How are synthetic oils made

Synthetic oils are a type of motor oil made from synthetic materials. Whereas conventional motor oil is made from crude oil, synthetic is not. Developed in 1929, synthetic oil is used in everything from regular cars and trucks, to performance engines and even high flying jets.1

Why Use Synthetic Oil

Synthetic oil is a great choice for making sure that your vehicle starts and runs smoothly in all weather conditions, even in extreme cold.

It will also help keep your engine and all its moving parts lubricated for a longer period of time than the conventional oils. You can also expect it to provide increased gas mileage, superior mechanical performance, and reduced engine wear at extreme temperatures.

mechanic performing an oil change

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How Are Synthetic Oils Made?

Because many manufacturers have proprietary blends and formulations they wish to keep under wraps, the exact process of making synthetic motor oil is a closely guarded secret. However, some parts we do know. Full synthetic motor oil uses the highest possible quality base oil as a starting point and then incorporates additives to create the final product. Though those additives are often a mystery, one commonly used is zinc, which will help neutralize the acids created during the combustion of fuel, and help to prevent engine wear.

Synthetic oil is made through a chemical process called the Fischer-Tropsch process,2 which extracts a lot of the impurities contained within the oil. Materials such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane are injected and blended into the oil along with artificial chemical compounds to create uniformly sized and weighted oil molecules. This is what offers synthetic oil its increased performance.

A full synthetic oil is made with 100% synthetic material, whereas a synthetic blend uses a mix of both conventional and synthetic oils. Blends offer better performance than conventional oils but don’t cost as much as a full synthetic oil. It is important to keep in mind that a synthetic blend won’t last as long as pure synthetic oil.

How Long Does Full Synthetic Oil Last?

Full synthetic oil can last anywhere from about 8,000-10,000 or more miles before needing to be changed, whereas conventional oils generally only last about 3,000-5,000 miles.3

Some synthetic oils even claim to be able to go up to 20,000 miles between drain intervals, though your mechanic may not agree. A synthetic oil blend somewhere in between the conventional and full synthetic lifespan.

Is Synthetic Oil Environmentally Friendly?

While it’s not made from eco-friendly ingredients, synthetic oil is considered to be more environmentally friendly than conventional oil because it requires less frequent changes. The fewer oil changes you perform, the less product you throw away. You can be even greener and recycle your synthetic oil to be re-refined as a base for new oil or to generate electricity for homes and schools.

Who Should Use Synthetic Oil?

Motors need oil

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Synthetic oil is an essential choice for anyone whose vehicle owner’s manual requires the use of synthetic oil, so make sure you’re checking before you change it. Luxury cars often require full synthetic oil, and most car manufacturers will recommend it, due to its increased performance over conventional oil.

If you don’t want to be performing oil changes as frequently, synthetic oil is a good choice for your vehicle. Synthetic oil can last anywhere from about 8,000-10,000 or more miles before needing to be changed, whereas conventional oils generally only last about 3,000-5,000 miles. That said, synthetic oil costs about two or four times as much as conventional oil, so can be a bit more of an investment.

If you’re driving your vehicle in extreme temperatures or conditions — especially cold temperatures — synthetic oil is a good choice as it helps to reduce cold starts and other performance issues. Synthetic oil is also a good choice for older vehicles, where engine wear and deposit buildup can become especially problematic.

Finally, if you make plenty of short trips, conventional motor oil may not warm enough to burn off moisture and impurities, making synthetic the better choice for your vehicle.

Disadvantages Of Synthetic Oil

The main disadvantage of synthetic oil is the cost. It can run anywhere from 2-4x the price of conventional oil.

Synthetic oil also runs the risk of additives precipitation during cold storage conditions. This basically means that the certain additives can potentially separate from the oil, leading to poor performance.

Finally, synthetic blend motor oils may offer lower fuel economy at highway speeds because of their viscosity, but this is negligible in terms of the performance overall.

Is It OK to Mix Different Brands of Synthetic Motor Oil?

It is perfectly fine to mix different brands of synthetic motor oil, and you can also safely mix conventional and full synthetic oils without problem. Since all synthetic oils are made in the same manner — just using different additives — it won’t affect your vehicle performance should you decide to mix different brands.

Used in everything from regular cars and trucks, to performance engines and even high-flying jets, how synthetic oil is made remains a trade secret.

Article Sources

Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. HEARST AUTOS RESEARCH. Synthetic Oil: Everything You Need To KnowCarandDriver.
    2021. Accessed 23 Sept 2021.
  2. G. Evans, C. Smith, 5.11 – Biomass to Liquids Technology. Comprehensive Renewable Energy. 2012. Vol 5: pp 155-204
  3. Earth Talk. Three Months, 3,000 Miles Or Longer?: The Truth about Oil Changes. Scientific American. Published 19 Aug 2008. Accessed 21 Sept 2021.