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Consider Synthetic Oil

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

If you've ever heard a sales presentation on the virtues of synthetic oil, then you know the arguments can be very convincing.

Breakdown and lubrication properties are said to be better and, with some of the oil manufacturers recommending change intervals in excess of 20,000 miles, the cost savings could be substantial to a fleet owner. Before you change to a synthetic, however, there are some factors you should consider.

Mobil Oil Company's Mobil1 product is probably the largest selling of the synthetics. However the AMSOIL organization, because of its direct sales network, is perhaps the most well known supplier. They offer not only the oil, but also a variety of alternative filters, greases, fuel additives, etc.

Their literature includes testimonials, research reports and fantastic lubrication statistics. They even offer a product warranty guaranteeing their lubricants "will not cause mechanical damage when used in full compliance with the company's recommendations and instructions." They, among others in the market, appear to offer a viable alternative. However, it's far from being a clear-cut decision.

All the major auto makers specify oil that has met the requirements of the American Petroleum Institute (API). This is an organization which sets minimum standards in the industry. They were unable to provide us with a list of synthetic oils which had passed their testing, but were apparently unconcerned about whether a tested oil is natural or synthetic. Their concern is whether it meets their guidelines. The major truck manufacturers appear much less convinced about across-the-board virtues of synthetics, however.

Although the Chevrolet/GMC Owner's Manuals list API requirements for each of their vehicles, according to P.M. Bond of their Customer Assistance Department: "Information available on synthetic oils does not justify using any oil beyond the recommended change intervals. Engine part failures caused by using an oil beyond the recommended change intervals will not be covered under the new vehicle warranty. [Since] synthetic engine oils appear to cost about four to five times as much as conventional engine oils...it will cost substantially more to use synthetic engine oil."

A Toyota representative told us on the phone that they also go by API ratings and that they don't recommend for or against synthetics. They also expect owners to adhere to recommended oil change intervals, however. Isuzu, on the other hand, specifically rules out the use of synthetic oils in any of their diesel engines.

Ron Norsell, Product Control Manager for Isuzu, sent us photocopied pages from their Owner's Manual stating 'Do Not Use Synthetic Oils'. He also included a letter which said, in part: "While in itself the use of a synthetic oil would not void the waranty, a failure attributable to lubricant would."

Although synthetic oils may provide superior engine lubrication and resistance to breakdown, before you change to one be certain you are aware of your truck manufacturer's warranty position. If you're counting on the oil maker's guarantee, get a copy in writing and verify that it will cover your specific situation.

For many reasons, synthetics may forecast the future of the oil industry. Until the vehicle manufacturers are convinced, however, using them may be long run trouble.

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