Synthetic oil bad in a lawnmower? Any truth in this self proclaimed experts statements?

Joined
Jul 14, 2020
Messages
1,004
I had a disagreement with someone on another forum that specializes in lawn equipment/small engines about whether or not full synthetic oil is dangerous to use in a lawnmower engine. They made all kinds of statements that didn't seem right to me. I'm wondering if some of the actual professional lubrication experts on this board like Molakule or others could read some of what he's said and tell me if there is any truth in it. The only source he could give me had nothing to do with synthetic vs conventional and was the basics of fluid dynamics, which obviously I don't have experience with or time to learn at this point. All of what I learned about oil has come from this forum over the past 15-20 years of casual reading. Here are 2 posts from this guy on the thread discussing use of synthetic in a lawnmower engine:

"What people fail to appreciate is engines are designed for a specific type of oil .
That includes the size of oil holes so that the right amount of oil will flow through them to do the job required and there will be sufficinet oil pressure left in the system to lubricate parts further down stream of the oil pump.
They also fail to understand that the flow charasterisc of oil under pressure is totally different to oil flow under gravity which is how the numbers on the front of the bottle are measured.
So all that the numbers on the bottle actually tell you is how the oil will drain back down the drain holes to the sump .
So for instance a synthetic oil that flows faster & easier will not provide enough oil to the last 2 journals on a strait 8 engine because all of the pressure will bleed off lubricating the first 6 cylinders .
Assuming cylinder 1 is closest to the oil pump, the slippers on it will have little rivers all through them because it got too much oil by volume because to use the synthetic oil the oil holes in the crankshaft need to be smaller because the oil flows freer .
It takes years for very experienced engineers to design & test the lubrication system in anything to ensure it all works properly with the lubricant it was designed t & tested with.
Then Joe Idiot comes along and thinks just because some race driver, big brested bimbo, whoever pops up on TV and says this stuff is better it will automatically make whatever they put it in run forever .'
Some times it might make no difference and some times it will
If it makes no difference then the user is pouring money down a hole & wasting the planets resources
If it does make a difference then that door swings both ways
Some times it will be better but most times it will be worse.
However Joe Idiot never take responsibility for his own stupidity and will blame anything else other than him using an unsuitable lubricant .
Barnets got blasted from pillar to post because their clutch plates were slipping all over the place then after several years it was found that it was the owners shoving fully synthetic oil into their motorcycles that was causing the clutches to slip .
A similar story with NSK who copped a ton of warranty claims for excessive wear in roller big end bearings and crankshaft bearings
Same story, the freer flowing synthetics floated the rollers so they slid on the outer race rather than rolling .
This was a particularly big problem for Ducatti Desmo engines and to a lesser extent Harleys , made more confusing to Joe I Know More Than The Design Engineers , as latter models used synthetic oils so it must be OK to use it in older modles , well it was not ."


What people fail to appreciate is engines are designed for a specific type of oil .
That includes the size of oil holes so that the right amount of oil will flow through them to do the job required and there will be sufficinet oil pressure left in the system to lubricate parts further down stream of the oil pump.
They also fail to understand that the flow charasterisc of oil under pressure is totally different to oil flow under gravity which is how the numbers on the front of the bottle are measured.
So all that the numbers on the bottle actually tell you is how the oil will drain back down the drain holes to the sump .
So for instance a synthetic oil that flows faster & easier will not provide enough oil to the last 2 journals on a strait 8 engine because all of the pressure will bleed off lubricating the first 6 cylinders .
Assuming cylinder 1 is closest to the oil pump, the slippers on it will have little rivers all through them because it got too much oil by volume because to use the synthetic oil the oil holes in the crankshaft need to be smaller because the oil flows freer .
It takes years for very experienced engineers to design & test the lubrication system in anything to ensure it all works properly with the lubricant it was designed t & tested with.
Then Joe Idiot comes along and thinks just because some race driver, big brested bimbo, whoever pops up on TV and says this stuff is better it will automatically make whatever they put it in run forever .'
Some times it might make no difference and some times it will
If it makes no difference then the user is pouring money down a hole & wasting the planets resources
If it does make a difference then that door swings both ways
Some times it will be better but most times it will be worse.
However Joe Idiot never take responsibility for his own stupidity and will blame anything else other than him using an unsuitable lubricant .
Barnets got blasted from pillar to post because their clutch plates were slipping all over the place then after several years it was found that it was the owners shoving fully synthetic oil into their motorcycles that was causing the clutches to slip .
A similar story with NSK who copped a ton of warranty claims for excessive wear in roller big end bearings and crankshaft bearings
Same story, the freer flowing synthetics floated the rollers so they slid on the outer race rather than rolling .
This was a particularly big problem for Ducatti Desmo engines and to a lesser extent Harleys , made more confusing to Joe I Know More Than The Design Engineers , as latter models used synthetic oils so it must be OK to use it in older modles , well it was not .
Click to expand...


"IF you don't understand the basics then all you can do is put blind faith that what some one else has said is factually correct .
As you are totally unwilling to put in the work to educate yourself then you will never actually understand how lubrication works.
I started my learning curve back in 1972 in the final years of my degree with a 2 hour lecture once a week for 13 weeks.
So that is 26 hours of face to face lectures + 13 more of tutorials + 13 more of practicals + 51 of pre lecture back ground reading before lectures.
How many hours have you spent on face book ?
As for mower engine as was previously stated is all using a synthetic or semi synthetic will do is cost you more money .
But if it makes you feel good then do it all it will do is waste your money .
While their history goes back decades fully synthetic oils were developed commercially for F1 racing where spending $ 1000 / gallon on oil is petty cash.
The engines in F 1 are pushed to their max they run at a lot higher temperatures than you mower ever will and every part has been cut down to the absolute minimum weight that will hopefully stay together for the length of a race and the manufacturing tollerances are substantially tighter than your mower ever will plus the oil plays a massive part in cooling the engine , or rather keeping the internals at a constant temperature , again totally irrelevent to an ir cooled mower engine and requires a bit of maths .
Viscious friction robs power from the tailshaft so anything that can reduce it is a big + in racing.
When we raced speedway all of the engines run total loss oiling and you do notice the difference in responce between that and the same engine mounted into a Hagon frame with an oil tank for short circuit
Synthetic oils they stayed as an exotic item even during the oil crisis of the 70's when I was in college . untill California tightened emission laws then all the major engine makers found that the thinner oils allowed the engine to crank faster so the first cylinder to do a full induction cycle fired reducing the unburned fuel passed out the tail pipe thus meet the starting emissions tests for almost no developement costs.
The engines were run to destruction & oil galleries modified where necessary.
The oil companies were then told we want engine oils with these properties of the fully synthetic oils for our production engines but we will only pay $X / gallon for them .
Thus the semi-synthetic ( and that name is total BS as the oil is not synthetic & never was ) oil was born by stripping the dreaded "Dino oil" into some componant parts then recombining them in proportions that would not normally happen and that is part & parcel of the normal processing of normal oils .
All that the oil companies did was add a couple of extra distillation processes to the regular processing .
True synthetic oil, created by reacting gasses together under pressure is a different animal but you won't find it at your local discount car parts shop.

The oil companies then had a premium product that cost marginally more than the standard product but because of the hype around it could be sold for 3 times the price of regular oil and pushed it hard by extolling its better properties, most of which was almost true but none of it of any real benefit for any engine not specifically designed to run it .
So you can run it for 3 times as long as you can run standard oil before it oxadises and starts to brake down chemically.
But that is not why you change your oil
You change it to remove the acid byproducts of combustion which happen regardless of the oil used and more importantly to remove the ultra fine particulates that errode your engine the exact same was as the Colorado river has erroded the Grand Canyon , but they fail to tell you that.

As for mower engine what can I say?
Probably once or twice a year an old worn out 2.5Hp side valve B & S powered mower comes into the shop with about 1/3 of the original oil still in the crankcase burned to the consistency of triple cream on a mower that the owner has had since the 80's and never so much as checked to oil let alone change it or even top it up.

And I would imagine every tech on here would have the same thing happen to them every year
Your 1981 B & S engine will run happily of full splash lubrication and there is a good chance it was actually full splash .
So your use of it just goes to show your absolute failure of understanding of the fundamentials of lubrication inside an engine.
The tug-o-war between adheason, coheasion & gravity let alone the significance of valence inbalance at the terminals of the molecules, and the difference the shape of them makes to the flow of the oil through the galleries.

And FWIW the only calculations in OLDS are just barely high school level and mainly about temperature flow & heat removal .
Get yourself a copy & read it then if you have understood what was written you will have just enough information to work out weather you are being fed fact, fiction or hype.
As an old text book it is probably everywhere used for $ 5 rather than the $ 50 I had to pay when it was a brand new publication.

On one of the motorcycle forums we ran a survey to see just how much the members understood about oil
The question was
Do multigrade oils get thicker as they get hotter. yes / no
Over 90% got it wrong .

In my TAFE classe I used to ask the question
What is the purpose of the detergent molecules in oil ?
In the 11 years I taught not s single student got the question correct
We put the same question in the final exam and agin just about every student got it wrong
They all correctly described the mechanism of how they work but the students could not get the "detergents clean" BS out of their heads that the advertising companies had implanted .
And if you are wondering.
The function of the detergent is to carry away the particulates that they encounter & prevent them from combining
Secondary purpose is to make the contaminants close to the SG of the base oil so they will circulate freely within the oil to facilitate mechanical removal .
You will find that in OLDS as well no maths required."
 
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Joined
Apr 10, 2015
Messages
155
Location
Pennsylvania
Subscribed. My only experience is with my Cub Cadet/Kohler engine operating on "synthetic" marketing oil since 1993. Runs well 12 month a year. My 1993 yard vacuum with B&S five horsepower runs like new but is only used 50-70 hours per year
 
Joined
Apr 6, 2015
Messages
1,254
Location
Upper midwest
Nothing there has even remotely changed my view on using group 3/4/5 in my lawnmower. From my little knowlage on oil I see his view as nonsense and taking snipits from opinions and at the time, some facts from the 70's and early 80's. I guess we have enginners that deacads ago solved any issues brought up. As far a cam phasing, we have seen there are multiple viscosities that can be used and still make the process work. You just can't necessarily go from 0w16 to 20w50, where you can go from 0w-20 to 5w-30.
 
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Joined
Sep 19, 2008
Messages
2,619
Location
Pennsylvania
Wow! Used syn oil in my mowers and snow blower for many years. The Lawn Boy gear drive snow blower was purchased in 1987 and sold to my current lawn service who now does my snow several years ago. He still uses it! Has a Tecumseh single cylinder 8 hp motor. For twenty three years, I did a cul de sac from curb to curb the whole length every time it snowed so it had MANY very hard hours on it. Never overheated, never burned oil.....just ran like a champ. Guess I must have been doing something wrong according the "author" of that paper.
 
Joined
Jun 2, 2002
Messages
3,116
Location
Georgia/Retired
Wow, that was a lot to read. In the last paragraph someone mentions teaching class and students missing questions during the semester and on the final exam. When a large percentage of students repeatedly miss questions it is usually a sign that the instructor did a poor job of covering the material. Education is about learning and not about assessing what someone has already learned. Mr. Einstein said it best when he stated that information is not knowledge. In fact, the two share very little with one another.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2018
Messages
2,285
Location
South Carolina
I know a certain well-known racing engine builder who swears up and down, all the time, that synthetic oil "will absolutely kill your engine." He also claims that a 5W-30 is too thin and you should run a 10W-30.

Just because they can build an engine doesn't mean they know squat about lubrication. In fact, there's a lot of engine builders and even engineers who are completely clueless about oil, how it flows, how it lubricates, how additives work, etc... There's a lot more that do know a few things about oil, but it's from 1975 and they refuse to open up to any knew information or research. I know one who insists on using VR1 (conventional) 10W-30 in his stock eliminator when everyone else is using 0W-8, 0W-5, etc..., calls ceramic wheel bearings a gimmick, thinks aluminum transmission drums are a waste of money, etc... and yet he never qualifies in the top half of the field and usually is out by round 2.
 
Joined
Jun 8, 2016
Messages
2,265
Location
Texas, USA
Been using Mobil1 and Valvoline VR1 in my mower since I drained the break-in oil, which was in 2004. It starts and runs like it's brand new. Tried using 5W-30 in it at the beginning but it consumed a fair bit of that, so 15W-50 and 20W-50 suit it fine.
 
Joined
Apr 15, 2010
Messages
6,892
Location
Connecticut
This guy really doesn't know what he is talking about. Or... maybe he does, but is way over-analyzing how small engines work. He sounds like one of those people who has an idea in their head about how something works, and just believes it to be so regardless of what evidence they find against that belief. Small engines really aren't harder on oil than any automotive application. Being air-cooled they can see higher temps on a hot day, but so can an automotive turbocharged engine being driven hard. A small engine is very basic in design, their tolerances are laughable from the factory, and they really don't demand much of their oil, which is proven by how many still run great on the oil they left the factory with years earlier. They don't have much load on the bearings (rotating mass is pretty light), they run relatively low RPM (3600 max on most engines), and the valve springs are usually very weak (weak enough you can push the valves open by hand) so there isn't much pressure on the cam lobes despite them being flat tappet engines.

Essentially the most important things to keep a small splash-lubed engine from wearing out are:

1. Keep the oil level full, so the oil dipper can adequately splash the oil around inside especially when operating on an incline
2. Use an oil viscosity that can be splashed (140wt gear oil might not work well in winter temps)
3. Change the oil to remove contaminants and any moisture/fuel

Personally I run 15w40 HDEO in my engines, but that's because most of them are old with high hours, and the HDEO seems to burn off less. In reality I could run any engine oil on the walmart shelf, and as long as it didn't get too low, the engine would be fine.
 
Joined
Feb 14, 2013
Messages
455
Location
Nevada, USA
I had a disagreement with someone on another forum that specializes in lawn equipment/small engines about whether or not full synthetic oil is dangerous to use in a lawnmower engine. They made all kinds of statements that didn't seem right to me. I'm wondering if some of the actual professional lubrication experts on this board like Molakule or others could read some of what he's said and tell me if there is any truth in it. The only source he could give me had nothing to do with synthetic vs conventional and was the basics of fluid dynamics, which obviously I don't have experience with or time to learn at this point. All of what I learned about oil has come from this forum over the past 15-20 years of casual reading. Here are 2 posts from this guy on the thread discussing use of synthetic in a lawnmower engine:

"What people fail to appreciate is engines are designed for a specific type of oil .
That includes the size of oil holes so that the right amount of oil will flow through them to do the job required and there will be sufficinet oil pressure left in the system to lubricate parts further down stream of the oil pump.
They also fail to understand that the flow charasterisc of oil under pressure is totally different to oil flow under gravity which is how the numbers on the front of the bottle are measured.
So all that the numbers on the bottle actually tell you is how the oil will drain back down the drain holes to the sump .
So for instance a synthetic oil that flows faster & easier will not provide enough oil to the last 2 journals on a strait 8 engine because all of the pressure will bleed off lubricating the first 6 cylinders .
Assuming cylinder 1 is closest to the oil pump, the slippers on it will have little rivers all through them because it got too much oil by volume because to use the synthetic oil the oil holes in the crankshaft need to be smaller because the oil flows freer .
It takes years for very experienced engineers to design & test the lubrication system in anything to ensure it all works properly with the lubricant it was designed t & tested with.
Then Joe Idiot comes along and thinks just because some race driver, big brested bimbo, whoever pops up on TV and says this stuff is better it will automatically make whatever they put it in run forever .'
Some times it might make no difference and some times it will
If it makes no difference then the user is pouring money down a hole & wasting the planets resources
If it does make a difference then that door swings both ways
Some times it will be better but most times it will be worse.
However Joe Idiot never take responsibility for his own stupidity and will blame anything else other than him using an unsuitable lubricant .
Barnets got blasted from pillar to post because their clutch plates were slipping all over the place then after several years it was found that it was the owners shoving fully synthetic oil into their motorcycles that was causing the clutches to slip .
A similar story with NSK who copped a ton of warranty claims for excessive wear in roller big end bearings and crankshaft bearings
Same story, the freer flowing synthetics floated the rollers so they slid on the outer race rather than rolling .
This was a particularly big problem for Ducatti Desmo engines and to a lesser extent Harleys , made more confusing to Joe I Know More Than The Design Engineers , as latter models used synthetic oils so it must be OK to use it in older modles , well it was not ."





"IF you don't understand the basics then all you can do is put blind faith that what some one else has said is factually correct .
As you are totally unwilling to put in the work to educate yourself then you will never actually understand how lubrication works.
I started my learning curve back in 1972 in the final years of my degree with a 2 hour lecture once a week for 13 weeks.
So that is 26 hours of face to face lectures + 13 more of tutorials + 13 more of practicals + 51 of pre lecture back ground reading before lectures.
How many hours have you spent on face book ?
As for mower engine as was previously stated is all using a synthetic or semi synthetic will do is cost you more money .
But if it makes you feel good then do it all it will do is waste your money .
While their history goes back decades fully synthetic oils were developed commercially for F1 racing where spending $ 1000 / gallon on oil is petty cash.
The engines in F 1 are pushed to their max they run at a lot higher temperatures than you mower ever will and every part has been cut down to the absolute minimum weight that will hopefully stay together for the length of a race and the manufacturing tollerances are substantially tighter than your mower ever will plus the oil plays a massive part in cooling the engine , or rather keeping the internals at a constant temperature , again totally irrelevent to an ir cooled mower engine and requires a bit of maths .
Viscious friction robs power from the tailshaft so anything that can reduce it is a big + in racing.
When we raced speedway all of the engines run total loss oiling and you do notice the difference in responce between that and the same engine mounted into a Hagon frame with an oil tank for short circuit
Synthetic oils they stayed as an exotic item even during the oil crisis of the 70's when I was in college . untill California tightened emission laws then all the major engine makers found that the thinner oils allowed the engine to crank faster so the first cylinder to do a full induction cycle fired reducing the unburned fuel passed out the tail pipe thus meet the starting emissions tests for almost no developement costs.
The engines were run to destruction & oil galleries modified where necessary.
The oil companies were then told we want engine oils with these properties of the fully synthetic oils for our production engines but we will only pay $X / gallon for them .
Thus the semi-synthetic ( and that name is total BS as the oil is not synthetic & never was ) oil was born by stripping the dreaded "Dino oil" into some componant parts then recombining them in proportions that would not normally happen and that is part & parcel of the normal processing of normal oils .
All that the oil companies did was add a couple of extra distillation processes to the regular processing .
True synthetic oil, created by reacting gasses together under pressure is a different animal but you won't find it at your local discount car parts shop.

The oil companies then had a premium product that cost marginally more than the standard product but because of the hype around it could be sold for 3 times the price of regular oil and pushed it hard by extolling its better properties, most of which was almost true but none of it of any real benefit for any engine not specifically designed to run it .
So you can run it for 3 times as long as you can run standard oil before it oxadises and starts to brake down chemically.
But that is not why you change your oil
You change it to remove the acid byproducts of combustion which happen regardless of the oil used and more importantly to remove the ultra fine particulates that errode your engine the exact same was as the Colorado river has erroded the Grand Canyon , but they fail to tell you that.

As for mower engine what can I say?
Probably once or twice a year an old worn out 2.5Hp side valve B & S powered mower comes into the shop with about 1/3 of the original oil still in the crankcase burned to the consistency of triple cream on a mower that the owner has had since the 80's and never so much as checked to oil let alone change it or even top it up.

And I would imagine every tech on here would have the same thing happen to them every year
Your 1981 B & S engine will run happily of full splash lubrication and there is a good chance it was actually full splash .
So your use of it just goes to show your absolute failure of understanding of the fundamentials of lubrication inside an engine.
The tug-o-war between adheason, coheasion & gravity let alone the significance of valence inbalance at the terminals of the molecules, and the difference the shape of them makes to the flow of the oil through the galleries.

And FWIW the only calculations in OLDS are just barely high school level and mainly about temperature flow & heat removal .
Get yourself a copy & read it then if you have understood what was written you will have just enough information to work out weather you are being fed fact, fiction or hype.
As an old text book it is probably everywhere used for $ 5 rather than the $ 50 I had to pay when it was a brand new publication.

Over the years I have found oil to be like religion and those who most strongly argue about it do so from a position of blind faith.

On one of the motorcycle forums we ran a survey to see just how much the members understood about oil
The question was
Do multigrade oils get thicker as they get hotter. yes / no
Over 90% got it wrong .

In my TAFE classe I used to ask the question
What is the purpose of the detergent molecules in oil ?
In the 11 years I taught not s single student got the question correct
We put the same question in the final exam and agin just about every student got it wrong
They all correctly described the mechanism of how they work but the students could not get the "detergents clean" BS out of their heads that the advertising companies had implanted .
And if you are wondering.
The function of the detergent is to carry away the particulates that they encounter & prevent them from combining
Secondary purpose is to make the contaminants close to the SG of the base oil so they will circulate freely within the oil to facilitate mechanical removal .
You will find that in OLDS as well no maths required."

TL;DR
 
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