OIL IS JUST OIL, RIGHT?
THEN WHAT IS IT WITH ALL THIS NEW SYNTHETIC STUFF?
Did you know making a decision as simple as choosing a different motor oil for your vehicle can increase your fuel economy by over 2%?
To illustrate the magnitude of this change, understand that if just one-third of U.S. drivers reduced their gasoline consumption by 2%, we would save almost one billion gallons of gasoline and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by eight million tons every year. That's the equivalent of removing about 1.5 million cars off the road.
In fact, the quality of oil changed in your vehicle can significantly impact the life of your engine. It can literally be the difference between your car making it 250K miles and 500K miles. If you don't plan on selling your car tomorrow, heed these additional examples:
- At freezing temperatures such as 0 F, the quality of the oil can be the difference in getting all the way around the engine in 10 seconds versus 3 minutes. Most people are already on the highway 3 minutes after starting their car.
- The lower the quality of engine oil, the greater tendency it has to thicken over time (e.g. picture pasta sauce that thickens up if you re-heat it numerous times)! Low quality 5w-20 oil could actually turn into 5w-40 by the time you change it.
- Engine cleanliness is significantly impacted by the quality of engine oil. The highest quality oils are so clean that their detergents can actually clean deposits that result from maintenance in the past, like that nagging stain on your favorite shirt you never thought you would remove!
What causes engine oils to perform so differently? The answer lies in their makeup, which consists of two main components: base stocks and additives. Both components can significantly impact performance. If you don't want to be confused by the following technical discussion, skip to the last two paragraphs.
Base stocks represent approximately 75% - 80% of motor oil composition, and create the foundation for oil performance. The term "synthetic oil" actually refers to the type of base stock, which is rated by the American Petroleum Institute in Groups (i.e. Group I, II, II+, III, IV, and V). Generally speaking, the quality of the oil increases as the group number increases. Those performance improvements include less resistance to heat, better cold weather performance, less internal friction (i.e. fuel economy improvements), etc.
Additives also impact performance and can even be used to compensate for lower quality base stocks. The main concern with additives is that they can only cover up some deficiencies and eventually deplete leaving the original base stock to protect (e.g. masking the taste of a bad meal by dousing with ketchup or other condiments only to find you have run out).
The actual performance of oils becomes even more confusing when relating to the term "synthetic." Originally, synthetic motor oil referred to Group IV base stocks, also known as PAO, which is a fluid engineered free of any impurities through an advanced chemical process. This synthetic fluid is largely responsible for the performance benefits discussed above. In 1999, the Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau broadened the definition of synthetic oils in a way that allows marketers to call any base stock Group II+ and above synthetic. So, despite what your local installer might tell you, two different people could offer you two different quality products and refer to them both as "synthetic."
Now that you understand what dictates the varying level of quality in engine oils, the most important question remains. Why are vehicle manufacturers recommending and requiring higher quality oils in your vehicles? The answer most centrally lies on the push by both the manufacturers and the U.S. government to increase the fuel efficiency of our vehicles. As discussed above, simply improving the quality of your engine oil can increase fuel economy by over 2%. Manufacturers are also designing much more complex engines that produce higher power in smaller areas and have turbochargers to improve fuel economy, which significantly increase the heat stress on the oil. Finally, manufacturers want your vehicles to last, because then more people will continue to buy their automobiles. The most effective way to make a vehicle last is through maintenance, and the most expensive part of your vehicle is protected by your engine oil.
For those of you that skipped the technical discussion, we will recap the highlights. Equipment manufacturers are starting to require higher quality oils in your vehicles in order to improve fuel economy, protect newer fuel efficient engines that run hotter, and to ultimately provide protection that will help increase the life of your engine. Some of your vehicles don't require "synthetic," so quality conventional oils will do the job in protecting your engine at the manufacturers prescribed interval. But, just because your vehicles don't require "synthetics," it doesn't mean you will not receive the same fuel economy benefits and increased engine longevity by using the better products.
Most importantly, no regulatory agency requires your installer to put the right product in your vehicle, whether it requires conventional or synthetic. They can also call a product "synthetic" that still might not meet the standard for your new vehicle. Confusing, right? That is why we always recommend, at the very least, you check with your certified Toyota dealer for any of your service questions. And, when you do bring your car to Acton Toyota, you will receive the manufacturer recommended maintenance and recommended products that were designed to maximize your vehicle life. As far as engine oil, we carry both the Toyota engineered 0w-20 product as well as Mobil 1, the world's leading synthetic motor oil. That is the cheapest insurance you can buy for your vehicle! Toyota Models Requiring Synthetic Motor Blend