motor oil

Synthetic Oils: Are They Worth the Extra Cost?

Is synthetic oil worth it? This question is common among vehicle owners weighing the benefits against the cost. Synthetic oils can be known for potential advantages like improved engine performance, longer lifespan, and better performance. With the higher cost, it is important to understand the nuances of synthetic oil so you can decide if it is the right choice for your vehicle.

Though it was originally developed for high-temperature use in jet engines, synthetic motor oil wasn't really popular in automobile engines until the late 1960s. A few scientists began working on synthetic blends early on, and then the development of synthetic oils was taken up on a grand scale by companies such as Chevron, Mobil 1, and Motul. Well before the use of synthetic oils, fats, such as those from whales and vegetables, were the primary source of lubricant materials.

However, with the advent of the jet engine, it became necessary to find a means of lubrication that could withstand higher temperatures and still properly function; animal and vegetable fats were simply unable to meet this requirement. While many synthetic oils are petroleum-based, these blends do not contain the natural minerals that have a tendency to break down under high heat and long periods of use like those found in non-synthetic oils. Thus, problems such as oil oxidation and sludge buildup are easier to avoid by using synthetic oil blends.

Performance in Extreme Temperatures

While it's clear that synthetic oils perform better in demanding high-heat conditions such as in jet engines (much less, in auto engines), it's also notable that synthetic blends offer advantages in colder conditions, as well. Because non-synthetic oils become thick and tend to “gum up” under cold temperatures, they require starters and batteries to work much harder when starting a cold engine. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is not affected by colder temperatures and flows much easier at start-up, thus prolonging battery and starter life. While starters and batteries are relatively inexpensive to replace, it’s most likely worth it to spend a little extra on synthetic oil to avoid the unnecessary expenses of around $150 on a starter and another $70-$100 on a battery.

Disadvantages VS Advantages of Synthetic Motor Oil

One perceived disadvantage of synthetic motor oil is that it is more expensive than its non-synthetic counterpart. While the retail price is higher, synthetic oils are preferred in turbocharged vehicles, vehicles that tow heavy loads, race cars, or other vehicles used in any environment where extreme temperatures or extended engine use are present. This is simply because synthetic oils meet the high-performance demands of these situations, and other oils don’t. As such, the extra costs associated with synthetic oil means a longer engine life in the long run, which translates into big savings. Also, synthetic oils can also be used for longer periods of time before being changed, which can translate into a cost-saving property of its own.

Advantages of synthetic motor oil include:

  • Better lubrication performance at both high- and low-temperature extremes 
  • Less oil burn-off 
  • More stable chemical composition 
  • More protection against oxidation, oil sludge, and breakdown from high-heat environments 
  • Synthetic oil offers a better alternative to environmental concerns in the form of less oil waste as it is changed less frequently
  • Improves miles-per-gallon ratios in certain engines 
  • Is not affected by cold weather 
  • Increases horsepower, thus torque, because it causes less engine drag Increases engine life



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