Does Motor Oil Brand Actually Affect Vehicle Performance?

Does Motor Oil Brand Actually Affect Vehicle Performance?

The oil in your engine is extremely important. Without regular oil changes and a high-quality lubricant that can stand up to the temperatures your engine runs at without failing, your engine won’t last very long and you could find yourself stuck with an expensive repair bill. As a result, auto parts manufacturers frequently advertise that their motor oil is the best at simultaneously providing your engine with superior protection and unparalleled performance for what you want out of it. There are tons of different oils on the market, and you’ve probably seen the advertisements put out by manufacturers like Pennzoil, Quaker State, Valvoline, and Mobile 1. However, which of these brands is best?

Well, turns out, if you take the labels off the bottles, there’s not a whole lot of difference between them. In reality, nearly all motor oil brands provide more than ample protection for your engine, and all share the same risks of sludge and friction development of the oil shears, oxidizes, cooks, or is contaminated. So how can these companies continue to try to set themselves apart? Well, what you hear in their advertisements is usually a hodge-podge mixture of hype and meaningless claims mixed in with a few facts. Let’s take a closer look at some of these claims.

“Synthetic” Oils

There are two major types of oil when it comes to the automotive industry: “conventional” and “synthetic.” Many years ago, there was a distinct difference between these two types: conventional oils were sold with very little processing and alteration, while synthetic oils had numerous additives and were processed much more before begin bottled and sold. The dividing line between these claims used to be heavily regulated, but today that line has blurred considerably as even conventional oils are still pretty heavily processed.

All oil begins its life as standard mineral oil, known as base stock. The base stock comprises most of each quart you buy, with the other parts being made up of the additives that do things like “prevent sludge” and “clean your engine.” Depending on the amount of processing that’s done to an oil, it falls in to one of four groups. Group four oils will behave and respond the most predictably on a molecular level, making them the most suitable for high-intensity usage (like auto racing) but they’re also the most expensive. Group one oils will be the opposite, as they are the closest to standard mineral oil. However, today even group one oils are considerably processed, and every manufacturer produces them essentially using the same techniques, meaning there’s very little difference between them.

James Garthie, an agricultural engineer at Penn State University says “I tell people that 95 percent of the words on can of engine oil are marketing hype. Don’t believe all that crap that’s on there.” Essentially what this means is when an oil advertises that it has “sludge fighting capabilities,” it’s not much different from its competitor: nearly all engine oils have sludge-fighting additives in them now.

So is there a difference? What am I paying for?

But there is some truth to the synthetic vs. conventional debate. While the difference between the two has narrowed considerably thanks to better chemical engineering, a full-synthetic oil is generally considered to provide better protection than a conventional oil. Synthetic oils are widely accepted to protect better against thermal breakdown, or the tendency for oil at higher temperatures to lose its protective properties and deteriorate. This means synthetics are generally considered to reduce wear and tear on an engine, increase contamination resistance, and provide better flow at colder temperatures due to less heat sensitivity. So generally, the slightly higher price for synthetic oil is justified by you receiving more in return.

Let’s compare the four types of oils:

  • Conventional oils: These oils have been treated the least, usually have the fewest additives, and generally meet performance certification standards. They’re also usually the cheapest per quart.
  • Synthetic Blends: These are similar to conventional oils, but are blended with a little bit of synthetic oil that has been processed. This gives the impression of better quality, but doesn’t actually always protect your engine better due to the very limited amount of additives they receive from their synthetic mixture.
  • Full-Synthetics: These are fully-processed oils and generally contain chemicals designed to protect your engine in the ways they say they do. However, their higher performance also nets a higher price tag. Also, be advised that a “specialized” synthetic may not be that much better at what it claims to designed for compared to a general synthetic oil.
  • Recycled oils: A recycled oil uses a lot less energy to produce and is created using oil has been used and disposed of. A careful filtration process has removed dust, grime, and other contaminants, making it safe for use again. However, generally recycled oils are about on par with conventional oils in terms of performance with a higher price tag.

So are some oils better than others? Yes. Generally synthetics will perform better than conventional and synthetic blend oils. Oils designed for a specific purpose will do that job better than a comparable all-purpose oil, but synthetic oils tend to do most things fairly well, so you won’t notice much of a difference by purchasing a more expensive “specialized” synthetic oil.

But is one brand actually better than another? Not really. As long as you change your oil regularly and use the right weight, your car will purr happily for miles and miles to come.

Want to learn more about turning your ride into the high-horsepower beast you’ve been dreaming about? Call HP Motorsports today at 281.231.9950 for a free estimate!
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