Is synthetic oil worth it, or is it better to consider a more affordable alternative? Conventional mineral oil and mineral-based semi-synthetic motor oils have been around for decades. However, most experts agree that none of them are able to offer the same level of protection, performance and long term benefits to your car’s engine as engine oils based on fully synthetic compounds. Unfortunately, the price of full synthetic oil products can be steep. As a result, many car owners are still weighing the pros and cons of switching to synthetic, keeping their cheaper, conventional oil, or considering a synthetic blend alternative.
Is Synthetic Oil Necessary?
Switching to synthetic oil or using it exclusively is not necessary, according to most car experts. In the past, the unique composition of 100% synthetic oil formulas meant that the engine had to be compatible with the oil, in order for damage to be avoided. Older synthetic oil formulations got the reputation for making their way past the dried-out, shrunken gaskets on worn engines, causing leaks. However, new types of synthetic oils are safer, due to the lower concentration of alcohol or natural gas compounds that it was initially based on. Unless your owner’s manual requires you to buy a specific brand or to use only synthetic oil, however, there is no immediate drawback derived from not using it.
The Cost Differences Between Synthetic and Mineral Oil
Is synthetic oil worth it when considering the cost differences between synthetic and organic oil compounds? The important thing to remember is that synthetic can be much more expensive than mineral oil. An oil change can cost anything between $25 and $50 with mineral oil, while the same service at the same mechanic can cost up to $45 - $70, if you buy synthetic oil. Depending on the brand, the prices can be double or even triple, and the performance levels attained will not always compensate for the cost. Fortunately, synthetic oil doesn’t have to be changed as often, so you can get at least part of your money back over time, through longer oil change intervals.
Can Synthetic Oil Prolong the Life of Your Car?
Synthetic oil offers numerous benefits that can work towards ensuring a longer lifespan for your engine and your vehicle. For drivers who make many short trips, for instance, standard oil doesn’t warm up enough to burn off all of its impurities. In contrast, synthetic oil does, so it manages to prevent engine malfunctions as often. Also, since synthetic motor oil doesn’t break down as quickly, it will offer better support when hauling or towing anything heavy in exceedingly warm or cold climates, possibly preventing even a severe engine breakdown.
Synthetic oil is more stable and uniform at the molecular level, which has a couple of big payoffs. It has better shear strength, which refers to the point at which a liquid is compressed until molecules are physically torn apart, and that makes it a good choice for the extremely tight tolerances of newer engines. It also means that it won’t thin out at high temperatures or thicken in cold climates – which is especially important at startup, when oil has to quickly make it to the engine’s upper end.
The Benefits Synthetic Compounds Bring to Older Engines
In the case of older vehicles, synthetic oil can prevent sludge build-up. Sludge is a combination of carbon deposits, water vapor, acids, paraffin and other junk that accumulates on the oil pump pickup screen and other assemblies and moving parts.
Since older engines cannot perform as well as they did a decade or two ago, mineral oil tends to cause sludgy residue to block oil passages and even lead to the engine’s complete breakdown. With synthetic oil, that problem can effectively be prevented. Synthetic compounds are much more refined than their mineral counterparts, and can prevent sludge from forming. If changed regularly, synthetic oil could even prolong the life span of your older vehicle.
The Longer Life Span of Synthetic Oil
Finally, the major reason why synthetic oil is so popular is because it lasts far longer than mineral or semi-synthetic motor oil variants. Synthetic oil started out as the first type of motor oil that was capable of lasting more than 3,000 miles between changes. Today, the typical recommended change interval for even the cheapest type of oil is 5,000 miles, although some brands go much further. While the recommended period for the best synthetic oils is 15,000 miles, a few manufacturers go so far as to say that their motor oil can last up to 25,000 miles before there’s a significant loss in engine protection. While it is safe to extend oil change intervals when using synthetic oil, keep in mind you should also upgrade to a premium oil filter designed for synthetic oil. These filters have larger capacities to contain impurities and will last longer service intervals.
So, is synthetic oil worth it in the long run? With recommendations from some of the most well-known manufacturers and experts in the automotive industry, that answer is a definite yes.