Not long ago, synthetic oil was mostly used in high-performance cars. Today, it’s used in more and more conventional vehicles. According to the folks at Consumer Reports, Honda is using synthetic oil in its Civic because of its low viscosity. And the Civic isn’t alone. In 2019, as many as 70% of all new vehicles had either blended or fully synthetic oil.
However, these products cost more. Is it worth it?
The truth about synthetic oil
Traditional mineral oil and semi-synthetic mineral-based motor oil have been around a long time. Auto experts generally agree that neither of them can offer the performance, protection, and lasting benefits to your vehicle’s engine that synthetic oils can.
There’s no getting around the fact that synthetic oil products cost more. But if you stop to evaluate the pros and cons of synthetic versus traditional oil, you may be able to justify the extra cost, according to Advance Auto Parts.
The cost of oil changes using traditional motor oil usually runs $25 to $50 per service. When it’s an oil change using synthetic oil, the same service can cost $45 to $70. The prices can be more or less depending on the product used. Synthetic oil doesn’t have to be changed as often as traditional oil which cuts down the cost.
While you might be considering the switch, keep in mind that according to auto experts it’s not necessary. Because of the unique formula of 100% synthetic oils, the engine had to be compatible for you to use it without damage. Older versions of synthetic oils were known to cause leaks in worn engines.
New oils are far safer because it’s lower in natural gas compounds and alcohol which were key components in earlier formulas. Unless your vehicle’s owner’s manual says otherwise, you should be alright using it if you wish.
Advantages and disadvantages
There are several advantages to using synthetic oils. They last longer than traditional oils and they handle high temperatures better to help keep engines running longer. They handle cold temperatures better too which cuts down on engine wear when you startup in the cold.
According to chief mechanic for Consumer Reports John Ibbotson, synthetic oil’s tendency to hold onto its viscosity over time actually can help prolong the life of the engine.
For those who only use their vehicles for short local trips, moisture can gather. Impurities can collect because traditional oil never gets hot enough to burn them off. And that can break down traditional oil.
Those who live in areas that have extreme winters or summers or who do a lot of hauling and towing, synthetic oil can resist breakdown and actually protect the engine better than traditional oil.
In older engines that collect sludge, the residue forms when traditional oil breaks down. The sludge blocks oil passages and eventually chokes out and kills your engine. There are several engines including ones from Volkswagen, Toyota, and Chrysler in the 2000s that were prone to sludge build-up. With synthetic oils, there’s less likelihood for sludge to build up.
The only disadvantage seems to be the price. At the end of the day, using traditional oil is going to almost twice as cheap.
New models requiring synthetic oil
While there are advantages to using synthetic oil products, according to J.D. Power it’s not necessary for everyone. Most can still use traditional motor oil so long as they change that oil when recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer.
There are an increasing number of reasons why, however, newer models of cars need synthetic oil. For vehicles with turbocharged engines, that do a lot of hauling and towing, or used in extreme temperatures, synthetic oil can extend the engine’s life and save you money.
Each scenario places more demand on the engine and synthetic oil products can offer them better protection than traditional oil can.
Using synthetic oil also extends the amount of time between oil changes since you don’t have to change it as often as you do petroleum-based oils. Many automakers today take advantage of this and use synthetic oil in their vehicle from the factories. The owner’s manual of your vehicle will tell you which oil is a good fit for your vehicle and driving style.