[BiturboS4] Question re: 0W30 vs 5W50, both synthetic

S Stiles stiles_s at hotmail.com
Thu Jan 9 11:53:58 EST 2003

Here's one of the articles. More to come. The long&short of it is the
Castrol won a suit allowing them to call Syntec a "synthetic", and things
have gone to the dogs since.


PATRICK BEDARD: Synthetic motor oil gets all new semantics.

Originally published Car and Driver, November 2000

November 2000

Now that the meaning of "is" has gotten so slippery you need to grab it
with both hands, we'd better keep an eye on longer words, too.

One's already gone squirmy on us -- "synthetic," as in synthetic motor

Most guys know two things about synthetic oils. First, the price is three
to four times that of conventional oils. Second, they're not real oil, not
made from crude.

News flash: Scratch that second part. Now motor oils derived from crude
may be labeled "synthetic." But they still cost over four bucks a quart.

Bait and switch? That's the obvious conclusion. Except in this case the
advertising ethics people have given their approval.

Here's what happened, according to a detailed account published in the
trade magazine Lubricants World. Late in 1997, Castrol changed the formula
of its Syntec "full synthetic motor oil," eliminating the polyalphaolefin
(PAO) base stock (that's the "synthetic" part, which makes up about 70
percent by volume of what's in the bottle) and replacing it with a
"hydroisomerized" petroleum base stock.

Mobil Oil Corporation, maker of Mobil 1, "World's Leading Synthetic Motor
Oil," said no fair and took its complaint to the National Advertising
Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. NAD often
arbitrates between feuding advertisers on their conflicting claims.

The notion behind synthetic motor oils as we've known them is an elegant
one. Instead of relying on the cocktail of hydrocarbons contained in crude
oil, why not go into the laboratory and build the perfect base stock from
scratch, molecule by molecule? The synthesizing of PAO starts with
ethylene gas, a simple two-carbon molecule, and builds till it gets
10-carbon molecules, then combines three of those to form PAO. The result
is a fluid more stable than the usual base oils derived from crude. It
keeps flowing at low temperatures. It's more resistant to boiling off, and
more resistant to oxidation, which causes thickening with prolonged
exposure to high temperatures.

Still, there's more than one road to the point B of improved stability.
Petroleum refiners in recent years have learned how to break apart certain
undesirable molecules -- wax, for example, which causes thickening at low
temperatures -- and transform them by chemical reaction into helpful
molecules. These new hydroisomerized base oils, in the view of some
industry participants, "provided properties similar to PAOs but cost only
half as much," Lubricants World reported.

The argument before NAD tiptoed around the obvious -- does the consumer
get four bucks' worth of value from each quart of synthetic oil? -- and
plunged straight into deep semantics. Mobil's experts said "synthetic"
traditionally meant big molecules built up from small ones. Castrol's side
held out for a looser description, defining "synthetic" as "the product of
an intended chemical reaction."

What do unbiased sources say? It turns out that the Society of Automotive
Engineers (SAE) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) both have
technical standards covering motor oils, and both of these organizations
in the '90s backed away from their old definitions of "synthetic," leaving
lots of room for new interpretations.

In the end, NAD decided that the evidence "constitutes a reasonable basis
for the claim that Castrol Syntec, as currently formulated, is a synthetic
motor oil," said Lubricants World.

The obvious question now: Has the term "synthetic motor oil" been opened
up to the point that it no longer means anything? Maybe. But here's a
better question: Did synthetic ever mean what we thought it meant?

"Great oil" is what most guys think it means. "At that price, it's gotta
be great stuff!"

Okay, but how great? Your car's manual tells what motor oil you should
use, and with few exceptions, that description will consist of only two
specifications. One is for viscosity, such as 10W-30; and another is for
the API service grade, SJ being the current one for gasoline passenger

The buck-a-quart multigrades meet these standards, as do the synthetics.

The synthetics, on the back label, claim compliance with more standards,
but even if you know what they mean, they seem beside the point for U.S.
passenger cars. For example, should you care about diesels if you drive a
gasoline burner? API service CF is the oldest of the current specs for
light-duty diesels; some synthetics list that one. Synthetics may also
list ACEA A1 and B1, which are European specs roughly equivalent to API
gasoline and diesel specs. The Europeans grade their oils by levels of
performance, so that A2 and A3 are tougher specs than A1. Same for
diesels. Usually, the date of the spec is omitted, but A1-98 is newer than

Completely absent is the one performance claim that would have real
meaning for all of us -- some indication of longer oil life. But
automakers hold synthetics to the same change intervals as conventional
oils. And the oil companies, if anything, promise even less. "To give
added protection and life to your engine, change your oil every 3000
miles." This same language appears on the back of both Pennzoil Synthetic
and Pennzoil conventional oils. Valvoline synthetic makes a similar

Synthetics do get one unambiguous endorsement: Corvettes, Porsches,
Vipers, and all AMG models from Mercedes-Benz come with Mobil 1 as the
factory fill.

Most synthetics mention GM 4718M in their list of claims; that's the
unique spec created by General Motors for Corvette oil. It's a
high-temperature requirement that tolerates less oxidation (thickening)
and volatility (boil-off) on a standard engine test called Sequence IIIE,
according to engineer Bob Olree of GM Powertrain.

But don't expect to learn such details on any label. Mobil 1 at least uses
straightforward declarative sentences. Most of the others read as though
they were written by a lawyer looking for an escape clause. Why else would
the following claim be so rubbery? "Pennzoil Synthetic motor oil is
recommended for use in all engines requiring ILSAC GF-1, GF-2, API SJ, SH,
or SG, and in engines requiring oils meeting GM 4718M." Okay, but does it
actually pass those standards?

"Yes," says James Newsom, Pennzoil's motor-oil product manager.

Castrol Syntec, on its label, "exceeds" every standard it mentions. Hmm.
Now that the meaning of "is" is in play, I have to wonder, does Syntec
meet those standards as well?

"It does," says Castrol's Juli Anne Oberg. While I have her on the phone,
I ask if there will be a Syntec price reduction now that a lower-cost base
stock has been substituted for the old synthetic. She says no.

>From: Ian McCloghrie <ian at codrus.com>
>Reply-To: ian at codrus.com
>To: "S Stiles" <stiles_s at hotmail.com>
>CC: biturbos4 at audifans.com
>Subject: Re: [BiturboS4] Question re: 0W30 vs 5W50, both synthetic Date:
>Thu, 09 Jan 2003 10:36:26 -0800
>On Jan 9, 2003 "S Stiles" wrote:
> > meets all of the specifications (not just weight) in our owners manual.
> > believe it's the SJ spec that the new Mobil1 doesn't meet.
>The data sheet on www.mobil1.com says it meets SL.  My understanding
>is that the API specs are supersets of each other -- that is, anything
>that meets SL meets SA through SK as well.
> > I'll dig up the article when I get a chance.
>I'd be curious to see it.
> > The oil everyone seems to be recommending at the moment, if you can find
> > is Mobil1 0w40, as it's still a "true" synthetic & meets all euro spec.
> > What's happening with their other oils is that they are starting to
> > w/Dino to decrease costs. Yes, you can no longer trust that Mobil1 is a
> > synthetic oil.
>Again, the data sheet on Mobil1's web site says that all Mobil1 is
>full synthetic.  The "trisynthetic" "supersyn" stuff is just marketing
>BS.  FYI, the data sheet is at
>Mobil1 0w40 is the only Mobil1 oil that's certified as meeting the
>latest European standards (ACEA A3/B3/B4-02, according to their data
>sheet).  I don't know if this is because the other Mobil1s don't meet
>those standards, or simply haven't been tested to see if they meet
>them (certification to a standard is an expensive process, and
>manufacturers often don't bother if it's not one that fits with their
>primary intended market).
>If you're worried about meeting the exact specifications in the
>owner's manual, though, you shouldn't run Mobil1 0w40, because 0w40 is
>not listed as an allowed weight (at least it isn't in the manual for
>my '01).  I run Redline 5w30 -- an allowed weight, and it's certified
>to meet all of the standards listed in my owner's manual.
>As for finding 0w40, if you really want it, there are links to online
>vendors of it at www.mobil1.com.

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