As today’s modern engines are put under more stress, automakers worldwide are moving towards ever thinner viscosity grades to support achieving higher mandated fuel economy requirements. This path is leading to a dramatic increase in the use of full synthetic oils in newer cars, pickups, SUVs and working vans – a trend that has been underway.
Just what do we mean by “synthetic?” Perhaps it’s an unfortunate term, because it implies the opposite of “real” – which is definitely not the case with motor oils. Synthetic engine oils are made with a variety of performance additives and synthetic base oil. Unlike mineral base oils, synthetic base oils are engineered with molecules of uniform shape and size and are optimized to consistently perform better than mineral base oils*.
This brings many advantages for newer and advanced engines. Synthetic oils don’t break down as easily as mineral oils, which means they protect the engine longer from excessive metal-to-metal contact that causes wear. Synthetic engine oils also function better in extreme hot and cold temperature conditions. In cold weather, synthetic oils flow to all vital engine parts more quickly than mineral-based oil. In hotter temperatures, synthetics exhibit greater oxidation stability than mineral-based oils and don’t evaporate as quickly, both of which add up to better, longer lasting engine protection.
Full synthetic motor oils have become more important as automakers explore new engine technologies – most notably, turbocharging and engine downsizing. Synthetic oil is what makes these new technologies work optimally.
For example, turbocharged engines help with fuel economy while maintaining power, but are tougher on engine oil than non-turbo engines. Today’s turbocharged cars require engine oils to lubricate the turbo shaft with a thin layer of oil while withstanding the punishing effects of the shaft spinning as much as 200,000 revolutions per minute. Full synthetics are better able to withstand the high heat that turbos produce and control deposit formation, which is critical to keep the shaft spinning smoothly and the oil flowing properly to all moving parts †.
Synthetics are making possible the next generation of engine technology. One example is how General Motors looked to motor oil with their dexos1™ Gen 2 specification to help provide low speed pre-ignition (LSPI) protection particularly for small displacement turbo-charged engines. With the overall move toward lower viscosity oils, achieving newer grades such as 0W-20, 0W-30 and still to come 0W-16, require the use of synthetics. They cannot use mineral oils exclusively. OEMs are exploring even lower viscosities – for example 0W-8, which is expected to be a fully synthetic formulation. Japanese cars have used 0W-20 grade for several years, and their US and European counterparts are now following suit. When the new ILSAC GF-6 specification becomes active (all indications are pointing to 2019), synthetics are expected to play a more prominent role.
The trend toward synthetics is generally good news. In concert with new engine technologies, synthetic oils should help keep passenger car engines from wearing out and keep them running longer. Click here for more information on synthetic oils.
* Source: Lubricant Additives Chemistry and Applications p.542:
†“ Synthetic base stocks tend to be more resistant to chemical and thermal degradation than mineral base stocks.”
Dave has over a decade of lubricants experience in Research, Product Development, and technical workshop training. He has a passion for science, and Dave has held various technical positions as a scientist from Greases to Passenger Car and Motorcycle Engine Oils. He loves to talk oils and science, and has been involved in several training workshops giving reason to why people should be excited and care about oils and additives. He’s currently the Consumer Brand Technical and OEM Manager where he’ll be developing the Havoline Engine Oils and Aftermarket Fuel Additives product strategy for the globe. Dave will interface with technology, business colleagues, and customers in support of Consumer Brands. Dave has a Ph. D. in Chemistry, Patents on lubricant composition and manufacture, and extensive engine oil formulation experience.