Dr Jay’s Tech Topic- Synthetic vs Petroleum oils- Motor Oil is Motor Oil right?
So last time we discussed Oils and Viscosities and as promised, this time we will discuss Synthetics versus Petroleum lubricants.
Anyone who has purchased oil lately knows there is a bewildering array of oils on the market. Besides all the viscosities available, there are Petroleum oils, Semi-Synthetic and Pure Synthetic based oils out there. One of the myths is that Synthetic based oils are better than Petroleum based oils, and that is not always the case. However, to understand why, we have to start with the question “How are Synthetic based oils different than Petroleum based oils?”. As we discussed last month, most of the “oil” in a bottle of oil is actually chemicals, things like dispersants, detergents, friction modifiers, viscosity modifiers and some other stuff. The thing is, the chemicals are always added to a base oil. That base can be petroleum oil- like a refined bright stock oil (decayed Dinosaurs and other biological material that died millions of years ago pumped right from the ground) or it can be a molecule made in a laboratory-thereby the name “Synthetic”.
The basic difference in simple terms, between Synthetic Base oil and Petroleum Base oil is: Synthetics are attracted to heat and Petroleum’s are displaced from heat. Now some might immediately assume that synthetic bases are better BECAUSE they are attracted to heat. Remember the old commercials with the frying pan? The demonstration was to heat a frying pan on the stove and then into the pan a guy with a white lab coat would put some synthetic oil and it would flow very quickly to evenly cover the bottom (hottest part) of the pan. Then he would repeat the experiment with a petroleum base oil and the oil would instantly vaporize, the implication being that a synthetic was therefore better. But here is the reality. The hottest parts of an internal combustion engine are the domes of the pistons, the domes of the cylinder heads and the valves. Now what happens if our lubricant is attracted to heat is that we can get an unreasonable amount of “attraction” to these areas of the engine, which by the way do not require lubrication, and therein we can get an enormous buildup of the byproduct of attracting lubricants to heat: CARBON. Carbon build up, particularly at the valve face and stem of the valves can really kill the efficiency of the engine and thereby the power it can produce.
There is no doubt that Synthetic based
oils are the future and despite their shortcomings are much better in very
hot environments like racing and high performance engines (like our
motorcycles) and offer a longer service life. But some basic precautions
are needed to ensure they work as expected.
Next month we will discuss Tires.....
Have a safe ride!Dr Jay
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