Synthetic vs Conventional Oil: Everything You Want and Need to Know

Synthetic vs Conventional Oil: Everything You Want and Need to Know

10/19/2020

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There’s no NASCAR, 1967 Ferrari F312, Porsche 911, or even your daily driver Hyundai Sonata without oil. Whether conventional or synthetic, engine oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle.

Back to oil, there are two main camps: conventional and synthetic. Synthetic is man-made while conventional is refined using a process similar to gasoline refinement. The two oils enable engines to pump, thump, and roar all around the world without immediately seizing themselves solid. Somewhat necessary, if you ask us.

But what about their differences? Their advantages and disadvantages? How and when do you use each? What are their lifespans? Well, fine readers, The Drive’s crackerjacks info team can answer those questions, and every other question you’ve ever asked Google about conventional oil below.

Motor oil.

What Is Conventional Oil?

Conventional oil is a refined crude-oil-based product designed to lubricate conventional internal combustion engines, as well as airplane engines, metal stamping machines, and a host of other products and machines. Conventional oil has been a necessary lubricant since the late 1800s, first introduced as lube for steam engines. It was first pioneered by John Ellis while attempting to use crude oil for medicinal properties. Fascinating!

What Is Synthetic Oil?

Synthetic oil is a man-made chemical compound designed for lubricating conventional internal combustion engines, as well as airplane engines, and metal stamping machines. It is designed to be a substitute for conventional crude-oil-based engine oils. It has many positives, including reducing strain on the environment caused by the typical extraction and refining processes conventional oil demands. 

What Is the Difference Between Synthetic and Conventional Oil?

Basically, the key difference between synthetic and conventional oils are their compositions. Conventional oil uses crude oil as its base, while synthetic oil uses other products and is engineered in a lab. That’s it!

Should I Use Synthetic or Conventional Oil?

New gasoline engines have become more complicated, full stop. Manufacturers have gone to tighter tolerances among their moving parts, as well as higher compression ratios (i.e. turbocharged and hybrid engines). Synthetic oil, and it’s more chemically stable properties, are perfect for these applications as it evaporates less rapidly, won’t thicken in cold weather, and won’t produce sludge as quickly as conventional oil.

Likewise, synthetic oil’s longer life cycle versus conventional oil has also attracted many, with conventional  car oil requiring changes every 3,000-5,000 miles and synthetic every 7,500-15,000 miles.

That said, if you have an older car that predates synthetic oil’s ubiquity, its use may be ill-advised. Older engines aren’t built or designed to handle synthetic oil, especially its thinner consistency and chemical composition. As such, your car may weep synthetic oil out of its gaskets or into the combustion chambers. 

Most oil manufacturers offer comprehensive guides as to which of their oils are best for your individual needs. You’ll need to either check those guides or your car’s dusty manual you have crammed into the back of your glovebox behind your spare toll change, registration, and the half-eaten Subway from last week. 

Motor oil being poured into an engine. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Synthetic Oil

While synthetic oils have many advantages compared to conventional oil, there are a few disadvantages too.

Advantages

Oil Change Frequency

Because synthetic oil is designed to last longer compared to conventional oil, you’ll save money with fewer oil changes. 

Environmental

Because synthetic oil is created rather than harvested from ground dinosaur bones, it’s more environmentally friendly compared to that of conventional oil.

Disadvantages

Price

Synthetic oil costs about 10 percent more than conventional. 

Engine Usage

Not every engine is designed for synthetic oil or its properties. Engines in older racecars and rotary engines shouldn’t use synthetic oil.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Conventional Oil

As we must be fair, conventional oils have their advantages and disadvantages, too.

Advantages

Price

Conventional oil costs about 10 percent less than synthetic.

Engine Usage

Given that synthetic oil is a relatively recent engine technology development, most cars still run on conventional oil.

Disadvantages

Oil Change Frequency

You guessed it, you’re going to be under your car a lot or paying someone to do it for you.

Environmental

You’re pulling old dinosaur dust from the earth, refining it, transporting it, and burning it. Captain Planet ain’t yo friend, pal. 

A mechanic performing an oil change. 

How Often Do You Need To Change Your Oil?

Your oil change schedule depends on three primary variables; make, model, and the year it was built. Cars, trucks, and SUVs before 1990 required routine oil changes every 3,000 miles or every three months. But as engines have become more efficient and oil chemistry has been developed to last longer, modern engines require oil changes far less frequently than cars of the past. 

Some cars, trucks, and SUVs now only require oil changes every 7,500 to 10,000 miles. And synthetic oil can prolong the time between changes even further than that. If you own something relatively new and drive at an average rate, you can get away with an oil change only once a year. To make it a little easier for you, here’s a brief rundown of the most common manufacturers and their lineups’ current oil change schedules.

A Toyota Land Cruiser going down a mountain. 

Current Oil Change Schedules

Acura: 7,500-10,000 miles

Audi: 10,000 miles

BMW: 12,000-15,000 miles

Buick: 7,500 miles

Cadillac: 7,500 miles

Chevrolet: 7,500 miles

Chrysler: 8,000 miles

Dodge: 7,500 miles

Ford: 7,500 miles

GMC: 7,500 miles

Honda: 7,500 miles

Hyundai: 7,500 miles

Jaguar: 15,000 miles

Jeep: 5,000-7,500 miles

Kia: 7,500 miles

Land Rover: 7,500-10,000 miles

Lexus: 10,000 miles

Mazda: 15,000 miles

Mercedes-Benz: 10,000 miles

Nissan: 5,000-7,000 miles

Porsche: 20,000 miles

RAM: 8,000 miles

Subaru: 5,000-7,000 miles

Tesla: You don’t! It’s electric!

Toyota: 15,000 miles 

Volkswagen: 10,000 miles

Volvo: 10,000 miles 

Gaze upon these ancient beasts.

Oil Change Schedule from the Year 2000

Because we love you so much and apparently hate the sun and being outside, we traveled back in time to bring together a list of the manufacturer-supplied oil change schedule for the year 2000. 20 years ago. We’re old! You’re welcome!

Acura: 7,500

Audi: 5,000 miles

BMW: 3,000 miles

Buick: 3,000 miles

Cadillac: 3,000 miles

Chevrolet: 3,000 miles

Chrysler: 3,500 miles

Dodge: 3,500 miles

Ford: 5,000 miles

GMC: 3,000 miles

Honda: 7,500 miles

Hyundai: 7,500 miles

Jaguar: 7,500 miles

Jeep: 3,000 miles

Kia: 7,500 miles

Land Rover: 7,500 miles

Lexus: 3,750 miles

Mazda: 5,000 miles

Mercedes-Benz: 10,000 miles

Nissan: 5,000 miles

Porsche: 15,000 miles

RAM: Didn’t exist! It used to be lumped in with Dodge.

Subaru: 3,000 miles

Tesla: You don’t! It’s electric! Also didn’t exist 20 years ago!

Toyota: 5,000 miles 

Volkswagen: 5,000 miles

Volvo: 7,500 miles 

An oil filter. 

FAQs About Synthetic vs. Conventional Oil

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. How Much Does It Cost To Change Synthetic Versus Conventional Oil?

A. The price of changing your oil varies depending on what sort of oil you use, how much oil is needed, and whether you or a professional handles the job.

Professional oil changes range from $25-100 depending on your car and how much oil it needs. DIY oil changes will only cost an average of $20-50 in parts, but again, the prices depend on your car and its needs.

Q. So Because of Synthetic Oil’s Longevity, How Long Can I Go Without an Oil Change?

A. Trust us, we’ve been in the position where life gets so hectic and busy you completely miss your scheduled oil change. And it’ll be weeks until you’re able to do it yourself or have a professional do it for you. Thankfully, manufacturers engineer a little wiggle room into oil chemistry, and your oil won’t immediately go bad once the odometer clicks past your scheduled change. Especially if your car uses modern fully synthetic oils. Just don’t go too long …

Q. Ok, Then What Happens If You Go Too Long Without an Oil Change?

A. As your engine cycles through your oil, it picks up dirt, debris, metal shavings from your cylinders, and other particulates coursing through your engine. As this happens, it can become tar-like and more viscous, which makes it harder for the oil to efficiently move through your engine. If you let it go too long, it could turn into sludge and seize your engine. If that happens, you’re looking at a far more expensive bill than just an oil change.

Q. Is It Bad To Change Oil Too Often?

A. It isn’t, but why would you want to spend money if you don’t have to? Plus, all that extra oil you’re replacing is harmful to the environment, so it’s best to just stick with the prescribed oil change schedule. 

Q. What About Old Cars? Is Synthetic Oil Better For High-Mileage Cars?

A. Synthetic oil isn’t normally recommended for older cars for the reasons outlined above. However, depending on the oil’s weight, you may be able to use it. You’ll need to check with your vehicle’s manufacturer or a dealership’s service department.

Q. Can I Mix Synthetic and Conventional Oil? Or Am I Going To Blow Up My Car?

A. You can, but you’re really trading in each oil’s performance. In a pinch, it’s fine but it shouldn’t be a regular habit. Pick one and stick with it.

Q. What is the Difference Between a Full Synthetic and a Synthetic Oil Blend?

A. As the name implies, synthetic oil blends are a full synthetic mixed with conventional oil. And honestly, we’ve never used them. Our own opinion is that they’re a marketing gimmick meant to lure those people who want fully synthetic but can’t afford it. To our oil-splattered noggins, look up which type of oil your car requires and use that. 

Q. You’ve Been a Great Help, How Can We Repay the Favor?

A. Read all the rest of our articles on The Drive and be sure to come back whenever you need help!

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

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