If you're like me, the idea of religious 3K mile oil changes has been crammed into your being ever since you began learning about cars. This philosophy is undoubtedly a result of decades of 3K mile oil/filter changes and the "Quick Change" oil establishments that continue to promote this mentality. While oils of the past and some modern oils need to be changed frequently, today's oil technology has changed so much that the 3K mile oil change should be completely forgotten. During the last few decades, more effective ways to maintain modern automobiles have been proven using modern lubricant technology. Why do we still insist upon changing our oil so frequently? It's because most of us still use petroleum-based oils in our gasoline and diesel engines. These oils are prone to speedy breakdown because of the harsh environment that they live and labor in. As all of their additives are used up and as their molecular structure is broken down, they become less capable of doing their job effectively. Old-school car fanatics and some uninformed mechanics will still tell you that you HAVE to religiously change your oil every 3K miles in order to avoid catastrophic engine failures. The fact of the matter is that even car manufacturers are recommending much longer oil change intervals than they used to. For example, my 1996 Honda Civic has a recommended oil change interval of 7500 miles, the 2002 Cadillac Seville has a 12,500 mile interval, the 2001 LS-6 Corvette has a 15,000 mile change interval, Porsche recommends a 15,000 mile interval and all new BMW's use a computer to calculate when the oil should be changed and the interval usually comes out to 10-15,000 miles. A myriad of other car companies have also raised the recommended oil service interval significantly in new production vehicles and much of this is due to the introduction of synthetic lubricants. While it is perfectly okay to follow the old school of thought and flush your money and time down the toilet by doing frequent oil changes, you have another option.
Synthetic lubricants have been around for decades but they have not been widely accepted or used in the automotive industry until recently. Synthetic motor oil was first introduced to the automotive industry in 1972 when Lt.Col. Albert Amatuzio, a jet fighter squadron commander, used jet engine synthetic oil technology to develop a fully synthetic motor oil that exceeded API specifications for use in motor vehicle engines. Amsoil Inc. was born and has been supplying top quality synthetic lubricants to racers and automotive enthusiasts ever since. Mobil Oil Company released its version of a fully synthetic motor oil in 1975 (Mobil 1) but their product didn't become popular until the 90's as a result of an aggressive marketing campaign. Many other top quality fully-synthetic motor oils are available now including Redline, NEO and Royal Purple. Even the major oil companies have jumped on the synthetic bandwagon by releasing their versions of synthetic products such as Castrol Syntec, Valvoline SynPower, Quaker State Full Synthetic, Pennzoil Synthetic with Pennzane, Exxon SuperFlo Synthetic and others. Some of these products are marketed as "synthetic" oils, but in reality, the definition of "synthetic" was changed to better meet certain companies' definition of "synthetic", which differs from what a true synthetic motor oil really is. When choosing a synthetic motor oil for your engine, you need to make sure that it is a true synthetic and not a re-defined, reformulated petroleum product, which will not protect your engine as well as a pure synthetic motor oil will.
So why don't more people use synthetic motor oil? The answer is because of price and misinformation. I believe that synthetic motor oils will be the lubricant of choice in the future for a variety of reasons. The benefits of synthetics far outweigh those of petroleum motor oils. You will be hard pressed to find anything negative said about synthetic motor oils anywhere because most people agree that they are superior in every way to their dinosaur-based competition. While the initial cost of investing in synthetics for your vehicle may seem a little high to begin with, you must first understand the long-term benefits of changing over to and sticking with synthetics.
Amsoil was the first company to introduce the term "extended interval" oil changes, which means that they did away with the 3-5K mile oil change interval mentality. Through thorough research and testing, Amsoil discovered that synthetic oils resist the breakdowns commonly associated with petroleum based oils which allows synthetics to be in service much longer than petroleum oil. Their research indicated that it is possible to go up to a 25K mile change interval in an automotive engine or even longer with the proper filtration setup installed on the engine. This is done while retaining a consistent oil filter change interval but still using the same oil in the crankcase. By replacing the filter and topping off the crankcase, you reintroduce the additives that are used up over the course of the filter change interval, rendering the oil useable for many more thousands of miles. The only way to really tell if oil has destructed to the point of being unusable is to do an oil analysis, a common practice in the trucking and aviation industries. This independent laboratory test determines which additives are still present in the oil and decides if the oil can continue to be used. Oil analysis companies report the facts surrounding the oil without a hidden agenda. This means that your oil is either suitable for continued use or it's not.
Oil manufacturers enjoy the 3K mile oil change mindset of the American public because it continues to provide them with job security. If oil change intervals significantly increased in duration, much less motor oil would be required which would directly affect the oil companies that manufacture petroleum motor oil. If top quality synthetic motor oil is used with a good filtration system, we would virtually eliminate mechanical wear in engines and other components, obviously making automobiles last much longer.
Benefits of Synthetic Motor Oil
Much of the technology that we have in the automotive industry is derived from the aviation industry because of the demand for perfection and durability in aviation. Aviation engines have to be as reliable as mechanically possible because there is no easy way to pull over and investigate a problem when you are miles up in the sky. Automotive synthetic oil was created from jet engine oil technology, which means that automotive synthetics are based on oils that have proven themselves in the toughest of conditions in jet engines over many years of reliable service. There are many benefits to using synthetic lubricants in your classic ride and most are summed up as follows:
1. Synthetics stand up to heat and breakdown much better than conventional oils- "Because synthetic oil is composed of molecules that are uniform in weight and shape, its heat of vaporization is much higher (more than 600 degrees) compared to conventional oil, which begins vaporizing at temps as low as 350 deg. F." (Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords) While any knowledgeable enthusiast will know that the oil temps in an internal combustion engine will never get than high, the oil is constantly exposed to these kinds of temperatures in the cylinders near where the combustion is occurring. This exposure is what breaks down conventional oils as the oil vaporizes. As conventional oils vaporize, they create sludge and varnish on the inside of the engine. If left unchecked, this sludge and varnish can create a host of problems including higher oil temps, increased oil consumption and decreased oil flow to critical engine components.
- Synthetics stand up to heat and breakdown much better than conventional oils (engine stays cleaner on the inside)
- Synthetics have the ability to flow at incredibly low temperatures which better protects the engine on startup in cold climates
- Synthetics lubricate much better than conventional oils because of their molecular structure
- Synthetics tend to cling to metal parts better than conventional oils which means they help protect the engine on startup
- Because of their added slipperiness, synthetics help improve gas mileage, HP and torque
- Synthetics are home grown which means dependence on Middle Eastern Oil is lowered
- More environmentally friendly than petroleum based products
- Longer change intervals which offsets the additional cost of Synthetic
- Help the engine to run cooler
- Higher film strength which keeps metal-to-metal contact to a minimum
2. Synthetics have the ability to flow at unbelievably low temps- This is one of the reasons that synthetics were developed in the first place. As early as World War II, synthetics were used in equipment in extremely cold temperatures as a way to speed up oil delivery to critical components. As most of us know (because of marketing tactics by modern snake oil manufacturers i.e. Slick 50), most wear in an engine occurs on startup when the oil is in the pan. This wear occurs as a result of the brief metal-to-metal contact as the oil slowly makes its way through the oil system. Synthetics have a much better flow rate at cold temperatures making them ideal for critical protection in cold climates. The faster you can get the oil flowing through the engine, the more protection the oil will be able to render.
3. Synthetics lubricate much better than conventional oils because of their molecular structure- The molecules of petroleum lubricants are jagged, different sizes and different shapes. The molecular structure of synthetic lubricants includes molecules that are uniformly shaped and sized. Because of this molecular structure, the synthetic molecules slide past each other creating far superior lubricating ability. We all know and understand that less resistance and friction causes less wear, less heat and better flow which in turn results in more horsepower/torque and better gas mileage.
4. Synthetics tend to cling to metal parts better than conventional oils which means they help protect the engine on startup- Mineral-based oil drops off of internal engine components and rests in the oil pan until the engine is started again, leaving unprotected metal surfaces for startup. Synthetic lubricants cling to the engine components and create a film that doesn't completely drip off. While it is an unscientific test, buy a bottle of synthetic motor oil, pour it into the engine until you can't get anymore out of the bottle, put the bottle right side up again and wait a few hours. Upon re-inspection, there will be a significant amount of oil in the bottom of the bottle from the oil that was clinging to the sides of the bottle.
5. Because of their added slipperiness, synthetics help improve gas mileage, HP and torque- One job of motor oil is to counter the friction that is found inside an internal combustion engine. If this friction can be still lessened using synthetic motor oils, the obvious benefits are going to be less heat and more power. If the engine doesn't have to work as hard just to run, more power will be available to propel the vehicle.
6. Synthetics are home brewed, which means dependence on Middle Eastern Oil is lowered-This is an obvious benefit of synthetic lubricants. As we use more and more synthetics, we are not as dependent on oil that is formulated out of mineral-based oils, especially from the crude oil that comes from the Middle East.
7. Longer change intervals which offsets the additional cost of Synthetic-Because synthetics resist the common breakdown associated with petroleum motor oils, it is not necessary to change synthetic motor oil as often as petroleum motor oil. People still religiously believe that motor oil should be changed every 3K miles but they fail to recognize that OEM change intervals are steadily rising. The expense of synthetic motor oil can easily be offset by the extended drain interval. It is a win win situation for synthetics.
8. Help the engine to run cooler- Roy Howell of Redline Synthetic Motor Oil Co. says "Synthetic oil has 10% better heat transfer than Petroleum based lubricants." What this translates into is that synthetic oil does a better job of dissipating heat in an engine than petroleum based oils. This allows the engine to run cooler overall. Oil temps have been proven to run up to 50 degrees cooler with synthetic oils. The following is taken from an article titled "Synthetic Oil: Rx For Long Engine Life" by Curt Scott. "The remarkable ability of synthetic oils to reduce internal operating temperatures is far too important to ignore, since high operating temperatures contribute directly to premature failure of mechanical components and gaskets and seals. Coolant cools only the upper regions of an engine. The task of cooling the crankshaft, main and connecting rod bearings, timing gear and chain, the camshaft and its bearings and numerous other components must be borne entirely by the oil. There are three identifiable reasons why synthetics do a better job of cooling an engine. 1. Because both the oil's lubricity (slipperiness) and it's stable viscosity, less friction and thus less heat is generated in the first place. 2. The molecular structure of the oil itself is designed to more efficiently transfer heat, even compared against the thermal conductivity properties (ability to absorb and dissipate heat) of an identical viscosity. 3. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the more rapid oil flow of these lower-viscosity synthetics contributes significantly to the efficient transfer and dissipation of heat.
Because of all these factors, oil temperature decreases of from 20-50 degrees are quite common with the use of synthetic oil. One might even say that the heat-reduction properties of synthetics are synergistic…by helping to reduce its own temperature, the synthetic oil is simultaneously enhancing the lubricant's overall performance characteristics."
by Todd Henderson