When opting for synthetic oil, there are several things to keep in mind. Here is a guide to help make the right decision.
First, a note about synthetic oil. It is an oil that has fewer impurities than regular motor oil. Also, it has better properties at high temperatures, slightly better viscosity and it is overall more resistant to breakdown than other motor oils. It would seem then that synthetic is obviously better for your engine. Not so fast. Choosing synthetic or regular motor oil depends on a few things.
Synthetic is For You If:
1. You are lazy about changing your oil. Since synthetic oil is more resilient to adverse conditions, you really won’t see much benefit unless the oil is stressed. You can do this by being lazy and skipping an oil change or stretching out your oil changes. Simply put synthetic provides you with some insurance against engine damage by not getting the oil changed.
On the flip side, if you are always up on your maintenance and are always changing your oil at the recommended intervals or before, synthetic may not make any sense for you to use.
2. You have a low mileage car. Like the reason above, if it takes you a year to put 5,000 miles on your car, synthetic is the oil for you. Unlike regular motor oil, synthetic oil can last more than 6 months before it starts to become less effective. If you are likely to go more than 6 months between oil changes, the synthetic oil route would be beneficial.
3. You experience harsh driving environments. Like previously mentioned, synthetic oil is more resilient to adverse conditions and will hold up better than regular motor oil. This is especially the case when the engine temperature is always high or cold. Here are some examples of people who would be wise to use synthetic.
- Idlers. If your job requires you to keep your engine on and idling without air flow to cool down the engine, synthetic makes sense. This could be a situation like on a job site, delivery service or taxi driver.
- Mainly desert or high altitude driving. Living in a desert or at high altitude (10k feet) will cause your engine to always run hotter. For these drivers, synthetic is better because it can withstand these unique environments better than regular motor oil.
- Cold Climates. If you live in an area where the low temperature can reach -10 F or lower, synthetic is the way to go. These cold temperatures can cause regular oil to break down faster than synthetic.
- Non-normal driving: racing, towing, hauling or off-road driving. Pretty much, any time your vehicle is going to be used in a situation different than normal driving (stop and go, highway), you should consider synthetic. These other driving situations can put a lot of strain on the engine. Now, it isn’t true that if you occasionally tow the boat that you need synthetic. If though, you regularly tow a bobcat to the job site, this applies to you.
4. It's your personal choice. There are many theories out there as to when to use synthetic oil. Some experts recommend it for all stop and go driving, yet this isn’t exactly accurate. If you live in a one-stop light town, the stop and go you do doesn’t qualify. If you sit in a traffic jam several times a day, then it does apply.
There is also a theory that short driving trips are better with synthetic. This is debatable since the engine is this case never gets to fully lubricate and cycle the oil. Both oils then wouldn’t have much benefit. The best thing to do in this case is to actually drive a little longer.
Synthetic Blends, Buyer Beware
There are a few different varieties of oil out there and one of them is a synthetic blend. The problem with this term is that it isn’t regulated. This means that the synthetic blend you put in your vehicle can vary from shop to shop and manufacture to manufacture. You will need to look closely at what they call a blend. Some places list it as a blend if it has 1% synthetic and 99% regular (not very synthetic).
Toyota’s Stance on Synthetics
Toyota has these recommendations for synthetic oil:
- Only Toyota vehicles in which 0w-20 synthetic oil is required (except for the 2TR-FE & 3UR-FBE Engines*) have been approved for extended oil change intervals of 10,000-miles/12-months. (However, you should continue to check the oil level regularly and top off if needed. That will help your engine get the full benefit of synthetic oil.)
- Vehicles in which 0w-20 is an option to 5w-20 mineral oil, (or 5w-30), will continue to require 5,000-mile/6-month oil change intervals, even if 0w-20 oil is used.
- In the case of vehicles with 10,000 mile oil change intervals, the 5,000 mile service interval has not been eliminated. The traditional 5,000 mile maintenance procedures (such as tire rotation) will continue to be required, and the fluid levels (such as brake fluid) will need to be checked and adjusted at this time.
- If the vehicle operation meets the standard criteria for “Special Operating Conditions” such as: driving off-road, on dirt roads, towing a trailer, making repeated short trips under 32˚ F, or extensive idling; the engine oil must be replaced at 5,000 mile intervals, regardless of what type of oil is used.
*The 2TR-FE (4Runner / Tacoma) and the 3UR-FBE (Flex Fuel Tundra / Sequoia) are the exceptions to this new change interval program; these engines have not been approved for the 10,000 mile interval at this time. A 5,000-mile/6-month oil change interval is still required for these vehicles. Also, the Flex Fuel 3UR-FBE requires a 2,500 mile interval when operated on E85.
To recap, the decision to use synthetic isn’t black and white. You should take care to read and understand this choice prior to opting for it.