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Title: Synthetic Oil: Rx for Long Engine Life by Curt Scott


[Publishers Note: Since specialty car enthusiasts and street rodders

often tend to be zealots when it come to optimum care and maintenance of

their cars, and also because so many of these cars utilize smaller,

harder working engines, we at Homebuilt Publications felt that the

following article would be of particular interest to Specialty Cars

readers. Our own interest in the subject is personal as well as

professional, since we have firsthand experience with the benefits of

synthetic lubricants. One of our cars is a 1979 GM sedan whose odometer

and maintenance records reveal over 200,000 miles of driving, with never

a missed-beat of its 350 cu. in. gasoline engine, and which has never

once required an engine repair... not even a minor one! It still runs

as well as the day it was new, it's sparkling clean inside, and all

cylinders check out to original compression specs. For all but the

first 12,000 miles it has thrived on a strict diet of premium synthetic

motor oil, changed only once every 25,000 miles. When we began research

for this article, no one had to convince us that synthetics offer

distinct advantages.]


Many of the things we take for granted as conventional aspects of

twentieth-century life were unimaginable only a few decades ago. For

instance, who would have foreseen in the 1940's, that in the 1980s, tiny

electronic marvels called transistors would have effectively replaced

the unreliable vacuum tube, or that a single, miniature silicon chip

could duplicate the functions of an entire, roomsized digital computer,

or even that hundreds of different exotic and classic automobiles would

eventually be reborn and replicated in a new material called fiberglass,

for assembly by the owner?


So it is with the rapidly-emerging synthetic lubricant market. Those

naysayers who only a decade or so ago prematurely dismissed synthetics

as "snake oil" are now among the staunchest devotees of

laboratory-manufactured lubricants. Among these believers are top

lubrication engineers, race car drivers, vehicle fleet operators, and

millions of private motorists around the world. What factors have

contributed to the growing enthusiasm for synthetic lubricants? Simply

put, synthetically-produced lubricants have demonstrated beyond doubt

that they are far superior to their conventional petroleum counterparts

in fulfilling the many and varied tasks demanded of oil by today's

modern engines and power trains. Indeed, synthetic lubricant technology

is swiftly progressing to a point where it is possible that engine wear

may no longer continue to be the major limiting factor in the expected

life span of motor vehicles. An examination of synthetic engine

lubricants, along with a review of both laboratory and real world

comparative test results, will assist the reader to understand the

differences and the advantages offered by these state-of-the-art motor



The first question demanding an answer is: *Just what is synthetic oil*?

Technically speaking, synthetic lubricants are made by chemically

combining, in a laboratory, lower-molecular-weight materials to produce

a finished product with planned and predictable properties. Don't be

confused by this technical double-talk. What this means is that

synthetics are custom-designed products in which each phase of their

molecular construction is programmed to produce what may be called "the

ideal lubricant." This process departs significantly from that of

petroleum lubricants, whose physical components, both desirable and

undesirable, are inherited from the crude oil from which they are

refined. Crude oil possesses thousands of varieties of contaminants,

depending upon the oil's geographical and geological origins, which no

amount of refining can entirely remove. Corrosive acids, paraffins and

other waxes, heavy metals, asphalt, naphthenes and benzenes, as well as

countless compounds of sulfur, chlorine, and nitrogen, remain in the

finished product. Equally as important, petroleum oil molecules, as

contrasted to uniform-sized synthetic oil molecules, vary significantly

in size, shape, and length. When your engine heats up, the smaller

molecules evaporate, while the larger ones tend to oxidize and become

engine deposits. As a result, refined petroleum lubricating products

differ widely in their overall quality and performance. The presence of

and the resulting drawbacks of the undesirable constituent elements lie

at the very root of the considerable performance differences between

synthetic and petroleum-based motor oils.


As an adjunct to the narrative, it is important to point out those

products that are sometime confused as synthetics: currently-marketed

graphite motor oil is a *petroleum-based* oil with a graphite compound

added for additional lubricity (slipperiness), and is not synthetic.

There are also numerous aftermarket oil *additives* on the market,

offering claims of increased lubricity through the use of graphite,

Teflon, or metallic compounds. One is even supported by the bold

declaration that it will "repair and seal" cylinder-wall wear and

restore lost performance. Hmmm. Once again, while these products may

or may not perform as claimed, they are not synthetics, and it may be

safely stated that no additive or additive package is capable of

conferring to petroleum oil the performance advantages of a premium

synthetic oil. Consequently, as petroleum-based products, they will

invariably break down as petroleum oils do under the conditions of

stress and heat produced by an internal combustion engine. Public

bewilderment and even skepticism have also occurred in years past, as

unscrupulous, fly-by-night marketers advertised and promoted with

exaggerated claims, oils and additives as "synthetic" which were of

dubious quality, and in some instances were low-quality petroleum

products merely *labeled* "synthetic." The names and address of the

major, reputable manufacturers of synthetic automobile lubricants are

listed at the end of this article for those who desire further technical

information. Because Amsoil products are sold only through authorized

distributors, the company suggests that you call their headquarters for

the name of a dealer near you, or consult your local telephone directory

Yellow Pages under "Oils, lubricating."


We should note also that many of the performance attributes of synthetic

engine oils are also provided by a host of other synthetic lubricants,

such as automatic transmission fluids, chassis and bearing greases, and

gear lubes. Unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this article to

detail the various benefits of the synthetic products.


Contrary to what many may believe, synthetic lubricants are not a recent

development. As early as the 1930s, Standard Oil of Indiana conducted

research into synthetic oil. More serious development and production

was commenced by the Germans during WWII, as their conventional

lubricants congealed and froze on the Eastern front and stalled their

advances into the Soviet Union. As jet engines were developed after the

war, it soon became evident that conventional lubricating oils couldn't

withstand the high temperatures and pressures, and synthetics came to be

used in all military commercial jet aircraft engines. Then in the 1960s

history repeated itself, and it was again cold weather that spurred

further development work as the U.S. Army needed better lubricants for

Arctic and Antarctic use. Still later, NASA specified synthetic-based

lubes for all space vehicles, including the Space Shuttle. Today's

automotive synthetic lubricants have evolved as an almost direct result

of these demanding military and extraterrestrial lubrication



The U.S. Department of Energy lists no fewer than *sixteen* performance

parameters for any modern automotive motor oil. These are:


-Low temperature fluidity (low pour point)


-Low volatility...i.e. resistance to evaporation and resultant oil

thickening...good oil economy, additional engine protection


-High temperature oxidation resistance (of the oil itself)


-Lubricity...the oil's slipperiness


-Thermal stability...resistance to performance loss due to temperature



-Compatibility with engine metals, elastomers (i.e. "rubber" seals), oil

filter elements, paints, and finishes


-Wear protection and film strength


-Freedom from deposit formation...good dispersant and detergent



-Compatibility with other engine oils and additive packages


-Extended drain capability


-Water stability...propensity to remain separate of water molecules


-Corollary effects on an engine's octane requirements


-Ambient-startup protection...ability to protect against oil starvation

during initial startup


-Anti-rust properties


-Compatibility with catalytic emission control systems


-Compatibility with alcohol-containing fuels


Chief among the areas in which the pre-planned and predictable

properties inherent in premium synthetic lubricants significantly

surpass those of premium petroleum oils are: low temperature fluidity...

and thus improved ambient startup protection; low volatility (higher

boiling point...greater resistance to evaporation); high-temperature

thermal stability; oxidation resistance; lubricity; fuel economy; film

strength, and wear protection; extended drain capabilities; water

stability; and high *natural* detergent characteristics (resulting in a

cleaner engine with less additive content).


For purposes of comparison, we have taken a well-known synthetic engine

oil, Amsoil 10W-40 synthetic, and contrasted its characteristics with

those of several prominent 10W-40 conventional motor oils. Below is a

condensed summary of the results of several closely-monitored field and

laboratory tests:



Amsoil Synthetic Petroleum

10W40 10W40


1. Effective lubrication range -60 to +400 F 0 to +300F


2. Viscosity increase after 9% 102 to 400%

single-sequence (64 hour)

Olds III-D Test


3. Wear (mg. weight loss, Falex test) 1.1mg 3 to 6 mg


4. Fluidity @ -40F flows freely solid


5. Volatility (evaporation @ 300F 1% 28%

for 22 hrs)


6. Crankcase Temperature (Track Test) 240F 290F


7. Flash Point (D92 test) 470F 400F


8. Oil consumption (50,000 mile test) 42% less than -

petroleum oils


9. Intake valve deposits (50,000 miles) 32.1 grams 75.5 grams


>From this data it is readily apparent that synthetic lubricants have

substantially broadened the horizons of engine lubricant protection.

Simply by comparing the lubrication-temperature-range comparison, the

limits of petroleum lubricants become evident. On both ends of the

relevant temperature spectrum, synthetics demonstrate conclusively the

ability to significantly extend the thermal regions in which the engine

is protected. This has a special significance for those automotive

powerplants which normally work harder and produce higher internal and

lubricant temperatures.,..that is to say: high-performance engines,

smaller high-RPM engines, air-cooled engines, turbo-charged engines,

Diesels and rotaries. Furthermore, climatic conditions in which

synthetics allow operation with full engine protection are for all

practical purposes boundless, whereas with a petroleum oil the

protective capacity significantly diminishes with temperature extremes.

Note particularly the comparative viscosity (oil thickening) increases

after the 64-hour Olds III-D test (item 2)...9% for the Amsoil synthetic

vs 102-400% for the multigrade petroleum oils; the reduced wear (item

3); and the reduction in crankcase temperatures (item 6). These

favorable results are quite typical of virtually all similar test

comparisons between petroleum- and synthetic-based motor oils.


Low-temperature fluidity ("flowability") becomes an important

consideration where winters are severe. Because synthetics are

constructed "building block by building block", contaminates present in

petroleum oil which contribute to low-temp thickening are entirely

absent in synthetics, and fluidity is stable to as low as -65F.

Petroleum oils have an inherent percentage of paraffin crystals from

their crude oil origins. As temperatures drop, these crystals enlarge

and cause the oil to congeal. In extremely cold weather, petroleum oils

become a solid mass, thus impeding cold starts, and when the engine does

fire up, causing a period of engine operation without adequate

lubrication until the lubricant is warmed enough to allow proper oil

flow. Furthermore, because of synthetics' better ring-sealing

characteristics, fewer contaminants generated by fuel combustion are

allowed to escape into the oil pan. Thus the low-temp fluidity and

film-strength properties of synthetics both contribute significantly to

engine (and batter/starter/alternator) life in colder climes. In one

cold cranking test conducted by Mobil, at -30F, with Mobil 1 in the

crankcase, the engine turned at an average speed of 152 RPM, and

started; using 10W-30 and 10W-40 premium petroleum oils, the same engine

cranked at 45 and 32 RPM respectively... and failed to start. Mobil

states that its Mobil 1 (5W-30) all-season synthetic may be used *in any

engine* where 5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40, or single-viscosity oil is normally

recommended by the manufacturer; its new "Formula 15W-50" synthetic is

designed to replace and outperform those SAE 15W-40 and 20W-50

conventional oils preferred by some drivers for use in high-performance



Ambient-start oil starvation is, at any temperature, a major cause of

engine wear. Expert estimates vary as to how much abrasive wear is

attributable to lubrication-starvation during initial startups, but it

is generally conceded that a disproportionate share of an engine's

abrasion and wear is caused during those few moments after initial

cranking during which the oil has not yet reached full circulation. NEO

Oil Company, a well established and highly-respected producer of

synthetic lubricants, has recently developed an extended-life lubricity

additive for its synthetic motor oils specifically designed to remain on

the bearing surfaces after the engine shutdown and thus deliver

additional lubrication and wear-protection for initial startups.


On the other end of the thermal spectrum, synthetic oils are also

renowned for their high-temperature thermal stability. Superior

high-temp stability ensures and engine lubricant's capacity to protect

vital engine components during very-high-temperature operation, such as

hot summer driving, sustained high-speed driving, repetitious stop and

go metropolitan driving, driving in mountainous terrain, pulling a

trailer, or any driving with a small harder-working piston or rotary

engine. Underhood temperatures also take a quantum leap with the use of

power options, especially air conditioning, and because of emissions

devices and emissions-related engine redesign. It is important to note

that, even though the dash gauge may register only a 200F or so

water/coolant temperature, the temperature of the sump and of all the

assorted bearing surfaces significantly exceed the water temperature,

and often surpass 500F on the piston ring and cylinder wall areas.

These high-temperature surfaces serve to rapidly decompose petroleum oil

and additives, as well as contribute to their shorter service life,

while the synthetic is largely unaffected. Beyond the protection

afforded an engine during these particular instances of high-operating

temperatures, high-temp thermal stability moreover permits an engine

oil to deliver overall extended service life (significantly longer drain

intervals) in all driving conditions, because it prevents the phenomenon

of sludge and carbon deposit formations on critical engine parts

(valves, valve guides, oil channels, lifter assemblies, piston rings, et

al.) due to oil thickening, a problem commonly attributable to petroleum

oil breakdown at high temperature. As these deposits accumulate in the

oil circulatory system, oil flow drops, thus accelerating engine wear.

To the user of synthetics, the benefits are (1) reduced wear of critical

engine components; (2) significantly reduced sludge and varnish... a

cleaner engine; (3) reduced engine drag due to uniform viscosity; and

(4) increased fuel economy due to reduced component wear.


Mobil Oil recently reported the results of simulated hot-weather

performance with its Mobil 1 synthetic as evaluated by a standardized,

grueling engine test known as the Olds III-D. In this test, an

Oldsmobile 350" V8 engine is run for 64 hours at a 100-hp load and 300F

crankcase oil temperature. This test is designed to measure an oils

ability to resist oxidation and evaporation (and consequent thickening)

at high temperature. (If it seems odd that oil would *thicken* at high

temperature, consider the analogy of heating a pan of cold syrup on a

stove. At first it would become quite thinner, but if left for, say,

several hours, the resultant evaporation would cause the syrup to become

progressively thicker.) In order to qualify for the American Petroleum

Institutes top "SF" rating, a motor oil must pass the III-D test. This

means that it can thicken to no more than 375% of original viscosity at

the end of 64 hours of continuous running. Mobil states: "To test the

extra stability provided by the Mobil synthetic oil, we decided to run

the III-D *for 128 hours*...double its normal length...and without oil

drain. The Mobil 1 synthetic easily passed the test under these brutal

conditions, thickening only an insignificant 20%. For comparison, a

high-performance premium conventional oil was tested under identical

conditions. That test had to stop at 96 hours; the oil had turned

solid. Another premium conventional oil forced the the test to stop at

112 hours, well before the end of the scheduled double length." Amoco

Conducted an identical double-sequence III-D test on its Ultimate 5W-30

synthetic; it also passed the test with flying colors, thickening only



"Film strength" refers to the amount of pressure required to force out a

film of oil from between two pieces of flat metal. The higher the film

strength, the more protection is provided to such parts as piston rings,

timing chain, cams, lifters, and rocker arms...wherever the lubricant is

not under oil-system pressure. Synthetics routinely exhibit a nominal

film strength of well over 3,000 psi, while petroleum oils average

somewhat less than 500 psi. The result is more lubricant protection

between moving parts with synthetics.


Viscosity is a crucial consideration when improvements in fuel economy

are desired. It stands to reason that the freer and engine turns, the

less fuel it will require to accomplish a given amount of work. Studies

have demonstrated conclusively that engine drag is directly related to

the viscosity of the motor oil. Generally speaking, the lower the

viscosity, the better the fuel economy of the engine. In formulating

lower-viscosity oils, it has become clear that synthetics are the base

stock of choice. This is because it is possible to produce a synthetic

oil of a given low viscosity without incurring the excessive oil

consumption (due to evaporation) and resultant thickening of the same

low-viscosity petroleum oil. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy in

its pamphlet entitled "An assessment Of The Effects Of Engine Lube Oils

On Fuel Economy", states: "It is evident that low-viscosity oils will

help minimize engine friction losses in the prevalent hydrodynamic

region and thereby achieve better fuel economy. In addition, such oils

help to reduce friction during ambient (cold) start by increasing the

oil flow rate to critical engine parts. However, low viscosity engine

oils, blended from conventional petroleum base stocks, may have problems

with high oil consumption and engine wear. There is also the

possibility of decreased catalytic-converter life and efficiency due to

the increased levels of phosphorus in the exhaust gas from the oil

additives. *One solution is to mix some synthetic oil with the mineral

(petroleum) oil, or use a synthetic base stock entirely*"(end of quote).

This low viscosity, low-volatility character of synthetics has become

increasingly important because many automobile manufacturers are now

recommending lighter-weight (chiefly 5W-30) oils for use in their

products, and because the trend toward smaller engines creates

substantially more heat and stress on the oil used. In these smaller,

high-output powerplants, enough heat is generated to cause a lighter

petroleum lubricant to evaporate and significantly increase viscosity

within weeks of its introduction into the crankcase. High temperature

stability, as well as oxidation-resistance, is of absolutely paramount

importance when it comes to turbocharged engines. Because it must both

lubricate *and cool* the turbo unit, the oil MUST be specifically

formulated to withstand the turbo's extremely high operating

temperatures. Oil film temperatures often exceed 450F in the turbo unit

during operation, and can surpass 650F(!!!) during a short period

immediately following engine shutdown...both figures far exceeding the

thermal limits of petroleum oil. Synthetics, with their capacity to

maintain proper (low) viscosity and lubricity under these high heat and

stress conditions, and with their natural resistance to oxidation, have

risen to the fore. It is also important to note that the

high-temperature-stability properties of synthetics are *designed

primarily into the base-stock oil itself*, rather than being achieved

primarily with additives. The advantage with approach is twofold: (1)

Additives, which may account for as much as 25% of the volume of a can

of premium petroleum oil, by themselves have little or no lubricating

properties per se. Thus the more the additive content in an oil, the

less lubrication is available to the engine; and (2) Most additives tend

to volatilize (evaporate) and deteriorate with heat and age and use, so

that the overall effectiveness of the lubricant itself is significantly

diminished within only a few thousand miles of driving.


It is also important to note that, contrary to what many take for

granted, higher viscosity in and of itself does not translate into better

engine protection. Extensive testing has shown the opposite to be in

fact true. As long as a lower-viscosity oil is formulated to resist

evaporation and provide high film strength, this lighter oil will

actually deliver more complete protection to the engine parts, since its

more rapid circulation delivers both better lubrication per se, and far

better cooling characteristics...a critical advantage, given that oil

flow furnishes up to 30% of an engine cooling requirements. Prior to

the introduction of synthetics, however, the problem of evaporation (and

the resultant thickening of the remaining oil) was addressed primarily

by increasing viscosity. In short, don't be concerned with the

relatively lower viscosity ratings of some synthetics. Syn lubes are a

whole new ball game.


The remarkable ability of synthetic oils to reduce internal operating

temperatures is far too important to ignore, since high operating

temperatures contribute directly to premature failure of mechanical

components and gaskets and seals. Coolant (i.e. water/antifreeze) cools

only the upper regions of an engine. The task of cooling the crankshaft,

main and connecting rod bearings, the timing gear and chain, the

camshaft and its bearings, and numerous other components must borne

entirely by the oil. There are three identifiable reasons why

synthetics do a better job of cooling an engine: (1) Because of both the

oil's lubricity (slipperiness) and it's stable viscosity, less

friction-- and thus less heat-- is generated in the first place; (2) The

molecular structure of the oil itself is designed to more efficiently

transfer heat, even compared against the thermal conductivity properties

(ability to absorb and dissipate heat) of an identical-viscosity

petroleum oil; and (3) As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the more

rapid oil flow of these lower-viscosity synthetics contributes

significantly to the efficient transfer and dissipation of heat.

*Because of all these factors, oil-temperature decreases of from 20F to

50F are quite common with the use of synthetic oil*. One might even say

that the heat-reduction properties of synthetics are synergistic...by

helping to reduce its own temperature, the synthetic oil is

simultaneously enhancing the lubricant's overall performance



The advantage of extended drain intervals is one of the salient benefits

of synthetic motor oils. In a landmark copyrighted article on synthetic

motor oils which appeared in Popular Science magazine several years ago,

the champion long-oil-drain performance of all was related by Ray

Potter, Chief of Lubrication Research at Ford Motor company for many

years until his retirement several years ago. "Ten years ago", Potter

related, "I was an un-believer like Saul of Tarsus, who in his early

years went about breathing fire, death, and indignation on the

Christians, before Paul saw the light. So was I at the Scientific

Laboratory of the Ford Research and Engineering Laboratory. Two

companies asked if I was interested in synthetic oils, and I told them

they were too expensive. But one of them sent some anyhow and we put it

in the engine house and forgot about it.


"Then one day one of the boys in the dynamometer room called and said

they were short of oil and had an engine that would be dropped from

scheduled testing unless we put something in it. I remembered the

synthetic oil and gave him that. They ran it for 192 hours and called

and told me I had better come over and take a look, so I looked and I

had never seen anything so clean in my life. I said let's put it (the

oil) back in and run it another 192 hours. That's where the petroleum

oils sludge up badly. But when they had run it again, it was as good as

when we looked at it before. So I said, 'Let's run it again', and that

was the first triple sequence I ever ran. We put the oil through 576

hours and that marvelous little Ford engine sat there running like a

sewing machine and we pulled it down and it was fantastic."


It is readily apparent that the performance and protection advantages

exhibited by synthetic engine lubricants in laboratory tests suggest

that their public acceptance will substantially increase in the future.

But what about "the real world"? Does their performance parallel the

test results and the claims of their manufacturers? The answer appears

to be "Yes."


In the same Popular Science article on synthetic oils, veteran race car

driver Smokey Yunick was quoted: "When you disassemble an engine that's

been run on petroleum oil, if you examine the rings and cylinder bores

with a glass you'll see ridges and scratches--that's the wear going on.

With polyol (a variety of synthetic), when you take the engine apart

everything has the appearance of being chrome-plated. In the engine we

ran at Indianapolis this year we used a polyol synthetic. When we tore

the engine down, you could still see the original honing marks on the

bearings...no wear at all. We put the same bearings back in because the

crankshaft never touched the bearings. I've never seen that before."


Another example of the capacity of synthetic oil to deliver exceptional

engine protection and performance is a recently-completed demonstration

involving the Amsoil Corporation of Superior, Wisconsin, a major

manufacturer of a wide range of premium synthetic oils, automatic

transmission fluids, chassis lubricants, and related products. This

demonstration involved the use of its 100% synthetic engine oils in a

New York City taxi fleet. The test, sponsored and supervised by a major

lubricant additive manufacturer, compared the overall performance

capabilities of Amsoil's 10W-40 synthetic oil with a number of leading

petroleum motor oils. The demonstration was scheduled to encompass

60,000 miles of New York taxi service on each car. With the high levels

of idling time typically encountered in such service, the total number

of "engine miles" of each car was estimated to be about double the miles

registered on its odometer.


Initially the demonstration was to have required that each taxi,

equipped with a Chevrolet 229 CID V6 engine, have its oil and filter

changed every 3,000 miles. But Amsoil insisted that an alteration of

the test procedure be instituted. The company's intent was to push its

synthetic oil to the extreme and evaluate how it compared to the

petroleum oils drained at the originally-specified, 3,000 mile

intervals. The twelve Amsoil-lubricated vehicles were thus divided into

three groups of four taxis each. Group 1 (Amsoil) would double the

control interval, with oil and filter drain at 6,000 miles; Group 2

(Amsoil) would quadruple the control interval, with oil and filter drain

at 12,000 miles; and Group 3 (Amsoil) would not change the oil *for the

duration of the test*; thus multiplying the (petroleum) Control Group's

drain-control interval by twenty times. In place of changing the oil,

these (Group 3) cars would be equipped with Amsoil's ByPass oil filter,

claimed by the company to keep (synthetic) oil analytically clean for up

to 25,000 miles of driving, without replacing the element. The by-pass

filter element was changed at 12,500 mile intervals for the duration of

the test.


Following the year-long demonstration, each of the engines was

disassembled, both to determine the levels of sludge, varnish, and rust

that had accumulated inside the engine, and to carefully measure the

amounts of wear experienced on critical engine components. Pictured on

the previous page are representative samples of various components of

the test engines. In the first example, the pistons and intake valves

of the petroleum Control Group (*oil and filter changes every 3,000

miles*), are illustrated. The lower set of photos represent the same

engine components from an Amsoil Group 3 vehicle. Note the

substantially reduced varnish and sludge deposits on the synthetic-oil

lubricated components, and the remarkably good overall condition of the

Amsoil Group 3 piston rings and valves.


To summarize the findings and conclusions, the test facility responsible

for the demonstration submitted this statement: "The data presented in

this report indicates that the Amsoil synthetic SAE 10W-40 passenger-car

motor oil formulation...provided protection of the test engines from

excessive wear and deposit formation, far beyond the normal 3,000-mile

change interval." In fact, the level of protection was such that those

engines in which the original synthetic oil was run for the entire

duration of the (60,000-mile) test showed less wear than did the Control

Group vehicles using premium, 10W-40 petroleum oil and 3,000-mile drain



Many users of synthetics have reported that their fuel octane

requirements have been lowered after switching to synthetics. One

possible explanation for this phenomenon is that, because synthetic oils

produce fewer combustion-chamber carbon deposits, due at least in part

to its superior piston-ring-sealing properties, pre-ignition due to such

deposits is correspondingly decreased. Also, at least in theory, spark

plugs and valves should perform better and last longer for these same



Renowned race-car driver Bobby Unser stated in an article in The Family

Handyman magazine: "I've had tremendous success with synthetics, both

grease and oil, in all my cars. In several instances where we have

compared petroleum-lubricated engines with those which used synthetics,

the latter were cleaner, with less carbon and sludge. And the engines

produced more horsepower, which meant better mileage and longer life."


Of particular relevance to VW-based kit car owners is a letter received

by NEO oil company from a grateful customer in Paramount, California;

excerpts as follows: "Thought we'd take a moment to write regarding the

performance of you NEO synthetic motor oil...we decided to try you oil

in our shop van, an early VW with a late model 1600cc, dual-port

engine...Our findings, to say the least, are impressive! With

absolutely no changes other than to drain out 2 1/2 quarts of a very

good racing-grade 30-weight oil and the replace it with an equal amount

of your 10W-40 synthetic, we noted *an immediate 50F drop* (emphasis

ours) in average cylinder head temperature (from 350F to 300F), and a

corresponding drop in oil temperature, from (former) highs of 275-290,

now down to 230-240 degrees...Great news for VW owners, since high

operating temperature is probably the number one cause of premature

engine failures...Also significant, we have reduced our oil consumption

from one pint every 300-350 miles (depending on load conditions), down

to NIL. In fact, as of this writing, we've put 6363 miles on the van

and have added only 3 pints! As we stated earlier, we are quite

favorably impressed with your product and are recommending it



Still another letter from a synthetic-oil user reads in part: "...My GM

owner's manual recommends cleaning the PCV filter every 15,000 miles and

replacing the (PCV) valve every 30,000. My odometer now registers well

over 100,000 miles, and both components are still immaculate, like new,

even though I've never had to clean the filter or replace the valve.

Hell, except for a quick inspection prior to writing this letter, I've

long since stopped checking them altogether. These guys have apparently

never heard about Mobil 1..."


Finally, we asked a respected petroleum engineer why auto manufacturers

don't specify synthetic oils for used in their products. His response

was both candid and revealing: "Auto manufacturers must, by necessity,

stick to the 'generic' SAE standards in recommending oil grades and

viscosities...and synthetics are way ahead of SAE standards. The top

SAE motor oil classifications (SD, SE, SF, etc.), rather than being

benchmarks of excellence, are merely 'highest common denominators'.



highest SAE rating (currently 'SF'), for example, is determined not for

the state-of-the-art performance of the better synthetics, but rather

for the best possible performance of petroleum oils *currently

achievable by a majority of petroleum oil producers* (emphasis ours).

It is not surprising then that synthetics pass these qualifications

effortlessly. What is needed is an entirely additional set of SAE

standards for synthetics. Such a grading system would, in effect, start

where current SAE (petroleum-oriented) specs leave off. If such a

premium grading system were adopted by the Society (SAE), then you'd see

the automakers universally recommending lighter oils in grades and with

recommended drain intervals completely beyond the reach of petroleum



So, given all of this information, what do we know about the performance

characteristics of synthetic oils? We can say that they have

significant performance and protective advantages over their petroleum

counterparts, across an extremely wide range of operating temperatures.

We have observed that synthetic oils, as a result of their stable

viscosity and low volatility, are capable of providing superior

protection to smaller, higher-RPM engines currently predominating the

automotive market. We have seen that in "real-world" demonstrations,

synthetic oils display extended drain capabilities far in excess of the

recommended drain intervals of conventional petroleum motor oils.



finally, we have seen that synthetic lubricants demonstrate a

remarkable ability to curtail sludge, varnish, and wear, in any engine.

"But", you say, "if synthetics are so good, why aren't even more

motorists using them?" First and foremost, many folks simply aren't

aware of synthetics. Others who are aware are deterred by the higher

purchase cost, without investigating the advantages. Even many

professional mechanics haven't kept abreast of the advances that have

occurred in the field of synthetic lubricants, and frequently tend to

dismiss them without bothering to check the wealth of current literature

and impressive test results regarding them. Secondly, garages and

dealerships often hesitate to recommend *any* extended-drain lubricant,

perhaps because their livelihood is to a large degree dependent upon

frequent servicing and repairs. We learned of one (probably

commonly-occurring) instance where a dealership mechanic told a

customer: "You can't use synthetic oil in you car...the engine wasn't

designed for it!" Still another reason is that many of the advantages

and cost savings provided by synthetic lubricants are difficult to

quantify, and thus difficult for many consumers to appreciate. For

instance, how does one place a precise value upon such benefits

as..."cleaner engine; longer engine life; fewer repairs; lower operating

temperatures; fewer oil and filter changes; less oil consumption;

lowered octane requirements; longer batter/starter/alternator/spark

plug/turbo unit/PCV component life; increased fuel mileage; the

convenience of exceptional four-season performance with a single motor

oil...and so on." On the other hand, it is quite simple to compare the

*purchase costs* of conventional vs. synthetic, and to ignore the real

cost-and-performance comparisons in actual operation. Do you prefer to

save $12 or $15 per oil change by using a petroleum oil, even knowing

that it should be changed six or seven times as frequently as a premium

synthetic? Or are you more interested in the bigger picture,

irrespective of the fact that many of the very real benefits of

synthetics cannot be precisely quantified in terms of dollars and cents?

All available evidence indicates that synthetic engine oils offer

performance advantages *not achievable with any refined-petroleum



Does all of this mean that synthetic motor oils are superior to

conventional petroleum oils? If you value your automobile engine and

would like to keep it in peak, trouble-free operating condition year

after year and far beyond its normal expected life, our conclusion is

"Yes, without question."


[We at Specialty Cars would like to extend special thanks to Peter L.

Clark of Amsoil, Earl Kirmser of Earl Kirmser Inc./Mobil Oil, and Paul

Baker of Neo Oil company. Without their unselfish cooperation and

technical assistance, production of this article would not have been



Synthetic Motor Oils: Are They For Every Engine?


After reading the accompanying article, many may feel that is is to

their advantage to switch to a synthetic engine lubricant. There are,

however, several things a prospective synthetic user should know in

order to make the proper decision.


First, in order to obtain optimum cost and performance benefits, it is

important that your engine does not consume or leak an excessive amount

of oil. Because of the generally higher purchase cost of synthetics,

constantly replacing lost oil can become expensive. This is not to say

that oil consumption or leakage will *increase* with the use of

synthetics, only that replacement of lost oil is more costly. The view

was once widely held that any high-detergent-action oil would increase

leakage, by dissolving "false seals" formed by engine sludge. Not so,

say most experts, who explain that motor oil detergents and dispersants

are designed only to *prevent or inhibit* sediment formation, and have

little or no effect at all on previously-established crude deposits.


Second, most engine and lubricant manufacturers recommend that synthetic

oil not be used during the "break-in" period of an engine. The reason

for this is that synthetics, possessing extraordinary lubricity and

lubricant film strength, do not permit the metal wear necessary for the

seating of piston rings. A change to synthetic motor oil should wait

until you new or rebuilt engine has completed the break-in period of six

to eight thousand miles.


Warranty-period compliance is a question with many motorists, and there

is currently no *one* answer to cover all contingencies. With the

development of extended-drain motor oils, both synthetic and petroleum,

most of the major automobile manufacturers have relaxed their once-rigid

compliance requirements. On an individual case basis, the usual

procedure is to determine first the cause of engine failure. If the

cause is found to be a factory flaw, warranty compliance is generally

not questioned. In any event, oil-related engine failure during the

warranty period is a rare circumstance indeed. If the failure should be

found to be oil related, most oil producers will stand behind their

product and cover any repair cost. Many extended warranty plans,

however, are offered at new car dealerships, sponsored not by the

manufacturer, but by third-party vendors. There's a Latin phrase to

cover the issue: *Caveat emptor*...Let the buyer beware. In the

worst-case scenario, they may search for *any* excuse to void their

warranty. Our advice is to avoid extra-cost extended warranties. Not

only are they expensive at the outset; pressure is often applied by the

new car dealer for you to have all of your service work done in-house at

dealership rates. Save your bucks and take a cruise.


Finally, if you know that your engine has significant sludge or varnish

buildup, common among petroleum-lubricated engines with higher mileage

or that have had infrequent oil changes, it is sometimes recommended

that it be flushed with an engine cleaner before switching to

synthetics. This process helps to remove those deposits that have

accumulated as a result of the decomposition of the previously-used

petroleum oils, and enables the synthetic oil to better perform the

functions of keeping the engine clean and reducing wear. Since all of

the major synthetic motor oils available today are entirely compatible

with petroleum oils, there is no need to flush a relatively clean engine

in order to switch to a synthetic. Some synthetics producers, however,

do caution against mixing different brands of synthetics with one

another, since their compositional origins may be quite different.



[side bar 2]


How Well Do Oil Filters Match Up to the Performance of Synthetics?


Oil filtration is an essential ingredient in the overall equation of

engine lubrication. The impurities and wear metals circulating in the

oil must be affectively contained to prevent engine wear and

crud-deposit buildup. But all oil filters are not created equal, and

care should be taken to ensure that the oil filter you use provides

proper protection for your engine.


There are three basic types of engine oil filters: pleated-paper spin-on

filters, full-depth spin-on filters, and by-pass (supplementary)

filters. Each is designed for specific filtration tasks.

The original-equipment type pleated paper filter (AC, Fram, Purolator,

et al.), in which a rigid sheet of filtering paper is folded

accordion-style and inserted into a metal housing, is by far the most

common variety of automotive oil filter. Because of the large volume of

oil-decomposition sludge produced by petroleum motor oils, a paper

filter should be changed along with the oil every three or four thousand

miles when using petroleum oil. By using synthetics this change

interval may unquestionably be substantially increased since these

congestive byproducts are greatly reduced, if not entirely eliminated.

Both Mobil and Amoco confidently endorse change intervals of 25,000

miles for both the filter and their synthetic oil. In any event, this

type of filter should be replaced periodically, not exceeding twelve

months. The reason for this recommendation lies not with the filter

clogging, but with the limited life of the paper element itself, since

with both age and use it tends to deteriorate and eventually fail.

Paper-element failure and inferior filtration capabilities are

particularly prevalent in the case of cheap, discount filter brands.

This is no area to scrimp on quality. If you choose to use a paper

filter, stick with a brand whose quality you know you can trust.


The full-depth type, spin-on filter is identical in external appearance

to the pleated-paper filter, and is installed in the same manner. The

filtering medium is a thick "blanket" of fiber, which filters throughout

its entire depth (hence the name), contrasted to the surface filtration

method of a pleated paper filter. Amsoil's depth filter utilizes a

dense, cotton linter element, that according to the company, filters

particles down to roughly 1/6 the size of those allowed to recirculate

through a paper filter.


The bypass filter is a supplementary filtering system, designed to

"super-filter" from the oil most of the remaining impurities and

particles that have been allowed to pass through the spin-on filter. A

by-pass unit possesses the ability to filter minute contaminants and

particles from the oil, in some cases measuring *down to well under one

micron*, compared to a spin-on (depth-type) filters 4 or 5 microns, or a

spin-on (pleated paper) filter's 25-40 microns. Bear in mind that

virtually all engine/piston ring deposits and a substantive amount of

wear result from minute crud particles that have routinely recirculated

through the full-flow paper filter. A top quality by-pass filter can

virtually eliminate oil-suspended debris, at the same time extending and

enhancing the benefits of synthetic oil. One such unit, the Oberg

Filter, (distributed by Baker Precision Bearing, 2865 Gundry Ave., Long

Beach, CA 90806), employs a reusable, ultra-fine stainless steel

filtering element, and uses an adapter plate for simple and

straightforward installation either in place of, or in addition to, the

spin-on filter. Fram offers an automotive by-pass filter in its product

line that features a pleated-paper element and easy "spin-on"

replacement similar to original-equipment-type units. Ask for the Fram

"PB50" with mounting hardware. Amsoil's by-pass unit is connected to

the oil pressure sending unit and returns oil to the pan, thus requiring

some mechanical ability or the services of your mechanic for the initial

installation. The company states that its by-pass unit, which employs a

user replaceable, pressed-fiber element, refilters all the oil in an

engine every five minutes, and keeps it analytically sparkling clean for

the (recommended maximum) element life of 25,000 miles! It even

extracts and contains any *water* that has (inevitably) condensed into

the oil...which if allowed to remain in circulation will often result in

the formation of corrosive acids. It's a real trip to find clean,

like-new synthetic oil on your dipstick after twenty or twenty-five

thousand miles without an oil change.


It should be noted that optimum filtration is of particularly critical

importance with both Diesel (naturally-aspirated) and turbocharged

(gasoline or Diesel) engine, since their abnormally-high yield of

combustion contaminants, if left to circulate in the lubricant, serve to

adversely affect the performance and service life of any oil. Also,

since the immediate objective of filtration is clean oil, don't overlook

your air filter. A clogged or failed air cleaner can be a major source

of abrasive oil contaminants and engine wear. Choose a good brand,

check it periodically, and replace it promptly when it becomes dirty.


Alara Rogers, Aleph Press



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