Synthetic Oil Is Costlier but Better
Changing the oil according to the automaker’s specified schedule is critical. Your car needs the slippery substance to minimize friction and wear to moving parts. Changing your oil regularly helps prevent corrosion, dirt, and contaminants from collecting to create sludge, which can lead to premature engine damage.
Synthetic oil is formulated to add an extra layer of protection over conventional oil. However, it’s more expensive than traditional oil. Is it worth the extra cost?
What Is Synthetic Oil?
Synthetic oil is an engine lubricant derived from man-made chemicals. Most synthetics use crude oil as a starting point, heavily refine it, and add numerous additional chemicals. On a molecular level, synthetic oil is more consistent than conventional oil and designed from the ground (or molecule) up specifically for a given application, such as certain temperature ranges or viscosities.
Advantages of Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil lasts longer
Some motorists prefer synthetic oil for its ability to last longer between changes than conventional oil. Regular oil should be changed every 5,000-7,500 miles, depending on the vehicle and how it’s driven. Synthetics, however, can generally go 10,000-20,000 miles between changes. The longevity of synthetic oil can make up for its higher cost.
Synthetic oil offers better engine protection
Synthetics are specially refined to safeguard against a breakdown in viscosity at extremely high and low temperatures. They also make frigid weather starts easier and more readily resist sludge formation.
Some high-mileage synthetic oils are specifically created for use in older cars with 75,000 miles. They include ingredients to prevent seals and gaskets from becoming brittle and causing messy, damaging oil leaks.
Synthetic oil is better for high-performance vehicles
Synthetic oil is most often recommended for vehicles that tend to be driven to extremes, such as red-hot sports cars or vehicles used for heavy-duty towing. Automakers such as Aston Martin, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche use synthetic motor oil in their vehicles. Chevrolet and Nissan recommend synthetic oil in high-performance models like the Corvette and GT-R.
Disadvantages of Synthetic Oil
While it’s formulated to add a layer of protection over standard mineral oil and can go for longer stretches between changes, synthetic oil is costlier than the standard variety – sometimes two times more.
Even though oil companies may guarantee their synthetics can last up to 20,000 miles without losing their protective properties, the fine print usually suggests users follow the oil change interval recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer to avoid losing the warranty. In the case of the aforementioned Chevy Corvette, that’s every 7,500 miles.
So, Is Synthetic Oil Worth It?
It usually is. Sure, conventional oil is pricey, but for many, the added cost to fill an average car, truck, or SUV’s crankcase with synthetic oil should be considered cheap insurance against premature engine wear and subsequent breakdowns. It also means you can go longer between oil changes. It should be considered essential protection if you own a high-performance sports car or a vehicle regularly used for heavy-duty towing or hauling.
Synthetic Blends vs. Full Synthetic
There are also semi-synthetic oils on the market that are a mix of conventional and synthetic lubricants. They’re formulated to offer a modest boost in protection at a lower price.
Can You Mix Synthetic and Conventional Oil?
Despite what some motorists may think, it’s okay to add conventional motor oil to the synthetic variety if the crankcase is coming up short, though you’ll lose some of the benefits in the process. You can switch back and forth from one type to another at subsequent oil changes without fear of engine damage.
If you’re having trouble keeping track of your car’s oil changes, download the Carfax Car Care smartphone app. You can document your vehicle’s service history and receive helpful reminders when it’s time to take it in for scheduled maintenance. The app can also help you find trusted service shops and research applicable repair costs. It’s a free download from the Apple or Google Play app stores.
If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com