There are two main types of synthetic oil: full synthetic and synthetic blend. The difference between a synthetic blend and full synthetic oil is that full synthetic 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. It is important to keep in mind that a synthetic blend won’t last as long as pure synthetic oil.
How Are Synthetic Oils Made?
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The process of making synthetic motor oil is a closely guarded secret, as many manufacturers have proprietary blends and formulations they wish to keep under wraps. That said, a full synthetic motor oil uses the highest possible quality base oil as a starting point and then incorporates additives to create the final product. Additives such as zinc help neutralize 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,1 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. These precise molecules are what offer synthetic oil its increased performance.
Why Use Synthetic Oil
If you want to ensure that your vehicle starts and runs smoothly in all weather conditions — including extreme cold — synthetic oil is a great choice.2
It also helps to keep your engine and its components lubricated for a longer period of time than conventional oils and provides superior mechanical performance, increased gas mileage, and reduced engine wear at extreme temperatures.
Advantages of Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil is an essential choice for anyone whose vehicle owner’s manual requires the use of synthetic oil. Higher-end, luxury cars often require full synthetic oil, and most car manufacturers nowadays recommend it anyways 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.3 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 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.
How Long Does Synthetic Oil Last?
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A 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.
Some synthetic oils even claim to be able to go up to 20,000 miles between drain intervals. A synthetic oil blend will fall somewhere in the middle of a conventional and full synthetic lifespan.
Is Synthetic Oil Worth the Cost?
Given the fact that synthetic oil provides more effective protection for your vehicle, and may even prolong the life of your engine, it’s certainly worth the added expense. For the average consumer, switching to synthetic oil would cost only about $60-70 more per year, which seems more than worth the cost over the life of your vehicle.
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 a problem.4 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.
There are two main types of synthetic oil — full synthetic and synthetic blend — and which one you choose for your vehicle will likely depend on your budget. Both last longer than conventional oil, and can help prevent wear and tear to your vehicle in extreme driving conditions.
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- G. Evans, C. Smith, 5.11 – Biomass to Liquids Technology. Comprehensive Renewable Energy. 2012. Vol 5: pp 155-204
- What kind of engine oil do you use in your car-petroleum-based or synthetic and why? Tribology & Lubrication Technology. Vol. 73, Iss. 6, (Jun 2017): 86-88,90-92,94.
- Earth Talk. Three Months, 3,000 Miles Or Longer?: The Truth about Oil Changes. Scientific American. Published 19 Aug 2008. Accessed 21 Sept 2021.
- Can I Mix Different Oils? SelectSynthetics.com. Updated 2020. Accessed 23 Sept 2021.