November 29, 2021
Have you ever been to an oil change shop where the staff have tried to upsell you on synthetic oil?
“No thank you,” you say politely, thinking you dodged another predatory pressure-sale. Nice try, you think. What a scam! But is it? Or did you just turn down a superior product?
Today’s post weighs in on the enduring “synthetic oil vs. regular oil” debate, and explains why you might want to upgrade next time you’re offered.
Synthetic Oil Vs. Regular Oil: What’s Better For My Vehicle (And Why)?
To properly address the “synthetic oil vs. regular oil” question, we must first understand the meaning behind oil ratings you see listed on the bottle, which can tell you a bit about the oil’s viscosity and multigrade characteristics at-a-glance.
Viscosity refers to the oil’s resistance to flow, so a higher viscosity oil is more resistant to flow (i.e. it is a thicker oil), while a lower viscosity oil has less resistance to flow (i.e. it is a thinner oil).
But many modern oils have variable viscosity. For example, if you pick up a bottle of synthetic oil from Pennzoil, you might see a rating of 5W-30. The first number is the cold rating, with the “W” indicating that the oil is winter-ready. In this case, the Pennzoil brand will behave like a SAE 5-grade motor oil while cold. But in operating temperatures, when the oil heats up to around 100 degrees celsius, it operates like a 30 SAE motor oil—that is what the “30” indicates here.
So in this case, the oil gives you the best of both worlds, whereas a true SAE 5 oil would be too thin to offer any real protection in warm weather, and a true SAE 30 would be too thick for startup in the cold.
So how does this knowledge help us answer the “synthetic oil vs. regular oil” question? In practice, both synthetic and regular oils come with multigrade functionality, but in the case of synthetic oils, the multigrade characteristics can be built right into the base oil, without the need for any additives, such as pour point depressants.
As a result, synthetic oils tend to maintain their multigrade characteristics for longer, providing greater all-season functionality that outlasts standard oil options. When comparing synthetic oil vs. regular oil performance at the end of the life cycle (i.e. right before completing an oil change), Engineering Explained found that the viscosity and multigrade characteristics of the synthetic oil had barely changed, while those of the standard oil had seriously degraded due to additive breakdown, so that the oil was becoming much thicker in the cold, and much thinner at hotter operating temperatures.
Thus, while synthetic and standard oil may offer similar levels of protection and multigrade performance at the beginning of the life cycle, standard oil degrades much faster, leaving your vehicle with much less protection as you approach the end of your oil change interval.
Overall, research has shown that regular oil is:
- Less chemically stable
- Prone to oxidize and acidify more easily
- Quicker to break down and lose protective qualities
In contrast, synthetic oils provide:
- Reduced sludge and deposit buildup
- Reduced engine wear
- Protection against high operating temperatures
- Reduced oil breakdown
Taken altogether, these benefits add up to considerable savings on vehicle maintenance.
Learn More About Synthetic Oil Vs. Regular Oil: Contact TIRECRAFT
Use the Find a TIRECRAFT tool to get in touch with a local oil change specialist and find out what’s best for your unique vehicle and driving habits.
Foran, P. (2019, September 17). Should you use synthetic oil in your car? CTV News.
Engineering Explained. (2016, July 6). Is synthetic motor oil better for your car?