Non-synthetic vs. synthetic motor oilWritten by Nick Shultz | | email@example.com
The first synthetic oils were actually produced over a century ago. In the late 1800′s Germany was a pioneer in the development of synthetic oil. Germany’s early research led to the development of a process which allowed production of synthetic oil from coal. Out of necessity synthetics were further developed during World War 2 for use in Jet aircraft and tanks. Both Germany and the United States used synthetic lubricants during the war.
Synthetic oils were found to be superior to their crude oil counterparts. Synthetic oils offer better low temperature and high temperature protection to engines.
Although synthetic oils have been available for a long time it hasn’t been until recently that their use has become widespread. The complex manufacturing process and ultimately the cost of synthetics kept them out of the general market for many years. However, with improved manufacturing techniques and higher crude oil prices synthetics are now much more cost effective.
Synthetic oils differ from crude oils at the molecular level. Refined crude oil produces oil that has varying molecule sizes and shapes, unlike synthetic oil molecules which are much more uniform in both size and shape. Because synthetic oil molecules are very nearly all equal in size they have less friction and, therefore, create less heat as the synthetic molecules rub against one another. You could say synthetic oils are more slippery than crude oils.
Where as regular motor oils are refined from crude oil stock, synthetic motor oils are refined from Polyalphaolefins (PAO) which are hydrogenated synthetic hydrocarbon fluids or they are refined from Esters. Esters are chemical compounds made by combining oxoacids (acids that contain oxygen) with a hydroxyl compound (hydrogen based such as alcohol). As I stated earlier the manufacture of synthetic oil is more complex than the manufacture of conventional oil. Therefore synthetic oils cost more. PAO based synthetic oils are less expensive than Ester based oils to produce.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) has defined five groups of oils. Groups one through three are conventional motor oils while group four is PAO synthetic and group five is ester oil as well as some other more complex synthetics.
The primary difference between ester and PAO based synthetics is the end result after production. Ester based synthetics end up having polarity similar to a magnet (kinda-sorta). That means that they are naturally attracted to the engine block and other mechanical parts. This causes ester based synthetics to have more lubricity and they provide more protection during engine start up. Another advantage of ester based synthetics is they do not produce ash when they burn as do crude based and PAO based oils. Though fairly expensive they offer great engine protection.
Because of their high production costs associated with ester synthetics, they are not readily available to the public in their pure form. However the very best synthetic oils offer a blend of ester and PAO. The ester content will range from 5% to 25% of the overall volume.
Synthetic oils, whether PAO or ester based, offer better low temperature flow characteristics than do petroleum based oils. Therefore they are very well suited to cold engine operation. Petroleum based oils contain wax. It is the wax within conventional petroleum based oils that inhibits its ability to flow during low temperatures.
Synthetic oils afford us the advantage of longer intervals between oil changes. The longer intervals help to offset the higher initial purchase price.
Scientific evidence indicates that synthetic motor oils are far superior to petroleum based oils. Except for the cost synthetic outperform conventional oils in every way. Even if you are the type of driver who only drives occasionally you can benefit from the use of synthetic motor oil. The greatest amount of engine wear occurs during initial engine start up. Quality synthetic oils offer a better barrier between internal engine parts during this critical period of engine operation.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan Lemon laws. He is a certified master automotive technician by ASE, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. E-mail your auto questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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