Petroleum or Synthetic? Also - Filters!

Petroleum or Synthetic? Also - Filters!

Is synthetic motor oil really necessary? Probably not, at least for a few cars. In the past few years I have found that more and more high-end performance vehicles are being shipped from the factory with synthetic motor oil. In fact, GM recommends nothing but synthetic oil for their high horsepowered Corvettes these days.

Whatever car I drive, I usually end up driving it pretty hard. I love quick acceleration, especially on twisty roads, and the adrenaline rush is great. There’s nothing better than listening to your favorite tunes and hauling ass down the road, but when I’m not doing that, I am usually sitting in stop and go traffic during rush hour. So, do I really need synthetic oil? Thinking back, I know now that I should have been using it from the beginning. In fact, i’m sure that I could have saved myself a few problems by using synthetic grade oil.

Some people swear by synthetic oil, some don’t, and some don’t even think about it. As A muscle car enthusiast with at least a few horsepower modifications on your vehicle, you should definitely be using synthetic oil, but you would be surprised at how many people throw on superchargers and then continue to pour in their favorite brand of petroleum.

Petroleum –whatever the brand, has a lot of impurities in it, even after the refining process. Not only does it have a lot of impurities; its very structure is somewhat unstable. What I mean by this is that regular motor oil has an unbalanced molecule structure. Some molecules are big, and some are small. In reality it is the small molecules that end up keeping your engine running smooth, and when you use regular petroleum, these smaller molecules are the first to burn off.

Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is created in a laboratory from the ground up. What this means is that since synthetic oil is created rather than refined, so it can be created without impurities from the beginning of its existence. Also, because synthetic oil is created and not manufactured, all the molecules that coat your engine are exactly the same in size, which means it gives better, more uniform protection for your engine components.

Quite Simply, synthetic oil is better for your engine than even the highest grade of petroleum out there. It flows better, provides more cold start protection, and can handle higher temperatures with ease. It also causes much less sludge build-up in your engine because it has no impurities to begin with, so it’s already one step ahead of regular oil in fighting the sludge battle inside the engine.

There have been rumors that synthetic oil causes a small horsepower loss due to decreased friction inside the engine. I have not been able to confirm or deny the rumors concerning this, but I’m willing to bet that if there is a horsepower loss, it’s a very small one. I can tell you however, that a lot, and I mean a LOT, of professional racing teams use nothing but synthetic oil.

The expense of it seems prohibitive, I know, it’s the main reason why I did not use it in the past. Synthetic’s can run up to 5 times more in price than regular petroleum, but the truth is that you get what you pay for. The fact of the matter is, you could be shaving thousands of miles off your engine’s life, especially if your running horsepower modifications, by using petroleum, and if you’re of the conservation type, you’re burning up a natural resource that is estimated to be depleted by the year 2055. (Of course, this prediction changes about every 10 years as new oil pockets are found and drilled).

I want to stress here, that if your running superchargers or other high-end modifications and your not using synthetic oil don’t expect your car to last long without needing major repairs. If you have money to burn, then go right ahead, if not however, then a few extra bucks may save you more money in the long run.

So what’s the best? Well the truth is, if you did a search on synthetic motor oil, you would invariably find about 30 to 40 pages worth of Amsoil web sites. Personally, since I’ve never used or known anyone who uses Amsoil, and I can imagine that it is the same for many of you as well. I’m hoping I’ll hear from some readers on this, but because Amsoil doesn’t seem to be carried by many of the popular dealers like Autozone, I’ll tell you now that most of the high-quality brand name synthetic’s on the market are all up to the task. Even the worst synthetic is a lot better than the best petroleum.

If I had to recommend a particular brand I would choose Castrol. The reason being is that it is a well-known brand, and I can go into Walmart or Autozone and pick it up. It may be that Amsoil is a wonderful product, but the way they choose to distribute their products through largely independent dealers would make anyone a little cautious. The company has been around since the 1970’s; still, chances are that if I can’t find it in Walmart or Autozone or Chief Auto-parts, then neither would you. And as consumers, if we cannot associate brand names with brand stores that have good reputations, we’re much less likely to buy the product.

By the way, if you are worried about switching to synthetics or using it in an older car, don’t be, there were rumors one time concerning these things, but they are inaccurate to say the least. Another concern is vehicle warranty and I can assure you that it will not void your vehicle warranty at all if it has been properly certified (SAE – API -- Etc.). Check your manual just to be sure, or drop an email off to Ford and ask them directly. I would skip the dealership though as many of these rumors got started by mechanics who like sticking to the old ways, or just don’t know enough about it.

Oil Filters:

Since engine oil and oil filters go hand in hand, I’ll just add that I also did some research into the oil filter as well. What I found again, is that Amsoil claims to offer the best high-efficiency high-capacity oil filters on the market, and once again, since I’ve never heard much of Amsoil I’ll make an alternate recommendation from a brand that is well known.

Mobile I seems to offer not only the highest filtration, it also offers the highest capacity, and both of these things are very significant to your engine. On the one hand, if you have low filtration efficiency, your oil is going to get dirty really quick. Yet, if you buy a high-efficiency filter that offers a low capacity you’re going to end up starving your engine of oil. Mobile I offers the best of both worlds (remember, I’m a cautious buyer, so Amsoil is out for me until I know better.) It is also one of the higher priced filters and goes for about $10.00 on average, but it is the life of your car that we are talking about right? You know, the car you’ve spent literally thousands upon thousands of dollars on? I mean, does it make a difference to you if your car lasts 200,000 miles or more? It may not, but it may. To me it does.

Air filters:

Now, for those of you who are horsepower freaks, it will come as no surprise that I would also recommend a K&N-recharge air filter, but not solely because of the horsepower gains. The fact is K&N allows 50% more air to get into your engine. At the same time it offers a 3% to 5% gain on filtration efficiency over the BEST foam air filters if installed and maintained correctly; Less dirt in your engine means your oil stays clean longer and your engine show’s less sign of wear. Not to mention of course, that a V8 engine will see about 10 more horsepower too. – 4 cylinder engines will see about 2 to 3 more horsepower. As well, K&N warranties their filters for the life of your car, no matter how many times it has switched hands. That means you’ll probably never have to buy another air filter again.


  1. Since the original writing of this article I have decided to also recommend Mobile I’s synthetic oil line as well. The fact is that this company has an outstanding reputation in the market place and they are constantly improving their products. Their prices are on the high side however.
  2. Amsoil has invaded the Internet in the worst way. It is difficult, in fact, to find a site that offers comparison charts for synthetic oils without also discovering that these sites also sell Amsoil. Upon scanning deeper into some oil filter articles I did find one comparison that states that Amsoil Oil Filters are of a (Dated Design). Since there are a numerous amount of other synthetics and filters out there that have well-known reputations, I would suggest sticking to the brand names and foregoing Amsoil.
  3. Quaker State is now offering a higher mileage motor oil. If your car has higher mileage this might be an option for you. The thing to remember is that all oils are not the same. Each manufacturer and sometimes each product is designed with different additives to produce specific results. The idea is to find the product that suits your specific cars needs. This higher mileage oil touts specific additives to help condition worn seals, etc.
  4. We do not recommend using oil additives, especially ones formulated to fix broken seals or stop oil leaks. The clotting effects can do mess with your oil’s viscosity and cause added sludge to develop within your engine. Please also take note that most manufacturers recommend not using oil additives with synthetic oils, the results can be varied and sometimes actually cause more harm than good.
  5. We do not recommend extended drain intervals. While we feel that, depending on environmental conditions, it is perfectly acceptable to go 5,000 miles before an oil change. We recommend you stick to your manufacturers recommended drain intervals or adhere to 3,000-mile drain intervals. As muscle-car enthusiasts, changing the oil should be a fun thing to do.

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    Slippery Lubrication:

    There are two kinds of motor oil: petroleum-based and synthetic. Petroleum-based oil is refined from crude, and synthetics are configured from petrochemical base stocks. The synthetic advantage is that it can be blended to achieve outstanding temperature and lubrication characteristics. This means reduced high- temperature volatility compared to a natural oil, which is something to think about when running a 24-hour showroom stock enduro race or simply commuting to work. Also, a synthetic oil reduces friction, so more power is delivered to the crankshaft. Reputable dyno operators figure synthetic deliver about a 2- to 3-percent gain in horsepower. Besides the oil pan, synthetic lubricants can make manual transmissions and rearends considerably happier when a lot of power is being applied.

    Y-Blocks are Back:

    Ford's Y-block was introduced in 1954 as a 239ci OHV V-8 and was later offered as a supercharged 312 mill in 1957. Despite it's proud history, lack of serious development denied this engine a true performance status. In the restomod '90s, that may be changing. I know of one builder who is planning a 312ci Y-block for his '57 Fairlane. The car will have a leading-edge custom cam, interesting head work, and Holley's Electronic Pro-Jection fuel injection. I predict that Y-blocks will become fashionable again. So what's the power tip? It's the heads. The ones with the largest valves were cast between 1957 and 1959. These had 1.925-inch diameter intakes and 1.51-inch exhausts. Casting prefixes include ECZ-E, F, G; EDB-D, E. Engines before 1957 had 1.78/1.51 valve combos. Heads cast in 1960-'62 had intakes that were reduced to 1.64-inch diameter.

    Caution: High Voltage:

    I thought about this while talking to a Power Tour veteran. He commented that carburetor-equipped cars ran rich while driving through high-altitude terrain, but this wasn't a problem if the cars had a good ignition. That's the key, and my tip. It may cost some, but it's an excellent idea to run an aftermarket ignition system that on a bad day puts out 40,000 volts. That kind of punch can keep igniting the fuel mixture even when the air/fuel ratio isn't as ideal as it should be. And if you run a supercharger on your car, then an aftermarket ignition is a must. The voltage delivered to the plug can help the spark from literally being blown out under boost pressures.
    On Time Timing:

  • Introduction: