AAA Report Lauds Synthetic Oils


An American Automobile Association report found synthetic engine oils performed an average of 47 percent better than conventional oils in several industry-standard tests and recommended motorists consider a synthetic if frequently subjecting their vehicle to stop-and-go driving, towing, aggressive driving or operating in extreme climates.

The report, AAA Engine Oil Research: AAA proprietary research into the differences between conventional and synthetic engine oil, was announced yesterday. AAA conducted research to understand the differences between conventional and synthetic engine oils that are readily available for use in gasoline engines. The researchs objective was to determine the validity of claims that synthetic engine oils have superior performance compared to conventional oils, and to determine the overall cost of switching to a synthetic engine oil. Testing excluded semi-synthetic blends and motor oils advertised as being for high-mileage vehicles.

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With its super resistance to deterioration, AAAs findings indicate that synthetic oil is particularly beneficial to newer vehicles with turbocharged engines and for vehicles that frequently drive in stop-and-go traffic, tow heavy loads or operate in extreme hot or cold conditions, John Nielsen, AAAs managing director of automotive engineering and repair, said in a news release.

To protect vehicle engines, particularly those that operate in extreme conditions, AAA urges drivers to consider a switch to synthetic oil at their next oil change service, the association said in its news release.

One part of the reported identifies consumer trends in selecting synthetic engine oil. AAA contracted with a national research company to conduct a telephone survey of 1,007 adults living in the continental United States.

The survey found that men who typically use conventional motor oil are more likely than women – 51 percent versus 31 percent – to say its because synthetic motor oil is too expensive, while women are more likely than men – 44 percent compared to 16 percent – to say its because they are not usually offered a choice of motor oil when they get an oil change.

The consumer survey found that 45 percent of drivers said they typically choose synthetic motor oil for their vehicles oil changes, while 30 percent of drivers typically use conventional motor oil and 3 percent typically use some other type of oil. About 22 percent said they were unsure what type of motor oil was used.

Thirty-four percent of women and just 8 percent of men were unsure what type of motor oil is used for their vehicle.

Among the drivers who knew what type of motor oil was installed in their vehicles, 58 percent chose synthetic oil, 38 percent conventional oil and 4 percent some other type of oil.

Forty-three percent of respondents said they typically used conventional motor oil because they found synthetic motor oil too expensive. Other reasons included not usually being offered a choice of motor oil when getting an oil change (27 percent), not thinking that synthetic motor oil is better than conventional oil (23 percent) and a belief that shops offering synthetic oil are just trying to sell something you dont need (22 percent). More than a quarter of drivers cited miscellaneous other reasons for using conventional oil, while 6 percent said they dont know or have no particular reason.

More than half, or 56 percent, said they believed synthetic motor oil was better for their engine, 17 percent didnt believe synthetic motor oil was better, and 27 percent were not sure. Sixty-six percent of men and just 46 percent of women regarded synthetic motor oil as better than their engine, while more women – 39 percent to 15 percent – said they were unsure if synthetic motor oil was better.

AAA also evaluated the cost impact of switching to a synthetic engine oil at an AAA-approved auto repair provider and as a do-it-yourselfer.

The association asked 3,423 AAA-approved auto repair providers across the U.S. to complete a questionnaire on the typical cost of a conventional oil change versus that of a full synthetic oil change. The price quotes were based on normal oil changes of four to five quarts with a standard oil filter. Only 759 of the 3,423 providers who received the survey completed it, for a 22 percent response rate.

The average cost of a conventional oil change was $38. Of conventional oil changes performed, 71 percent cost between $21 and $40, 23 percent cost between $41 and $60, 3 percent cost more than $61 and 2 percent cost $20 or less.

The average cost of a synthetic oil change at such facilities was $70. Of synthetic oil changes performed, 79 percent cost between $41 and $80, 17 percent cost between $81 and $120, 2 percent cost more than $121 and 2 percent cost $40 or less.

For the average do-it-yourselfer, the association used the cost of oil procurement to quantify an average price difference for five quarts of conventional compared to five quarters of synthetic engine oil. AAA purchased the oils in one-quart containers, and noted that a cost savings for both groups might be achieved if purchasing five-quart containers. To verify the price difference found by AAA, SAE 5W-20 conventional and synthetic oils were also priced on the websites of major auto parts retailers.

AAA found the average price of the five tested conventional oils was $28.86 for five quarts, while the average price of the five tested synthetic oils was $43.55 for five quarts. The association found that consistent with the average price difference found on the websites of the major auto parts retailers, where the average price of five one-quart containers was about $28 for conventional oils and $45 for synthetic oils.

Based on the findings, the association estimated the average cumulative cost increase of using synthetic engine oil for 75,000 miles at $320 at an AAA-approved auto repair facility and $170 as a do-it-yourselfer, based on following a typical manufacturer-specified oil change interval of 7,500 miles.

The full 59-page report – including details on test results and performance findings – may be downloaded from AAAs web site here, under the Additional Resources heading.