ORLANDO, Fla. — Synthetic motor oil outperformed conventional oil by an average of nearly 50 percent, according to a new evaluation by AAA Inc., which concluded that synthetic oil offered "significantly" better engine protection for only $5 more per month when following a factory-recommended oil change schedule.
Based on its study, AAA — which provides more than 57 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services — recommended that vehicle owners consider a switch to synthetic oil at their next oil change service.
"Oil protects critical engine components from damage and AAA found that synthetic engine oils performed an average of 47-percent better than conventional oils in a variety of industry-standard tests," said John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of automotive engineering and repair.
"With its superior resistance to deterioration," AAA's findings indicate, "synthetic oil is particularly beneficial to newer vehicles with turbo-charged engines and for vehicles that frequently drive in stop-and-go traffic, tow heavy loads or operate in extreme hot or cold conditions."
Synthetic base oils offer various performance benefits, such as high-temperature stability, high film strength and a naturally high viscosity index. These characteristics are beneficial for engines that tend to operate at higher RPMs and temperatures, AAA said.
Semi-synthetic blends were not evaluated in the study.
Acknowledging that only a limited number of newer vehicles specifically require synthetic oil, AAA said all vehicles can benefit from using synthetic oil.
However, in a companion AAA nationwide survey of U.S. drivers, 44 percent are either unsure (27 percent) or do not believe (17 percent) that the more expensive synthetic oil is better for a vehicle's engine.
Reasons cited for choosing the cheaper, conventional oil include feeling that synthetic oil is too expensive, offers no benefit, that the upgrade to synthetic oil is an unnecessary up-sell by a repair facility or they are simply not offered the choice, according to AAA.
The association estimated that switching to a synthetic oil from a conventional one will cost the average driver $64 more per year, or an extra $5.33 per month.
In a survey of AAA's Approved Auto Repair facilities, the average cost of a a synthetic oil change is $70, or nearly twice the $38 charged for a conventional oil change. For those who change their vehicle's oil themselves, the average cost of five quarts of synthetic oil is $45, vs. approximately $28 for conventional oil.