Ten Myths About Synthetic Lubrication
It's a fact of life that behavior is
influenced by what people believe, whether true or not. Numerous cases from
history bear this out.
For example, sailors were once fearful of sailing outside the sight of
land lest they would fall off the edge of the world. In the early 19th
century, the train was considered dangerous because it was believed that if you
moved faster than 25 miles per hour, you’d be traveling too fast to breathe.
At a later date, the New York Times warned that electric light would cause
blindness. Microwave ovens, automobiles and airplanes have had equally
Author: Ed Newman
Ed Newman is Marketing Manager for AMSOIL INC., manufacturer of the
original synthetic motor oil for automotive applications. He has
published more than 200 articles as a freelance writer on a wide range
of important topics.
Looking back, it's easy to laugh at some of the
things people once held as true. But these people were not stupid. They were
misinformed. In many instances they had simply drawn conclusions before all the
facts were in. How easy it is to make the same mistake today.
In our own time, synthetic motor oils have been
the object of numerous misconceptions held by the general public. Many people,
including some mechanics, have been misled by these persistent myths.
PARAMETERS OF THE DEBATE
Synthetic motor 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. In contrast to petroleum oils which are pumped from the earth
and refined, synthetics are custom-designed to produce, in effect, the ideal
In responding to the objections most commonly
raised against synthetics it is important to establish the parameters of the
debate. When speaking 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-40 in 1972.)
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?
In an effort to set the record straight, we've
assembled here ten of the more persistent myths about synthetic motor oils to
see how they stack up against the facts.
Myth #1: Synthetic motor oils damage seals.
Untrue. It would be foolhardy 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
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.
Myth #2: Synthetics are too thin to stay in
Untrue. 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.
Myth #3: Synthetics cause cars to use more
Untrue. Synthetic motor oils are intended for use
in mechanically sound engines, that is, engines that don't leak. 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.)
Myth #4: Synthetic lubricants are not
compatible with petroleum.
Untrue. The synthesized hydrocarbons,
polyalphaolefins, diesters and other materials that form the base stocks of
high-quality name brand synthetics are fully compatible with petroleum oils. 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.
Compatibility is something to keep in mind,
however, 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. That is,
it is preferable to not mix your oils, even if it is Valvoline or Quaker State
you are using. 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
Myth #5: Synthetic lubricants are not readily
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.
Myth #6: Synthetic lubricants produce sludge.
Untrue. In point of fact, synthetic motor oils
are more sludge resistant than their petroleum counterparts, resisting the
effects of high temperature and oxidation. In the presence of high temperatures,
two things can happen. First, an oil's lighter ingredients boil off, making the
oil thicker. Second, many of the complex chemicals found naturally in petroleum
base stocks begin to react with each other, forming sludge, gum and varnish. One
result is a loss of fluidity at low temperatures, slowing the timely flow of oil
to the engine for vital component protection.
Further negative effects of thickened oil include
the restriction of oil flow into critical areas, greater wear and loss of fuel
Because of their higher flash points, and their
ability to withstand evaporation loss and oxidation, synthetics are much more
resistant to sludge development.
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.
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
Myth#8: Synthetics void warranties.
Untrue. Major engine manufacturers specifically
recommend the use of synthetic lubricants. In point of fact, 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
oils meeting 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
In point of fact, in the twenty-eight years that
AMSOIL Synthetic Lubricants have been used in extended service situations, over
billions of miles of actual driving, these oils have not been faulted once for
voiding an automaker's warranty.
Myth #9: Synthetics last forever.
Untrue. 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 oils protect an engine for lengths of time far beyond the capability of
Myth #10: Synthetics are too expensive.
Untrue. Tests and experience have proven that
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.
In Europe, 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.
Since their inception, manufacturers of synthetic
motor oils have sought to educate the public about the facts regarding
synthetics, and the need for consumers to make their lubrication purchasing
decisions based on quality rather than price. As was the case with microwave
ovens or electric lights, a highly technological improvement must often overcome
a fair amount of public skepticism and consumer inertia before it is embraced by
the general population.
But the word is getting out as a growing number
of motorists worldwide experience the benefits of synthetic lubrication. The
wave of the future, in auto lubes, is well under way.