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Synthetic Oil Debate

If you get a bunch of farmers around a coffee shop table and someone brings up engine oil, there will be no lack of opinions on the subject. Interject whether synthetic oil is better or what it even is, and you better hope you have a good deal of time.

Though you may be guilty of using the term engine oil, it’s properly defined as a lubricant. Oil is pumped from the ground in crude form. It is then modified through refining and other procedures along with the introduction of many additives to make it a lubricant. 

The products your grandfathers used in their engines were basically uncompounded monograde oils. Today, you enjoy the use of sophisticated part or wholly synthetic multigrade engine lubricants. Yet, the question of whether synthetic lubricants are better and what makes them different still needs to be answered.

What is synthetic?
The term synthetic is misleading, since all engine lubricants have their roots in mineral (crude) oil. It is what happens to that oil (defined as a base stock) that allows for it to become a synthetic lubricant. This confusion is similar to what agriculture is going through now in defining vertical tillage since each manufacturer has its own definition. 

Thus, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) created standard J357, which describes synthetic-base stocks (before the additives are introduced) as chemical products directly derived from petroleum-base stocks. This means synthetic lubricants are highly refined via processes that so drastically change their molecular structure they cannot be categorized as mineral oil anymore. This is usually done through a number of synthesis processes and, thus, become synthetic.

There is no denying that mineral oils have improved greatly over the years. At the same time, so have synthetic lubricants. As a farmer and engine guy, I am a firm believer in using a high-quality synthetic. The synthesis process enhances the lubricant’s performance in every respect.

There is no better way to promote long engine life and to minimize wear than using synthetic oil. Cold flow (the ability to maintain viscosity at temperature), pumpability, and internal engine cleanliness are only a few benefits of synthetics. 

Some older engines that have lip seals swelled to mineral oil and are made from an outdated material may leak with a synthetic due to its smaller molecular structure. Usually, any seal made since 1990 should be fine. 

It’s always prudent to keep an engine as healthy as possible. Synthetic engine lubricants can do that and provide an excellent return on investment.

 

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