Synthetic Oil Versus Mineral Oil
The 101: The Importance of Engine Oil
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably a lot like us. We love this stuff, and you’re probably trying to learn a thing or two. To start, recall that engine oil’s primary function is to provide critical lubrication to the many moving parts of an engine. As those parts move, they rub against each other creating friction. Friction = Bad.
This friction can damage engine parts and cause them to wear more quickly. If the friction builds up, the engine becomes less efficient and will be more likely to break down. Engine oil helps prevent damage by reducing the friction, keeping your engine running smoothly, and lasting longer.
Oil also helps reduce heat from building up in the engine. Heat = Bad. Friction creates heat build-up, which can cause damage to critical engine parts. As the motor oil moves around the engine, it dissipates the heat, keeping the engine from getting too hot.
Similarly, as the oil moves around the engine, it picks up dirt and debris, carrying it to the oil filter where they are trapped. The reduction in dirt build-up increases efficiency and reduces potential engine damage. Said more plainly, clean engines = happy engines.
Finally, the less friction on engine parts, the less force that is required to move them, so less fuel is used. Everyone likes saving money, right?
Mineral Oil and Semi-Synthetic Oil
There are three basic types of oil: conventional oil (also known as mineral oil), semi-synthetic, and full synthetic (full syn)
Conventional oil is manufactured from crude oil pulled from the ground and then refined in a factory. Although it is less expensive than other oils, it is less advanced, has more impurities and doesn’t provide as much protection as other oils.
Semi-synthetic oils are comprised of conventional oil mixed with synthetic materials (additives). These fluids offer better protection than conventional oil and cost a little more, but still contain impurities and do not have the consistency of full synthetic oils.
How is Synthetic Oil Different from Mineral Oil?
What sets a synthetic apart from conventional and semi-synthetic oil is the uniformity of the molecules. The diagram to the right shows the molecules that make up mineral oil and synthetic oil.
Semi-synthetic and conventional oil both contain mineral oil molecules of altering sizes and shapes, meaning as parts move against each other, there is uneven wear. It is like lining up rocks or pebbles. None of them will be the exact same size or shape.
Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is engineered to be consistent and uniform in size. The molecules in synthetic oil are identical. It is like a group of ball bearings. If you were to line them up, you’ll see unvarying placement and smooth flow.
Asking for a Friend: Does Synthetic Oil Last Longer than Mineral Oil?
Synthetic oil generally provides a longer oil change interval than conventional oil because the uniformity of the molecules mean that they wear down at a slower rate. It should be pointed out, though, that this is often dependent on the brand and factors such as driving style and conditions. And, it is always best to follow the recommendations of your owner’s manual. Some synthetic motor oil brands still recommend oil changes every 3,000 or 5,000 miles.
Bottom Line: Does Synthetic Oil Offer Better Protection?
The short answer is yes. When your vehicle is not running, engine oil will settle. Once the engine starts, oil begins flowing to protect engine parts from friction. Synthetic motor oil begins flowing quicker and more smoothly than conventional mineral oil as well as a synthetic blend oil. This is particularly evident in winter months or in extremely cold environments when it takes even longer for mineral and semi-synthetic oils to flow.
Synthetic oils can be designed to flow quickly even in extremely low temperatures. When the engine starts, critical engine parts get immediate lubrication, allowing it to run smoothly right away.
Likewise, full synthetic engine oil can also provide better protection in high temperatures. When running, engines get very hot. The heat will cause oil to break down over time. Conventional and semi-synthetic oils dissipate or evaporate much faster than full synthetic oil, leaving critical engine parts exposed to greater wear.
Can I Use Synthetic Oil if My Vehicle Doesn’t Require it?
Yes, you can use synthetic motor oil in place of conventional oil. However, if your vehicle has high mileage (75,000 miles or more) it is better to ease into full synthetic oil by following a more frequent oil change interval for the first two oil changes.