About Synthetic Lubrication
It's a fact of life that
behavior is strongly influenced by what people believe, whether
true or not. Numerous examples 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
would be traveling too fast to breathe. At a later date, the New
York Times warned that electric light may cause blindness.
Microwave ovens, automobiles and airplanes have had equally
Looking back, it's easy to
laugh at some of the things people so firmly believed. But these
people were not stupid. They were simply 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 who ought to know better, have been misled by
persistent myths that need to be addressed.
Parameters Of The Debate
Synthetic lubricants are fuel efficient, extended life lubricants
manufactured from select basestocks and special purpose
additives. In contrast to petroleum oils which are pumped from
the earth and refined, synthetics are custom-designed in the
laboratory, with each phase of their molecular construction
programmed to produce, in effect, the ideal lubricant.
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
synthetic lubricants which have been formulated to meet the
performance standards set by the American Petroleum Institute
(API). (The first such synthetic motor oil to meet these
industry-accepted tests for defining engine oil properties and
performance characteristics was AMSOIL 100% Synthetic 10W-40 in
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 specialty 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
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.
Synthetics are too thin to stay in the engine.
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
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.
Synthetics cause cars to use more oil.
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.)
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 untested 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 oil throughout.
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.
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
happen. First, an oil's lighter ingredients boil off, making the
oil thicker. Second, many of the complex chemicals found
naturally in petroleum basestocks begin to react with each other,
forming sludges, gums and varnishes. 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 economy.
Because of their higher flash
points, and their ability to withstand evaporation loss and
oxidation, synthetics are much more resistant to sludge
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.
Synthetics can't be used with catalytic converters or oxygen
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
Synthetics void warranties.
Untrue. No major manufacturer
of automobiles specifically bans 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
New vehicle warranties are
based upon the use of oils meeting specific API Service
Classifications (for example, SG/CE). 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. In point of fact, in the twenty-five 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.
Synthetics last forever.
Untrue. Although some experts
feel that synthetic basestocks themselves can be used forever, it
is well known that eventually the additives will falter and cause
the oil to require changing. Moisture, fuel dilution and acids
(the by-products of combustion) 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
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. All these elements
combine to make synthetic engine oils more economical than
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.