What’s the difference between mineral and synthetic base oils?
Largely it comes down to the materials from which the base oil is refined. Mineral base stocks are refined from crude oil. Synthetic base stocks are derived from other elements such as natural gas or alcohols.
Okay, so what’s that mean to me?
Synthetic base oils possess much lower levels of impurities which give the finished lubricant better flow characteristics at low temperatures as well as better volatility resistance at high temperatures. Additionally, synthetics provide better lubricity as they have much more uniform, long-chain, molecular structure which lowers friction.
Okay, so seriously, what does that mean to me?
Overall better protection as synthetics will flow better when cold providing almost immediate lubrication at start up as well as not thinning out as much at higher temperatures. Synthetics also provide greater detergency keeping engine parts clean and due to the lower levels of impurities leave behind much fewer deposits.
So why would anyone want to run a mineral oil?
Great question, but let’s keep in mind to this point we’ve only discussed base oils. 25% to 30% of a formulated engine oil is made up of additives which are designed to amplify the performance characteristics of the base oil. With all things (additives) being equal a synthetic will outperform a mineral oil, but rarely are all things equal. It could even be said a well-formulated mineral oil could outperform a poorly formulated synthetic. Additives are that important. Now this will rarely be the case because the absolute number one benefit to a mineral oil is the price. Mineral oils are typically marketed toward budget-conscious consumers and blending mineral base oils with robust (expensive) additive chemistry typically doesn’t make fiscal sense.
So how do I decide if synthetic is right for me?
Like the choice you made whether to buy a Harley or a Honda, it boils down to your budget and your individual expectations. If you’re just looking for a suitable product at a reasonable price and don’t mind the factory recommended maintenance intervals, mineral is probably for you. If you’re willing to pay a little more for a product that will provide greater service life and peace of mind that comes with knowing synthetics inherently provide a degree of better protection synthetic is the way to go.