Synthetic-OilOne of the biggest annoyances with a car is the regular maintenance. I feel like I’m constantly taking my car to the shop to get an oil change and honestly, those are a few hours in my day I just don’t have. On the other hand, I’m well aware that skipping out on the scheduled maintenance can be detrimental long term. Synthetic oils claim to last longer with higher performance. So is it really worth the extra money for the time saved? Read this guide to find out!

Conventional Oil

Everyday conventional oil is refined from crude oil found in the earth’s crust.  Crude oil comes from organic plant and animal life that died and decayed millions of years ago.  This mineral form of oil has been refined to offer different ranges of viscosities and temperatures suitable for lubricating moving metal parts.  This form of oil on the molecular level is made up of hydrocarbon chains.  These hydrocarbons existing under intense pressure over very long periods of time turn into the plasma like liquid we know as oil.

A New Kind of Oil

Without being able to travel in time to go collect these hydrocarbons from present organic matter that will decay into a “fossil fuel,” scientists and engineers had to come up with a way to re-create it. Hence you have the well-suited name, synthetic oil.  Synthetic oils are created for a specific purpose, lubricating the combustion engine.  The process of making synthetic oil is very complex but so that you have an appreciation of the chemistry involved I will explain the basic process.  Scientists create synthesized hydrocarbon chains made from polyalphaolefin, synthetic esters, and alkalized aromatics.  In doing so they create a product with characteristics well suited for lubricating an engine.

What’s the Difference?

Synthetic oils for starters are much more viscous than conventional oil. This means they have a better rate of flow under pressure.  Metal parts and objects will slide right off of this oil with less friction, and heat being created.  This prolongs the life of the oil itself as well as whatever is in contact with it.  With this very attractive property in synthetic oil, cars can enjoy higher horsepower and efficiency for longer durations of time.

This same property of the oils high viscosity also allows for it to last much longer than conventional oil.  It takes more time for it to break down and wear away.  Think of it as being a thicker more gel like substance for a longer period of time before turning into a more thin liquid type state.  While conventional oil may last around 3,000 miles in an average vehicle, synthetic would last closer to 10,000 miles before it would have to be changed.


In short synthetic oil is a higher performance substance.  It will offer more power and longer life in a vehicle.  The type of vehicle you drive will determine whether it is right for you.  Synthetics do also have a small advantage over conventional oils, as far as their environmental impact.  They tend to have less contaminants such as sulfur that can lead to sludge build up in your engine.  The less you need to change your oil, the less you are burning and wasting a fossil fuel.  It is made of the same elements; however going through 50 quarts vs. 30 in the same amount of time is obviously more of an impact.  If you can afford to use synthetic it has the bang for its buck.

This article was written by Nick Quinlan from, the DOT Physical Exam Headquarters.