Consumer Reports Car Experts Have This to Say About Whether You Should Pay More on Synthetic Oil For Your Oil Change
What Is Synthetic Oil?
Synthetic oil is basically your regular motor oil that has been processed to a greater degree removing contaminates and other impurities that can affect how an oil performs. In addition, beneficial additives are often supplemented in synthetic oils to improve engine operation.
Because of this processing, synthetic oils can operate over a greater range of temperatures. Your regular motor oil, however, needs to be chosen based on its recommended viscosity for your location and weather conditions. This is especially important in climate regions and seasons where undue engine wear occurs during frigid startups because the oil has not warmed up enough initially to lubricate the pistons as the vehicle starts up.
Benefits of Synthetic Oil
Perhaps the biggest benefit of synthetic motor oil is that it lasts longer and might lead to less overall oil-industry related pollution. Regular motor oil on the other hand chemically breaks down much sooner requiring more frequent changes (and hence more oil production)---especially when driving in a dusty environment and/or under rough engine operating conditions, such as towing a vehicle.
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One of the other problems with traditional motor oil is when a vehicle is driven very little, or never to the point where the engine reaches relatively high temperatures. High temperatures are needed to burn off condensation that collects in the regular motor oil as well as burn off oxidation compounds that develops over time.
But there is more to synthetic oil than just that it lasts longer and over a wider range of temperatures. Synthetic oil is becoming increasing more common in new vehicles as engine advancements are made. Synthetic oil has a lower viscosity than regular motor oil and as such reduces the friction between moving parts such as the pistons against cylinder walls and thereby helps improve the engine's fuel efficiency.
Synthetic or Regular Motor Oil?
When deciding on whether to use synthetic oil or regular motor oil, it’s not just an either/or decision on the correct oil for new or a relatively new car. As it turns out, some car models actually fall somewhere between with their engine’s oil requirements needing a “synthetic blend” of oil that has the combined properties of both regular motor oil and synthetic motor oil.
Consumer Reports car experts note that while the synthetic blend oils do not have all of the benefits of the fully synthetic oils, that the cost of blends is considerably cheaper. Synthetic oil can cost as much as four times more than regular or blended oil.
They also report that “…the 2018 National Oil and Lube News annual survey shows that more than half of car owners are choosing synthetics or synthetic blends when they get their oil changed.”
Which brings us back to the concern that an oil and filter service center might be scamming you when insisting that you should buy into switching to the synthetic oil they recommend.
According to Consumer Reports, deciding on whether to choose synthetic oil over regular motor oil really comes down to what your car’s owner’s manual recommends. And it’s not just following the recommended type, but more importantly referring to your car’s owners’ manual and find out what the time interval between oil changes is recommended along with the distance intervals---whichever occurs first is when you oil should be changed whether using traditional oil…or synthetic oil.
As it turns out, synthetic oil does have some level of the aforementioned condensation and oxidation problems that regular oil has when it sits in a practically dormant vehicle.
For an informative video from Consumer Reports about traditional motor oil versus synthetic oil, here is a Talking Cars with Consumer Reports video on YouTube where your car’s oil is discussed during the first 7 minutes of the episode.
Motor Oil 101 | Talking Cars #275
One Last Warning About Choosing Synthetic Oil
As in all things, not all brands of synthetic oil are the same. Some brands recommend you have your oil changed every 3,000 or 5,000 miles; whereas, other brands recommendations range from 7,500 to 20,000 miles.
Therefore, if you find that your car’s engine manual recommends servicing with synthetic oil, then you will want to know exactly what brand the service tech is using so that you can follow the correct oil changing intervals as well as determine whether you are really getting your money’s worth or just helping a service center pad your costs and their profits.
If you have any views on whether you have decided to switch from regular motor oil to synthetic motor oil, tell us about it and why you used one over the other in the comments section below. Your comments are appreciated.
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Timothy Boyer is Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily automotive repair and maintenance news.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash