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What is the difference between synthetic and conventional motor oil?

When it comes to motor oil, you have two main options – conventional or synthetic. The differences between the two begin at the molecular level and continue all the way up to how the oil is manufactured and processed. Conventional oil will cost less than the synthetic but will require more frequent oil changes. If you decide to go with the synthetic motor oil – depending on your driving habits – you can change your oil every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. Here are few key differences to consider when deciding to go with conventional or synthetic oil. Keep in mind, if you have an older, particularly vintage vehicle with the original engine, synthetic oil may NOT be recommended.

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Conventional motor oil
Conventional motor oil is derived from crude oil and contains impurities. There are no additives added to the oil and it has irregularities at the molecular level. Conventional oil will accomplish the basic task of lubricating your engine by coating the vital parts of your engine that run at high speeds and providing a barrier against engine wear.

Conventional motor oil will break down quicker than synthetic motor oil and require more frequent oil changes. As conventional oil ages it begins to leave carbon deposits in your engine forming “engine sludge” with continued use. This engine sludge can reduce the life of your engine.

In extreme hot or cold conditions, conventional motor oil can be susceptible to the elements. In high heat, conventional oil can start to boil off causing a loss of lubrication to engine parts running at high speeds. In extreme cold conditions, conventional oil can become thick and less fluid, meaning it may not reach all of the vital engine parts quickly enough as the engine warms up, which can lead to damage.

With conventional oil, it is very important to change your oil at the manufacturer’s suggested intervals. One benefit of conventional oil is that it costs about half that of synthetic.

Synthetic motor oil
Contains a mixture of additives that allows the oil to break down slower and provide greater lubrication for your engine. Synthetic oil offers better performance in extreme cold or extreme heat. The synthetic oil flows and coats engine parts quicker in the cold of winter and breaks down slower in the extreme heat of the summer and continue to protect your engine from wear. Compared to synthetic blend, conventional oil can become thick in cold conditions and boil off in hot conditions.

The benefits of synthetic also include extending the life of your engine. At the molecular level, synthetic oil is uniform. Due to a refining and purification process, it will keep your engine cleaner and last longer resulting in a clean running engine for years to come. Synthetic oil has also been shown to improve fuel economy and engine performance when compared to conventional oils.

Synthetic oil is continuing to see improvements with modern technology and chemistry. While the cost of synthetics are greater in the short term, the long term effects of using synthetic oil over conventional will result in a car that will last longer and require less frequent oil changes. Keep in mind that synthetic oil still needs to be changed regularly, just not nearly as often as its conventional counterpart. When put side-by-side however, the technology behind the synthetic motor oil will outperform conventional motor oil every time.