Synthetic Oil – Does it Really Matter?

Every five or six months, many of us suddenly realize it’s time for an oil change and hurry off to the closest lube shop, or perhaps we’ll try that new place that’s running the $19.99 oil change special. Or, perhaps you stick with one mechanic because he uses Pennzoil because that’s what good old dad always said to use. Then, in addition to all the choices we’re faced with, now the garages are pushing us to make yet another - synthetic oil or standard oil.
What’s the difference? Does it really matter? “Synthetic” – that sounds like “fake” – but yet they are charging twice as much for the “fake” stuff… Just change the oil already! Who cares?
Who cares? You should. Quality and timely oil changes are the single most important factor in protecting your car’s longevity and reliability – and therefore your pocketbook. Choosing an oil change simply by price and convenience is much like hitting the drive through for a Big Mac Meal Deal – it’s quick, satisfying, and cheap (relatively) – and you’re on your way again. Yes, your car is getting a shot of clean oil and a new filter, but will that new oil hold up to the stress that every day use puts on your engine – for the next six months? Could you live on Big Macs for six months? Do you think your body might rebel?

Just like choosing a better-balanced, healthier meal, choosing quality automotive oil takes a little more planning and knowledge. First, read your car’s owner’s manual. If it tells you to use only synthetic oil, then it is recommended to do what the manufacturer suggests. If the manufacture recommends synthetic oil, it is because the car’s engine has been precision engineered to require those uniform molecules, and standard mineral oil can result in problems. Many cars, however, won’t be so specific, so you will need to do a little more homework.

First, it is important to understand what oil does for your engine. Oil allows the moving parts within your engine to slide together without creating dangerous friction that causes unnecessary wear and overheating. Traditional motor oils are made from the distillation and refining of mineral crude oil stock, while synthetic oils rearrange these mineral oil molecules into a new product with molecules of a more uniform size and shape and combines them with performance additives that fight off sludge and mineral deposits. This allows the synthetic oil to withstand extreme temperatures and stay clean longer. Most engine wear occurs during start-up and then again at very high temperatures. Therefore, the synthetic oil offers greater protection at both ends of the spectrum. Also, because the synthetic oil resists sludge and mineral breakdown, the length of time between oil changes can be increased dramatically.
Second, one should consider what they expect from their engine oil. If an oil change is all about simply keeping your old clunker on the road for a couple more years, standard oil is probably sufficient. Likewise, if you have just purchased a brand new car and are still in the engine break-in stage (under 5,000 miles), a standard oil is preferable. However, if you are looking to drastically increase the life of your engine, wait longer between oil changes, operate your vehicle in extreme hot or cold temperatures, or get that extra five or ten horsepower out of your car, synthetic oil is the way to go.

Synthetic oil is undeniably a far superior alternative for most of us. Yes, the oil change generally costs twice as much up front, but that oil will last at least two or three times longer, saving money in the long run. In addition to the short-term cost savings, your car will thank you for the enhanced protection and will reward you with a longer life, increased power, and reduced maintenance costs.

R. Morris writes for Good Works Auto Repair We provide honest, quality auto repair and preventative maintenance in Tempe and Mesa, AZ

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