If your vehicle’s engine is currently using mineral or petroleum based oils, you may wonder if switching to synthetic oil in hot climates would provide better protection and benefits. Pure synthetic oils can offer excellent protection in extremely hot summer conditions and also provide equal protection during brutal cold winter temperatures.
The beauty of synthetic oils lie in their ability to protect in a vast range of temperatures. The average operating temperature range of an automobile and a light duty truck engine can reach high temperatures up to 235 degrees F when there are extreme operating conditions.
On the opposite side of the temperature spectrum, if you live in an area where temperatures drop way below zero, unlike mineral based oils which thicken up when temperatures drop, a quality pure synthetic lubricant will stay fluid and flow easily in the most brutally cold temperatures, keeping all your vehicle components safely protected.
Today’s modern engines, with their high tech designs and systems, are being forced to operate at much higher engine temperatures. Because of government regulations that are requiring car manufacturers to meet tough exhaust emission regulations and fuel economy demands, vehicle components are being pushed to the maximum.
To meet these regulations, engine designs are causing motors to reach higher than normal temperatures. These higher operating temperatures, along with hot weather climates, can bring a host of issues that can cause vehicle engines and other operating systems to face unusually tough operating conditions. This blog post will present information as to why using synthetic oil in hot climates can be the best choice in helping protect your vehicle and extend its service life.
The Advantage of Synthetic Base Oils
Today’s motors have been forced to evolve so as to enhance an engine’s performance capabilities. They must provide superior fuel economy and at the same time help to reduce emissions. These modern design changes have created extreme operating environments that are much tougher than the past. Motor oil manufacturers have been forced to keep pace with these new engine designs so that components can stay protected during these tough conditions.
Let’s first take a look at an engine oil formulation. A large percentage of parts found within a motor depend on an engine oil for protection so that these parts can stay in operation with minimal wear over a long service life. The goal of a properly formulated motor oil is to keep wear to a bare minimum, act as a coolant for engine components, be resistant to oxidation, and keep engines clean by minimizing or preventing any deposits and corrosion from forming.
A motor oil’s formulation starts with the choice of base oils. These base oils provide a number of important properties for the motor.
Synthetic base oils offer the finest and best oxidative stability. Using the best base oils gives an engine oil most of its ability when dealing with oxidation or the prevention of it. Synthetic base oils provide much better oxidative stability versus mineral base oils.
The molecular structure of a synthetic oil has saturated hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are much more resistant to chemical breakdown due to the fact that there are less places for oxygen molecules to attach themselves. When your vehicle is run in hot climates, it is imperative that your oil offer oxidative stability.
The higher the temperatures, the more potential for oxidation. Mineral oils offer much less oxidative stability. Using synthetic oil in hot climates is a winning decision.
An example of a high-quality synthetic engine oil that offers superior oxidative stability would be AMSOIL motor oils. They use only pure synthetic base oils that are contaminant-free and also contain extra performance anti-oxidative additives, which further improves the oil’s oxidation stability. Their choice of synthetic base oils, along with the addition of antioxidant agents, creates a synergistic effect that delivers an oil that resists oxidation, creates minimal sludge and varnish, and is extremely long lasting.
Base stock oils give the engine oil its viscosity characteristics. Base oil viscometrics give the oil its low temperature and pour point performance characteristics. Base oil viscometrics in some way also can dictate the type of wear protection and fuel economy that the oil will deliver. For example, when the viscosity of an engine oil is lower, fuel economy can be improved due to the fact that the oil offers less fluid friction to the internal engine components.
If the viscosity of the base oil is higher, it can deliver improved wear protection for the internal parts because it has a higher film strength. When comparing synthetic oils to mineral base oils, synthetics deliver superior fuel economy and better cold weather performance due to their naturally better lubricity and lower pour points.
How an oil is able to deal with deposits and sludge is in some way dependent on the base oil’s quality. Top tier base oils such as synthetics provide naturally better dispersant abilities, plus they are better at stopping contaminants from settling on surfaces. Still, because of the severe operating conditions inside today’s engines, motor oils need to be formulated with heavy duty dispersant additives to improve dispersant properties.
When discussing synthetic oil in hot climates, the subject of the oil’s volatility is important to understand. The chemical makeup of a base oil will control how much of the oil burns off when high temperatures are reached.
If an oil is exposed to high temperatures, and that base oil contains volatile light fractions of oils, then expect that oil to evaporate more easily.
If a base oil’s chemical makeup contains less light fractions or the light fractions it does have are less volatile, then they are less likely to burn off.
Typically, engine oils made up of lower quality base oils will have much higher concentrations of volatile light fractions. Expect to see a vehicle burning off a lot of oil because the light fractions are evaporating during extreme temperature operations. In this situation, synthetic oil in hot climates is a better choice than mineral base oils.
One way to check how a lubricant will perform in hot climates is to check the oil’s technical data sheet and look for its flash point. The flash point of an oil is the point where it will spontaneously ignite when exposed to high heat. The higher the flash point, the more temperature the oil can withstand and the less volatile it will be. Synthetic oils naturally have much higher flash points than mineral based oils.
When you drive your vehicle in hot climates, you expose your vehicle to much higher than normal temperatures. When the ambient temperatures outside your vehicle are extremely hot, it provides much less cooling capabilities and it can cause the potential for oil volatility. Depending on the type of oil in your vehicle, this volatility could cause the lightweight molecules to burn off. This is especially true for mineral based oils. Unwanted impurities are left behind, thus leading to oil consumption.
When oil is being consumed, there is less lubricant available to protect modern day components inside your engine and vehicle. If left unchecked, this could lead to premature component failure. In real world usage, it has been documented that 100% pure synthetic oils can reduce oil consumption an average of 40% versus conventional petroleum based oils.
Synthetic oils are consumed less, which translates to better vehicle protection and saved money.
Sludge and Other Impurities From Inferior Oils
When a motor oil is exposed to extreme heat conditions, it can rapidly degrade. This degradation can cause deposits to form on intake valve seats, which can lead to air intake to the engine. This can happen over a period of time, causing less than ideal seal inside the combustion chamber, leading to irregular idling, a misfiring engine, lower power, and poor fuel efficiency.
When temperatures become excessively hot inside an engine, the oil’s chemistry can start to breakdown sooner and faster. If this happens to the oil’s chemistry, then its ability to cool, lubricate, and protect components will be compromised.
If an oil is exposed to excessive heat over a long period of time, especially in regards to a mineral oil, the chance of sludge developing is high. Sludge accumulation can cause lubricant passageways to begin to clog. If this is allowed to happen, it becomes much more difficult for the oil to reach important engine parts quickly, which leads to unnecessary component wear and potential catastrophic failure.
When a company decides to formulate a synthetic oil, the intent is to create a superior lubricant. In many instances, a 100% pure synthetic engine oil will utilize higher quality additives and in larger volumes. This robust additive chemistry can offer greater high temperature protection when compared to standard mineral based conventional oils.
By using high performance synthetic base oils along with heavy duty additive packages, the combination together can work synergistically during extreme operating conditions.
Where a mineral base oil will fall down, a top tier synthetic oil will perform faultlessly during high temperatures.
One of the major pluses in choosing synthetic oils over regular petroleum based oils is their multi-purpose use. Synthetics are an ideal year round lubricant that function in a broad and wide temperature range. They deliver fantastic results when temperatures are cold due to their cold weather flowability and low viscosity.
The high performance of synthetic oil in hot climates is due to their superior heat resistance. Let’s dig a little deeper into what makes up the additive chemistry/package of a quality synthetic oil.
The architectural foundation of a superior performing oil would be the choice of base oils used. Once the decision has been made to use 100% pure synthetic base oils, the next step in the formulation of a quality lubricant will be the additive chemistry.
Additives function as agents to fight the destructive processes that are happening inside vehicle operating systems, such as the engine. They are also used to improve the properties of the base stock oils. We’ve already briefly discussed antioxidants. Antioxidants are additives designed to stop oil from reacting with oxygen, thus improving its ability to resist oxidation.
When temperatures are high, oxidation is accelerated. If oxidation occurs, it can lead to the thickening of the oil and could also lead to the formation of corrosive acids, varnish, and sludge.
When oil starts to oxidize, it can lead to unwanted deposits. These deposits could increase the oil’s viscosity and these deposits can start to form on the surface of the parts. Ultimately, these deposits will cause components to wear quickly and the motor to run inefficiently.
Also, if oxidation continues to develop, it can cause the additives to deplete within the engine oil, leaving both the engine and the oil susceptible to the negative effects of a degraded oil. Some commonly used antioxidants would be zinc, hindered phenols, and sulfur. Quality antioxidant additives, along with the best synthetic base oils, make synthetic oil in hot climates superior to mineral oils.
The next component that will be added to this synthetic oil chemistry would be anti-wear additives. Their job is to prevent unnecessary wear to parts that come in close contact with each other. They work by reacting chemically with metal surfaces by creating a tough film layer that will prevent metal-to-metal contact and reduce wear.
Some types of anti-wear agents can also help by reducing oxidation. Some well-known anti-wear additives would be zinc dialkyldithiophosphates (ZDDP) and sulfur.
EP or extreme pressure additives are utilized to help protect components in close contact from seizing when exposed to high loads or extreme pressure. Their chemistry is designed so they are activated when exposed to pressure and high temperatures. They work by reacting with metal surfaces they come in contact with that then form a sacrificial wear layer on these parts.
Common extreme pressure additives would be phosphorous and sulfur.
When surfaces that are in close contact with each other start to rub together, friction and high temperatures result. If left unprotected, these surfaces can become welded together. To prevent this from happening, extreme pressure additives are added to the chemistry so that a sacrificial film is formed on the surfaces and this film will shear easily.
This shearing effect formed by the extreme pressure protective layer will reduce friction and temperatures, making it highly unlikely for the surfaces to weld together. A high quality, properly engineered synthetic oil will contain high performance EP additives.
To protect internal engine components from rust and corrosion, rust and corrosion inhibitors are utilized. These rust and corrosion inhibitors are designed to protect metal surfaces by creating a protective film to block out contaminants and water. There are some rust inhibitors that can also help to neutralizes acids. Sodium sulfonates are your typical rust and corrosion inhibitors.
The next additive used in a quality synthetic oil formulation would be seal conditioners. Seal conditioners are designed to keep seal materials pliable and to help minimize and prevent them from turning brittle and thus causing leaks. An example of where seal conditioners are helpful in an engine would be in how they protect valve seals. Engine valve seals are designed to stop oil from entering the engine cylinder during the intake stroke.
If a valve seat were to become brittle and dry, it is most likely that oil would start to leak past the seals and enter the engine cylinder. If this happens during combustion, the oil will start to burn, which leads to more than wanted oil consumption.
The next useful chemical additive engineered into a high performance synthetic oil would be friction modifiers. Friction modifiers are used to reduce the friction coefficient between two metal surfaces. In other words, they give an oil more slipperiness.
One end of the friction modifier is polar, causing it to become attached to the metal surface. This increase the oil’s lubricity. Now that the oil is slipperier, it will help improve fuel efficiency and economy.
Some of the more common friction modifiers that can be chosen and used would be molybdenum, esters, graphite, and fatty acids.
Another additive that can add to the performance of a synthetic oil would be anti-foam additives. Anti-foam additives reduce the surface tension of the foam bubbles, which leads to the foam bubbles collapsing. In some instances, if there is too much foam in a lubricant, it can cause temperatures to rise. Foam acts as an insulator, trapping heat. By incorporating anti-foam additives, foaming can be eliminated, resulting in lower operating temperatures.
The next critical additive needed when designing a synthetic engine oil would be detergents. Detergents are needed so they can suspend and disperse contaminants that develop in the oil. They are critical in helping to keep engine surfaces free of deposits and sludge. They are most useful at controlling high temperature deposits. The structure of detergents consists of a polar head and a soluble tail.
The polar ends of the detergent additive will attach themselves to the metal surface. The soluble tail end of the detergent works to prevent contaminants from settling onto the metal surface.
Detergents also have another function, which is acid neutralizing properties. They add to the oil’s TBN or Total Base Number reserve. The next critical additive would be dispersants. They function in a similar manner to detergents whereby they work to keep contaminants in suspension and dispersing them. They are designed to keep engine surfaces free of sludge and deposits. They work best at controlling low temperature deposits. Structurally, they are like detergents and they also have a polar head and a soluble tail.
By designing a synthetic oil with a robust but balanced additive chemistry, this synthetic engine oil will be able to deal with any extreme conditions it is asked to perform in. It will reduce friction, it will properly cool the engine, and it will keep in suspension any sludge and contaminants.
In many situations, when switching from a mineral based engine oil to a high quality synthetic engine oil, lower temperatures will be realized. Because of the superior friction reducing base oils working synergistically with the specialized additive package, lower operating temperatures will be seen. When temperatures are reduced, the oil is exposed to less heat. By lowering heat, oil life is extended. Also, engine component life is vastly improved.
A 100% pure synthetic engine oil containing superior additive chemistry and better synthetic base stocks will give benefits such as improved protection during extreme heat, enhanced power, longer engine life, a cleaner engine, and longer drain intervals.
When your vehicle is operating during the summer, synthetic oil in hot climates is the smart choice.