with synthetic motor oils as factory fill.

New vehicle warranties are based upon the use of engine oilsmeeting 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.

9) Myth #9
Synthetics last forever.

False! 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 dillution, and the by-products of combustion (acids and soot) tend to use up additives in an oil, allowing degradation to occur.

However, by 'topping off', additives can be replenished. Through good filtration and periodic oil analysis, synthetic engine oilsprotect an engine for lengths of time far beyond the capability of non-synthetics.

10) Myth #10
Synthetics are too expensive.

False! 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 conventional non-synthetics.

Conclusion on Synthetic Lubrication
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.

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