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Synthetic Oil Vs. Regular Oil

Scholasticus K
Synthetic oil vs. regular oil is a complicated debate and several different opinions and facts that have been discussed by engineers. Today, a significant amount of confusion still exists regarding the issue of which is better, synthetic or mineral. Fact is, this debate does not have a concrete conclusion.
If you walk into the nearest mechanic's garage, you will notice that there are several different types of lubricants that are used by mechanics and engineers to minimize friction that is caused, while running automobiles. There are several kinds of lubricants that are used to aid the functioning of components that range from the suspension systems of your automobile to the pistons in the engine. Almost all the moving components in your vehicle require lubrication to keep it in good shape.

Synthetic and Mineral Motor Oil

Motor oil, essentially lubricates the parts which are located inside the engine blocks. This oil acts as a lubricant to minimize the moving parts, a coolant (to some extent) and a protective cover of the metallic moving parts. In short motor oil goes into the engine block to aid its functioning and also reduce the friction.

Any motor oil, may it be synthetic or mineral (regular), consists of two key components:

1. Base Stock
2. Additives

Base Stock

The base stock is principally the oils which consist of the major volume of the motor oil and can be of 3 types:

» Competently conventional/regular base stocks are derived from crude oil and have natural mineral oil in them. This usually accounts for the existence of uneven and odd sized molecules.
» Some stocks are a combination of synthetic and regular stocks.
» Synthetic base stocks are the ones which are composed artificially, by using a number of chemicals which are synthesized.


Additives are the different chemicals within the motor oils, which help oil and the engine to function properly. Additives usually include:

» Anti-wear agents
» Anti-foam agents
» Anti-rust and corrosion agents
» Oxidation Inhibitors
» Extreme Pressure Additives
» Viscosity Index Improver
» Friction Modifiers
» Pour Point Depressants
Different types of oil and their 'Lubricant Viscosity Grades', by the Society of Automobile Engineers are as follows -

» Fully Synthetic Oils


» Semi-synthetic/Mixed/Semi-regular

» Fully Regular/Mineral Oils


Note.-- The number before the 'W' states the viscosity at low/cold temperatures and the number after the W states the viscosity at high/hot temperatures, the numbers are largely comparative.

Which One Is Better?

Both, synthetic oil as well as regular oil are basically used in the piston block of the car's engine. The piston block is cylindrical in shape and holds the pistons within it. The piston of your car keeps on moving up and down to keep the automobile running.
The second advantage is that the heat that is formed within the engine also gets substantially reduced, thereby increasing the life of the engine and the quality of firing. Another genuine advantage of using lubricating oil in the engine is that it drastically boosts the fuel economy of the automobile.
Before we actually look at the comparison, let us have a look at some of the proprieties and important characteristics of synthetic motor oil and conventional motor oil.

There are many characteristics and merits as well as demerits of both the oils.

Regular Oil

The boom in the automobile industry that occurred just before the World War I, saw many changes in the auto parts, lubricants and fuels that were used in the automobiles. In these initial stages of development, regular oil was used as a lubricant for the piston and piston blocks. The constant changes and improvisations in the conventional or regular oil has shown many proven advantages in using it as a lubricant.
Conventional lubrication oil which is also known as mineral oil, is a product of the process of fractional distillation, which is used to break down petroleum into various products. In case of conventional oil, the molecular structuring is rather uneven and yet possess a quality of high lubrication. The advantage of conventional motor oil is that it is cheaper than synthetic oil and is available almost universally.

Synthetic Oil

Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is man-made and is manufactured by the chemical industry using different processes. Unlike the nonuniform structure of the molecules in the conventional motor oil, the molecules of the synthetic oil are uniform to the extent of being almost identical to one another. This type of molecular structure is often considered as a very good merit or characteristic of any lubricant.

When to Use What

Conventional motor oil derived from crude oil has an uneven molecular structure. This makes it suitable for new engines. The internal surfaces of the new engine, though shaped and forged very beautifully are not hundred percent accurate. Due to this, the inner surface of the piston block and the surface of the piston itself becomes extremely accurate, as the excess and inaccurate points (which are technically known faults) on the surfaces get shredded off as a result of the friction and heat.
There are two drawbacks of conventional motor:
» The regular oil gets oxidized at a very high temperature, which results into creation of pollutants.
» At very low temperatures, formation of sludge occurs which renders the oil, useless.
The synthetic oil, on the other hand, does not have any type of drawback, when it comes to extreme temperatures and air pollution. This type of oil is gives very good results, when it is used for car engines that are a few years old. The synthetic oil is extremely instrumental, when it comes to preservation of the engine components and ensures excellent running of the engine. The only drawback is that the synthetic oil, in present day market, is rather costly.

Some Essential Tips

» If your car is pretty old and you have been using it for quite a long time, then it is recommended that you do not suddenly shift from regular to synthetic as there is a possibility, that the synthetic oil which is very, very fine in nature may leak through the well used components of the engine block.
» Your car manual would mention the brand and grade of the oil which suits the engine best. Hence, it is best to use the said oil and its grade.
» Climate and temperature where you live affects the viscosity of oil. If you live in a place where you experience extreme climates and temperatures, then get in touch with the company or the car's dealer as he will recommend you the appropriate grade.
» Often engineers recommend the use of regular/mineral oil when an automobile is newly purchased, till the engines are properly run in, following which the user can switch to synthetic oil. Now, it is very important that one clarifies two points, one, for how much time should the mineral oil be used; and two, should the change be sudden or should one go to semi-synthetic oil first and then switch to completely synthetic oil.
To reduce the car engine problems, mineral oil should be used in the initial periods of the life of the engine, and for the later on years, it would be good to use the synthetic oil.