Or Earth-friendly oil
We know that engine oil depletes fossil fuels and, if disposed of improperly, kills wildlife and pollutes water. Both synthetic and regular oil are petroleum products derived from fossil fuel. Both have to be drained, disposed of, and replaced. How do we evaluate oil companies' claims that we could cause less pollution if we switched from regular engine oil to synthetic oil?
As green consumers we’re uncomfortably aware that our cars are the least green, most polluting product we own. How do we evaluate oil companies’ claims that we could cause less pollution if we switched from regular engine oil to synthetic oil?
We know that engine oil depletes fossil fuels and, if disposed of improperly, kills wildlife and pollutes water. Both synthetic and regular oil are petroleum products derived from fossil fuel. Both have to be drained, disposed of, and replaced. So what’s the difference?
The Synthetic Debate
All engine oil lubricates the moving parts of the engine and stops metal from grinding against metal. It also eliminates excess heat and removes dirt which is caught in the oil filter.
Conventional engine oil is refined (heated and distilled) from crude oil in an oil refinery, while synthetic oil is made in a lab where chemical reactions are controlled to produce more uniform molecules. Uniformity enhances flow and slows decomposition compared to regular oil. Stability under extreme pressure, engine heat, and cold weather also allows synthetic oil to last longer than regular oil. Longer-lasting engine oil means less fossil fuel is used over time.
Fact or Fiction?
Critics of synthetic oil say that its longer life is based on tests undertaken in ideal conditions that include highway driving at consistent speeds. The same criticism could be made about most auto products.
Yet some synthetics manufacturers confuse the matter by advising consumers to use the same oil change intervals as for regular oil. Others are more consistent. One well-established company markets synthetic oil for passenger cars and light trucks and recommends an oil change only once a year or every 56,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. To compare, the average time between oil changes in Canada is every three months or 5,000 kilometres, according to the national Office of Energy Efficiency.
You can add synthetic to regular oil–they are compatible. But the best way to gain the advantage of synthetic oil is to change your oil filter according to the manufacturer’s schedule. If your car is under warranty, make sure to check the oil and oil change requirements.
The higher price of synthetic oil–about double in Canada–may deter some consumers from trying it, but with longer intervals between oil changes cost savings will accumulate over time.
Forgetting to change engine oil at proper intervals or letting oil run out can kill your engine, but disposing of even one litre of engine oil incorrectly can kill wildlife and contaminate drinking water.
Perhaps the greatest Earth-friendly contribution you can make to reduce pollution from engine oil is to have a reputable lube shop change the oil for you. If you do it yourself, take the oil to a service station to be recycled. As synthetic oils last longer, there is less oil to be disposed of, but whether you choose regular or synthetic oil, correct disposal is essential to protect the environment.
Green consumers are on the rise. Engine oil manufacturers need to provide more consistent information so we can feel confident about their products.
The Three R's of Engine Oil