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Engine Oil: Synthetic vs. mineral

2013-07-19 11:42

UNDERSTANDING YOUR OIL: There are two main types of base oil - mineral and fully synthetic. Make sure you know the difference and what works best for your car. Image: Shell


General Motors's James Bell and Edmunds.com editor Bill Visnic talk about the simple mistakes drivers make when it comes to vehicle maintenance. Here Bell emphasises the importance of regular oil changes.

A basic understanding of lubricants – and the differences between synthetic and mineral oils – car  lead to cleaner engines. Sadly few drivers spend much thought on what oil to use in their engines.

Shell South Africa’s commercial technical manager Raymond Abraham said: “It’s important to note that engine oil, if chosen correctly, can work to protect your engine’s moving parts while also significantly improving fuel efficiency and performance.”


Cleaner engines can operate more efficiently. In turn, efficient engines are likely to deliver more power and have lower fuel consumption.

Engine oil protects against wear and tear, reduces sludge and filters deposits away from critical parts. It should also minimise friction and deliver a more responsive drive by keeping your engine clean on the inside.

It’s imperative to pay attention to details on the back of oil bottles.

Shell SA says, as a general rule of thumb, a lower viscosity oil means better fuel economy. In the case of the latest synthetic oils on the market, they’re usually more heat resistant and keep their viscosity characteristics over a wider temperature range.

Before you ask for synthetic oil for your car, it’s important to note that not all synthetic oils are created equal. Because of their long-term oxidation stability for example, synthetics are able to protect your engine’s moving parts better.

Abraham says: “By taking a little more time to read the pack, you could make a far smarter decision and help your engine to become more responsive, perform better and operate at its full potential until its next oil change.”

There are two main types of base oil - mineral and fully synthetic. Engine oils labelled as “part”, “semi-synthetic” or “synthetic technology” contain a mixture of both.


Synthetic oils give enhanced performance because they are manufactured using a more expensive chemical process than mineral oils.

Base oils affect viscosity.

What if your oil is too thin?
If your oil is too thin, it might not create enough of a film between your engine’s moving parts to lubricate them properly. This can cause wear-out problems when the engine’s temperature increases.

Too thick?
If the base oil is too thick, the oil might not flow correctly. This means that it won’t transfer heat away from the engine as it should. The oil itself could also start to oxidise resulting in deposits and sludge. This is often the case with mineral-based oils, which are thicker than the newer synthetic oils on the market.

Modern cars have extended service intervals, which can put increased stress on the oil and engine parts, and can lead to reduced responsiveness and performance. Synthetic oils should also offer you improved cold starting and fuel efficiency, whilst reducing oil consumption.

Shell has a cool LubeMatch service which identifies the right oil for your car. Visit the website here.  
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