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Myths About Synthetic Lubrication
It's a fact of life
that behavior is strongly influenced by what people
believe, whether true or not. Numerous examples from
history bear this out. For example, sailors were once
fearful of sailing outside the sight of land lest they
would fall off the edge of the world. In the early 19th
century, the train was considered dangerous because it
was believed that if you moved faster than 25 miles per
hour, you would be traveling too fast to breathe. At a
later date, the New York Times warned that electric
light might cause blindness. Microwave ovens,
automobiles and airplanes have had equally vociferous
Looking back, it's easy to laugh at some of the things
people so firmly believed. But these people were not
stupid. They were simply misinformed. In many instances
they had simply drawn conclusions before all the facts
were in. How easy it is to make the same mistake today.
In our own time, synthetic motor oils have been the
object of numerous misconceptions held by the general
public. Many people, including some mechanics that ought
to know better, have been misled by persistent myths
that need to be addressed.
PARAMETERS OF THE DEBATE
Synthetic lubricants are fuel efficient, extended life
lubricants manufactured from select base stocks and
special purpose additives. In contrast to petroleum
oils, which are pumped from the earth and refined,
synthetics are custom-designed in the laboratory, with
each phase of their molecular construction programmed to
produce, in effect, the ideal lubricant.
In responding to the objections most commonly raised
against synthetics it is important to establish the
parameters of the debate. When speaking of synthetic
motor oils, this article is defending the synthetic
lubricants, which have been formulated to meet the
performance standards set by the American Petroleum
Institute (API). (The first such synthetic motor oil to
meet these industry-accepted tests for defining engine
oil properties and performance characteristics was
AMSOIL 100% Synthetic 10W-40 in 1972.)
Many people with questions about synthetics haven't
known where to turn to get correct information. Is it
super oil or snake oil? Some enthusiasts will swear that
synthetics are capable of raising your specialty car
from the dead. On the other hand, the next fellow
asserts that synthetics will send your beloved car to an
early grave. Where's the truth in all this? In an effort
to set the record straight, we've assembled here ten of
the more persistent myths about synthetic motor oils to
see how they stack up against the facts.
Myth #1: Synthetic motor oils damage seals.
Untrue. It would be foolhardy for lubricant
manufacturers to build a product that is incompatible
with seals. The composition of seals presents problems
that both petroleum oils and synthetics must overcome.
Made from elastomers, seals are inherently difficult to
Ultimately it is the additive mix in oil that counts.
Additives to control seal swell, shrinkage and hardening
are required, whether it be a synthetic or petroleum
product that is being produced.
Myth #2: Synthetics are too thin to stay in the engine.
Untrue. In order for a lubricant to be classified in any
SAE grade (10W-30, 10W-40, etc.) it has to meet certain
guidelines with regard to viscosity ("thickness").
For example, it makes no difference whether it's 10W-40
petroleum or 10W-40 synthetic, at -25 degrees centigrade
(-13F) and 100 degrees centigrade (212 degrees F) the
oil has to maintain a standardized viscosity or it can't
be rated a 10W-40.
Myth #3: Synthetics cause cars to
use more oil.
Untrue. Synthetic motor oils are intended for use in
mechanically sound engines, that is, engines that don't
leak. In such engines, oil consumption will actually be
reduced. First, because of the lower volatility of
synlubes. Second, because of the better sealing
characteristics between piston rings and cylinder walls.
And finally, because of the superior oxidation stability
(i.e. resistance of synthetics against reacting with
oxygen at high temperatures.)
Myth #4: Synthetic lubricants are
not compatible with petroleum.
Untrue. The synthesized hydrocarbons, polyalphaolefins,
diesters and other materials that form the base stocks
of high-quality name brand synthetics are fully
compatible with petroleum oils. In the old days, some
companies used untested ingredients that were not
compatible, causing quality synlubes to suffer a bum
rap. Fortunately, those days are long gone.
Compatibility is something to keep in mind, however,
whether using petroleum oils or synthetics. It is
usually best to use the same oil for topping off that
you have been running in the engine. That is, it is
preferable to not mix your oils, even if it is Valvoline
or Quaker State you are using. The reason is this: the
functions of additives blended for specific
characteristics can be offset when oils with different
additive packages are put together. For optimal
performance, it is better to use the same oil
Myth #5: Synthetic lubricants are
not readily available.
Untrue. This may have been the case two decades ago when
AMSOIL and Mobil 1 were the only real choices, but today
nearly every major oil company has added a synthetic
product to their lines. This in itself is a testament to
the value synthetics offer.
Myth #6: Synthetic lubricants
Untrue. In point of fact, synthetic motor oils are more
sludge resistant than their petroleum counterparts,
resisting the effects of high temperature and oxidation.
In the presence of high temperatures, two things happen.
First, oilís lighter ingredients boil off, making the
oil thicker. Second, many of the complex chemicals found
naturally in petroleum base stocks begin to react with
each other, forming sludges, gums and varnishes. One
result is a loss of fluidity at low temperatures,
slowing the timely flow of oil to the engine for vital
component protection. Further negative effects of
thickened oil include the restriction of oil flow into
critical areas, greater wear and loss of fuel economy.
Because of their higher flash points, and their ability
to withstand evaporation loss and oxidation, synthetics
are much more resistant to sludge development. Two other
causes of sludge -- ingested dirt and water dilution --
can be a problem in any kind of oil, whether petroleum
or synthetic. These are problems with the air filtration
system and the cooling system respectively, not the
Myth #7: Synthetics can't be used
with catalytic converters or oxygen sensors.
Untrue. There is no difference between synthetic and
petroleum oils in regards to these components. Both
synthetic and petroleum motor oils are similar compounds
and neither is damaging to catalytic converters or
Myth #8: Synthetics void
Untrue. No major manufacturer of automobiles
specifically bans the use of synthetic lubricants. In
point of fact, increasing numbers of high performance
cars are arriving on showroom floors with synthetic
motor oils as factory fill.
New vehicle warranties are based upon the use of oils
meeting specific API Service Classifications (for
example, SG/CE). Synthetic lubricants, which meet
current API Service requirements, are perfectly suited
for use in any vehicle without affecting the validity of
the new car warranty. In point of fact, in the
twenty-five years that AMSOIL Synthetic Lubricants have
been used in extended service situations, over billions
of miles of actual driving, these oils have not been
faulted once for voiding an automaker's warranty.
Myth #9: Synthetics last forever.
Untrue. Although some experts feel that synthetic base
stocks themselves can be used forever, it is well known
that eventually the additives will falter and cause the
oil to require changing. Moisture, fuel dilution and
acids (the by-products of combustion) tend to use up
additives in oil, allowing degradation to occur.
However, by "topping off", additives can be replenished.
Through good filtration and periodic oil analysis,
synthetic engine oils protect an engine for lengths of
time far beyond the capability of non-synthetics.
Myth #10: Synthetics are too
Untrue. Tests and experience have proven that synthetics
can greatly extend drain intervals, provide better fuel
economy, reduce engine wear and enable vehicles to
operate with greater reliability. All these elements
combine to make synthetic engine oils more economical
than conventional non-synthetics
In Europe, synthetics have enjoyed increasing
acceptance, as car buyers look first to performance and
long term value rather than initial price. As more
sophisticated technology places greater demands on
today's motor oils, we will no doubt see an increasing
re-evaluation of oil buying habits in this country as
Since their inception, manufacturers of synthetic motor
oils have sought to educate the public about the facts
regarding synthetics, and the need for consumers to make
their lubrication purchasing decisions based on quality
rather than price. As was the case with microwave ovens
or electric lights, a highly technological improvement
must often overcome a fair amount of public skepticism
and consumer inertia before the general population
embraces it. But the word is getting out as a growing
number of motoristís worldwide experience the benefits
of synthetic lubrication. The wave of the future, in
auto lubes, is well under way.