in National Oil and Lube News by Ed Newman
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 less 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 traveled 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 may cause blindness. Microwave ovens,
automobiles and airplanes have had equally vociferous opponents.
Looking back, it is easy to laugh at some of these 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 many misconceptions held by the
general public. Many people, including some mechanics who 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 basestocks 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
In responding to 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 ten of the more
persistent myths about synthetic motor oils to see how they stack up against
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 standardize.
Ultimately it is the additive mix in the 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
For example, it makes no difference whether it is 10W-40 petroleum or 10W-40
synthetic, at -25 degrees centigrade (-13F) and 100 degrees centigrade (212
degrees F) that 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 to 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
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 Mobil1
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. But, beware, many of the other "syntheitcs" are
not true PAO (Polyalphaolefin) syntheitcs (ie: Castrol Syntec, Penzoil,
etc...) they are hydroisomerized petroleum oil or an ester based synthetic
Myth #6: Synthetic lubricants produce sludge.
Untrue. In point of fact, synthetic motor oils are more sludge resistant
than their petroleum counterparts, resisting the effects of high
temperatures and oxidation. In the presence of high temperatures, two things
happen. First, an oil's lighter ingredients boil off, making the oil
thicker. Second, many of the complex chemicals found naturally in petroleum
basestocks 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 engine protection. Further
negative effects of thickened oil include the restriction of oil flow to
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
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 resoectively,
not the oil.
Myth #7: Synthetics can't be used with catalytic converters or oxygen
Untrue. There is no difference between synthetic and petroleum oils in
regards to these components. Both synthetic and petroleum oils are similar
compounds and neither si damaging to catalytic converters or oxygen sensors.
Myth #8: Synthetics void warranties.
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 the 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 over 25 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 basestocks 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 an oil, allowing
degradation to occur.
However , by "topping off", additives can be replenished. Through good
filtration and periodic oil analysis, synthetic motor oils protect an engine
for lengths of time far beyond the capability of non-synthetics.
Myth #10: Synthetics are too expensive.
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 that 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 well.
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 it is embraced by the general
But the word is getting out as a growing number of motorists worldwide
experience the benefits of synthetic lubrication. The wave of the future, in
auto lubes, is well under way.