Basically, engine oil - also referred to as motor oil, is a lubricant which is used in vehicles with internal combustion engines. Even though it is primarily used to lubricate various moving parts of the engine to inhibit wear and tear of these parts, it also doubles up as a coolant so as to ensure that these parts do not overheat or corrode.
There exist two different types of engine oil - conventional engine oil (also referred to as regular oil) and synthetic engine oil.
Many people tend to get confused when the attendant at the service center asks whether they would like to go for synthetic motor oil or stick to conventional oil and, this confusion is not surprising at all. That being said, the first step to understanding which is better is to understand how these two motor oil types differ from each other.
Synthetic Oil vs Conventional Oil
While conventional oil is a lubricant which is refined from petroleum products, synthetic oil is a lubricant which is made from chemical compounds artificially by synthesizing chemically modified petroleum or some other raw material.
Even though synthetic oils may contain the same natural ingredients that conventional oils contain, the fact that they are subjected to the process of synthesis in laboratory wherein they are tweaked to obtain desired standard makes them a better bet.
As the molecules in synthetic oil are consistent in terms of shape and size, they can withstand extremely high temperatures with relative ease. At the same time, the problem of particulate matter clogging up is reduced by a great extent in it.
In fact, synthetic lubricants were introduced in 1930s-1940s as a replacement for conventional oils for this very ability of withstanding sub-zero temperatures, something which their conventional counterparts were not able to do owing to their high wax content.
Over the course of time, experts realized that synthetic lubricants didn't just work well in sub-zero temperatures, but also edged out their conventional counterparts when the engine temperature was high. The fact that synthetic oils performed better at extremely low and extremely high temperature made them quite popular.
Which is Better - Synthetic Oil Better or Conventional Oil
As you must have realized, synthetic oil is way better than conventional mineral oil as it has a better viscosity at high and low temperature. High resistance to oxidation and oil sludge problems helps it protect the vehicle engine even in extreme conditions. As these oils are less volatile, they do not vaporize as quickly as regular mineral oils do.
As synthetic oil has a longer lifespan, the drain intervals tend to be longer than that of conventional oil. On an average synthetic oil change interval ranges between 5000-7500 miles, depending on the overall maintenance of the vehicle. Also, the amount of bad oil produced - which is hazardous for the environment, is quite low.
More importantly, synthetic oil is chemically produced which is why there are far less contaminants in it as compared to its conventional counterpart, and therefore it is not as harmful for the environment as regular mineral oil is.
Synthetic oil is clearly way better when it comes to performance, but this performance comes at a price - and whether it is worth the price is a question that one needs to look into. Though synthetic oil costs twice as much as conventional oil does, its longevity factor ensures that the amount of money you spend on this oil type is worth it.
Even though synthetic oil is better than conventional oil in terms of environment friendliness as of today, things are expected to change in near future with scientists working on environment friendly alternative which will perform at par with synthetic lubricants. That may take some time though, and thus you can rely on synthetic oil till then.
If you prefer being on the safer side, you can always go ahead with the engine oil recommended by the manufacturer.