Maybe "synthetic" isn't a good term...

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So I've been mostly lurking around here for the better part of 20 years, and there seem to be two big debate generators around here- what is a "synthetic" oil, and thick vs. thin.

As I see it, the real issues with the "synthetic" oil question are really threefold.

One, that stupid old marketing definition of "synthetic" (basically anything that performs like a synthetic) is nearly completely at odds with the actual definition of the word, which is basically something not occurring naturally put together from smaller items. The reason that marketing board decided this is that at the time, group III oils performed sufficiently differently to be lumped in with the other "synthetic" oils, even if they weren't "synthetic" strictly speaking. And some pedants around here got prickly about it, and have decided for reasons(?) that only PAO/ester oils (i.e. group IV/V) are the duly anointed "synthetic" oils, and anything else is not.

Two, that marketing board decision was made decades ago, before a lot of more modern stuff came around- GTL, catalytic reformed slack wax, and so on. Some of these oils (GTL in particular) ARE synthetic by the dictionary definition, even if they aren't put in base oil categories IV or V. And most of them perform like "synthetic" oils and all are the result of advanced chemistry, and IMO ought to be considered "synthetic", even if they don't meet the dictionary definition or the Group IV/V test. I mean, if Shell Helix Ultra is good enough for the Italian supercars, we shouldn't be quibbling about whether it's actually synthetic or not because it's made by catalytically reforming slack wax instead of being synthesized from smaller molecules. It **** sure isn't just refined petroleum, that's for sure.

Three, it doesn't matter. Not one bit. This isn't the sort of thing anyone can really measure in the handful of vehicles that they own. It's all butt-dyno and super vague notions of "it sounds better" or "it gets darker slower" or other supremely non-scientific measurements. That's why there are standards- so we can all go to the store and pick up a bottle of oil and know by the standards that it meets, what baseline performance it has to measure up to.

So rather than get sticky about whether oils are "synthetic" or not, maybe we ought to be more concerned with the standards they meet, and whether those are adequate or not?
 
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One, that stupid old marketing definition of "synthetic" (basically anything that performs like a synthetic) is nearly completely at odds with the actual definition of the word, which is basically something not occurring naturally put together from smaller items. The reason that marketing board decided this is that at the time, group III oils performed sufficiently differently to be lumped in with the other "synthetic" oils, even if they weren't "synthetic" strictly speaking. And some pedants around here got prickly about it, and have decided for reasons(?) that only PAO/ester oils (i.e. group IV/V) are the duly anointed "synthetic" oils, and anything else is not.
That's not at all what the NAD decided nor is it the definition of synthetic.

Which oils are marketed as a synthetic that are not the result of synthesis? Do you know how hydrocracking works? API Annex E is about interchange and viscosity index but it is not intended to delineate production methods despite many on this board trying to do so. In fact the Annex specifically states this in clear language.
 
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MolaKule

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So I've been mostly lurking around here for the better part of 20 years, and there seem to be two big debate generators around here- what is a "synthetic" oil, and thick vs. thin.

As I see it, the real issues with the "synthetic" oil question are really threefold.

One, that stupid old marketing definition of "synthetic" (basically anything that performs like a synthetic) is nearly completely at odds with the actual definition of the word, which is basically something not occurring naturally put together from smaller items. The reason that marketing board decided this is that at the time, group III oils performed sufficiently differently to be lumped in with the other "synthetic" oils, even if they weren't "synthetic" strictly speaking. And some pedants around here got prickly about it, and have decided for reasons(?) that only PAO/ester oils (i.e. group IV/V) are the duly anointed "synthetic" oils, and anything else is not.

Two, that marketing board decision was made decades ago, before a lot of more modern stuff came around- GTL, catalytic reformed slack wax, and so on. Some of these oils (GTL in particular) ARE synthetic by the dictionary definition, even if they aren't put in base oil categories IV or V. And most of them perform like "synthetic" oils and all are the result of advanced chemistry, and IMO ought to be considered "synthetic", even if they don't meet the dictionary definition or the Group IV/V test. I mean, if Shell Helix Ultra is good enough for the Italian supercars, we shouldn't be quibbling about whether it's actually synthetic or not because it's made by catalytically reforming slack wax instead of being synthesized from smaller molecules. It **** sure isn't just refined petroleum, that's for sure.

Three, it doesn't matter. Not one bit. This isn't the sort of thing anyone can really measure in the handful of vehicles that they own. It's all butt-dyno and super vague notions of "it sounds better" or "it gets darker slower" or other supremely non-scientific measurements. That's why there are standards- so we can all go to the store and pick up a bottle of oil and know by the standards that it meets, what baseline performance it has to measure up to.

So rather than get sticky about whether oils are "synthetic" or not, maybe we ought to be more concerned with the standards they meet, and whether those are adequate or not?

Synthetic or Conventional oils have pretty much been defined in this article so I am surprised in 20 years you haven't seen it:

A Review of Mineral and Synthetic Base Oils​


https://bobistheoilguy.com/

Everyone has complaints about what Marketing calls something and the business decisions made by the NAD, so it would be best to send your concerns to those responsible for those decisions and the marketing groups within those companies.
 
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mark pruett

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Y
Synthetic or Conventional oils have pretty much been defined in this article so I am surprised in 20 years you haven't seen it:

A Review of Mineral and Synthetic Base Oils​


https://bobistheoilguy.com/

Everyone has complaints about what Marketing calls something and the business decisions made by the NAD, so it would be best to send your concerns to those responsible for those decisions and the marketing groups within those companies.
You're missing my point- that article defines them by their base stocks, and IMO it's stupid to not call a GTL a synthetic oil. It's synthesized and it performs like any other "synthetic" oil. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

Then we STILL get kind of silly threads about "True synthetics" as if that means ANYTHING whatsoever these days in terms of performance or even price. I'm just frustrated with the idea that splitting hairs on the basestock has anything whatsoever to do with the quality of the oil, or whether you're getting ripped off, etc... It's not like Group III+ oils are inferior, or that PAO are automatically superior to everything else.

For the longest time, there were what I'd call "high performance oils", which were PAOs, esters, GTL, very highly hydrocracked Group IIIs, slack wax derived oils like Helix Ultra, etc...) And then there were "regular" oils, which were mostly Group II oils. Everything in the "high performance" category performs substantially the same- certainly better than the "regular" oils. Yet people still nit-pick those "high performance" oils about their exact provenance, and sometimes it gets to me. It's not like Lamborghini or Ferrari is going to spec an inferior oil for their cars, yet they're choosing ones that aren't "synthetic". That sort of points up the ridiculousness of the argument to me; if something not "synthetic" is good enough for them, but it's not good enough for some daily driver person on the internet?
 
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You’re still conflating API interchange with the definition of synthetic which isn’t appropriate. For one thing it illustrates why there isn’t any such thing as a “Group III+” base stock.

But to address one thing you said, who is saying GTL base stocks aren’t synthetic?
 
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Seems to me if you take a mineral oil and break it apart into short hydrocarbon chains then reform those chains into your desired target molecules then you have synthesized something.

It's not the route to how you get to your target chemistry that is important, it's the output.
 
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The new "synthetic" oil, of whatever one chooses to call them, are far superior to oil just 10 years ago. This video cuts through alot of it. Real mechanic with years under the hood. BTW, this video gives a big Mobil 1 shout out. Bottom line is use the right weight synth for your vehicle with a good filter and OCI.

 

mark pruett

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You’re still conflating API interchange with the definition of synthetic which isn’t appropriate. For one thing it illustrates why there isn’t any such thing as a “Group III+” base stock.

But to address one thing you said, who is saying GTL base stocks aren’t synthetic?
I've seen more than once around here people saying that synthetic = group IV/V basestocks and that's it. GTL is something else- it's classified by the API into Group III, even though it's clearly not really the same thing as other Group III basestocks. So by the lights of some here, it's not synthetic because it's not in Group IV/V.

Which is absurd. And basically getting at the root of what I'm saying- there are a lot of other options besides the Group I, II and III refined/hydrocracked petroleum basestocks, along with Group IV/V PAO/esters/etc... And making the decision on where the dividing line was far in the past is silly, as is deciding based on what some advertising board decided a couple of decades ago.

So maybe what I'm getting at is more that the "synthetic" terminology maybe ought to be retired, as the high performance oil landscape is too diverse for that to make any practical sense. I mean, a MB 229.5 oil made from petroleum derived Group III basestock isn't necessarily inferior to a SN oil made from PAO, and nor is something like Helix Ultra made from a sort of wax that was chemically reformed into a basestock.
 
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I've seen more than once around here people saying that synthetic = group IV/V basestocks and that's it. GTL is something else- it's classified by the API into Group III, even though it's clearly not really the same thing as other Group III basestocks. So by the lights of some here, it's not synthetic because it's not in Group IV/V.

Which is absurd. And basically getting at the root of what I'm saying- there are a lot of other options besides the Group I, II and III refined/hydrocracked petroleum basestocks, along with Group IV/V PAO/esters/etc... And making the decision on where the dividing line was far in the past is silly, as is deciding based on what some advertising board decided a couple of decades ago.

So maybe what I'm getting at is more that the "synthetic" terminology maybe ought to be retired, as the high performance oil landscape is too diverse for that to make any practical sense. I mean, a MB 229.5 oil made from petroleum derived Group III basestock isn't necessarily inferior to a SN oil made from PAO, and nor is something like Helix Ultra made from a sort of wax that was chemically reformed into a basestock.
What people say on here is only opinion because nowhere is the term actually defined by any standards entity. Only in Germany is it defined for marketing purposes. And despite the great worrying people ascribe to the NAD decision here in the US it was based on a proper technical analysis.

And again you persist in misunderstanding the purpose of API Annex E. GTL is Group III because it meets the criteria for interchange, again as defined in the document itself. Like you, people on here nearly always misuse the document in clear violation of the stated purpose which is spelled out in the Annex. Have you read it? It's not to define which base stocks are synthetic and which are not, and likewise it is not "absurd" at all. What's absurd is people making long prognostications on here about the document when they fundamentally misunderstand its purpose.

Specifications, licenses and approvals rule because they directly represent the performance of the finished product and this avoids the flapping around associated with goofy threads about the definition of base stock origin.
 
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That's not at all what the NAD decided nor is it the definition of synthetic.

Which oils are marketed as a synthetic that are not the result of synthesis? Do you know how hydrocracking works? API Annex E is about interchange and viscosity index but it is not intended to delineate production methods despite many on this board trying to do so. In fact the Annex specifically states this in clear language.
So, in that scandalous case in the not too recent past, where a "Standard Bearer" for premium synthetic lubricants, which one would assume has followed the interchange mandates, then produced and distributed a finished product that failed to meet API/ILSAC requirements. What went wrong that put sub-standard product in to consumers hands? Did they just bypass sequence in-situ testing as required in the read across? I suppose my point is that the document provisions and requirements only have worth if they are abided by.

On another point, I would "blame" often referenced Machinery Lubrication article(s) that have conflated production methods with base stocks. I am not sure "blame" is the correct word, as the industry and production methods were in flux, add to that the marketing appellation for premium product at cross roads with classic terminology, it would seem the introduction of production method to the illustration was warranted.

Just a couple semi-casual observations to add to the discussion not intended to take away from your basic points.
 

mark pruett

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Dear Mr. Pruett, do you really think this forum needed just another rant?
Probably not, but I just get frustrated when I read the same silly old threads every so often about "REAL synthetic oils", with some doofus wanting to know what oils are "REAL" synthetics, versus all this fraudulent other stuff merely labeled as "synthetic", as if these days being a Group IV/V makes an oil somehow better than those other ones made from other stuff, like GTL or whatever. Or people opining that some oil "used to be good", but now that the manufacturer replaced the Group IV with Group III+, it's now suddenly inferior.

In reality, the basestock is only ONE component of many that determine how an oil performs, and worrying about its provenance is missing the forest for the trees. Worrying about "true synthetics" is ridiculous- the term is functionally meaningless with respect to what we discuss around here, and yet we see a lot of nonsense about it far too often.
 
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