Synthetic motor oil has been around for quite a while. They are attributed as being much better than their mineral counterparts. But what exactly makes up synthetic oil? Read on to find out.
Before we go on to why synthetic oil is better, we must first be clear about the fundamental difference between mineral oil and synthetic oil. Mineral oil, or conventional oil, is that obtained from underground by drilling oil wells. On the other hand, synthetic oil is man made. Each company has a particular way of manufacturing synthetic oil, and due to obvious reasons, they do not disclose the contents nor the process to the public.
Unlike natural oils, synthetic oils are always uniform and homogeneous. Synthetic oils are basically made up of three components, the oil, additives, and the carrier that spreads the additives throughout the oil.
Parameters for oil performance
Synthetic oils, or for that matter, any oil, is graded along the following parameters.
Viscosity index: It measures the effect of temperature on the viscosity of oil. Viscosity is the tendency of a fluid to resist its own flow. In short, it is the sluggishness of the flow of the oil. More viscosity means the fluid flows more sluggishly. If the oil is too viscous, it won’t flow and will be stagnant, often slowing down motion of the machinery too. If the oil is too thin, then it won’t provide lubrication at all.
When temperature is increased, the oil becomes thin, and when it is decreased, the oil becomes thick. Large changes in viscosity is undesirable, because lubrication quality of the oil changes. This is where the viscosity index comes in. When the viscosity index of an oil is high, its viscosity is consistent, even over wide ranges of temperature.
Total Base number: The total base number refers to the amount of acid content that the oil can tolerate in the engine. If the base number is low, then the oil gets neutralized easily to produce useless salts inside the engine, which do not provide any sort of lubrication.
NOACK volatility number: This measures the volatility of the oil. Volatility is the tendency of the oil to evaporate into vapor at higher temperatures. Oil consists of higher molecular and lower molecular components. The lower molecular components are easily vaporisable, meaning they evaporate easily, leaving sluggish, heavier components making lubrication tougher. Thus, a lower NOACK volatility number is more desirable. This is determined by the NOACK volatility test.
Because synthetic oils have more uniform components, they perform much better in these parameters than mineral oils.
Types of synthetic oils
There are so many types of synthetic oils that it is impossible to touch on each one. The thing is, the oils are classified into 3 types : mineral, blended, and synthetic. Mineral oils are considered to be of low quality, a blend of mineral and synthetic is considered to an improvement on mineral oils, while pure synthetic oils are considered the best.
Synthetic oils differ from each other even on the type of base oil used. Some manufacturers use synthetic oil as a base itself, while some others use high grade, ultra purified mineral oil. But the biggest difference between various synthetic oils occurs in the additives. Several additives are available to improve the quality of the oil, and each of them offers a change in the property of the base oil.
The only drawback of synthetic oil
The only disadvantage to switching to a synthetic motor oil is that it is more expensive. But with market competition getting stiffer and additives getting cheaper, the price is coming down, which will be a welcome change for vehicle owners.
Synthetic oil technology has improved dramatically since their inception in the 1930’s. But with the advent of electric cars, focus might be shifted to lubrication in other areas of the car, like the transmission and gearbox. However the industry may change, synthetic oils are here to stay, and manufacturers will ensure they change their products to meet the industry’s demands.