Best Synthetic Oils: Invest in Your Engine’s Long-Term Health
What’s in your engine? Find out which synthetic oil is best for your ride
TheDrive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
The engine in your vehicle is like an Olympic athlete’s body, composed of a network of components which must be kept in tip-top shape in order to achieve maximum results. Motor oil is the life force that courses through the engine, so you should use synthetic oil for optimized performance. Read on to see our picks for the best synthetic motor oil on the market.
Benefits of Synthetic Oil
- Extend engine life. The best synthetic motor oil is formulated to have a high degree of natural solvency, meaning it can clean and remove deposits. This keeps your motor sludge- and deposit-free so it can run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, as well as extend the lifespan of engine seals and other components.
- Maximize engine performance. There’s a reason why high-performance vehicles and race cars all run synthetic oil from the factory—superior engine performance. Enthusiasts often report that they perceive more power and torque from their engine when they use synthetic oil. At the very least, synthetic oil is slicker than conventional oil, so it’ll definitely make your ride run smooth as silk.
- Improve fuel mileage. Premium synthetic oil reduces the amount of friction that occurs between key engine components, therefore making your engine run smoothly and efficiently. Theoretically, this increases the fuel mileage of your vehicle, so you’ll spend more time on the road and less time (and money) at the pump.
- Flows better in cold or hot weather. The proprietary formula of synthetic motor oil makes it flow better in extreme temperatures. During wintertime, its resistance to viscosity breakdown lets it flow freely regardless of how cold it is outside, so your car is less likely to break down due to cold starts. Alternatively, synthetic oil works at peak performance during hotter weather too.
- Longer lifespan than conventional oil. The best fully synthetic motor oil has a considerably longer lifespan than synthetic blends or conventional oil. In some cases, full synthetic oil has a change interval of up to 15,000 miles, compared to 3,000 miles for conventional motor oil.
- Saves you money in the long run. Although going synthetic initially costs more per quart than conventional, it actually saves you money in the long run. Not only will you get more mileage out of engine components and save money on fuel, but you’ll also enjoy savings on less frequent oil changes. That’s something every motorist can get revved up about.
Types of Synthetic Oil
Full synthetic motor oil is created in a laboratory with a unique molecular structure and is infused with additives to deliver optimal wear protection and performance for your engine. Unlike conventional oil, it is not derived from whole crude oil, so it’s formulated without any of the impurities that you’d find in conventional oil. The best synthetic engine oil brands use a proprietary blend of anti-wear and cleaning additives to make your motor run at its best.
As the name implies, a synthetic blend motor oil is a mix of conventional oil and a brand’s synthetic base oil. Think of synthetic blend oil as a conventional oil fortified with synthetic supplements for better engine protection and performance. However, it’s worth mentioning that synthetic blends do not deliver the same caliber of performance and protection that a best-rated synthetic oil does. Still, if you choose not to spend a little more for full synthetic oil during your next oil change, you can rest assured knowing that a synthetic blend provides more benefits than conventional oil.
Founded in 1957, Liqui Moly is a German company that manufactures oils, lubricants, and additives. The brand prides itself on offering premium quality products at a more accessible price point than its competitors. One of its top products is the Liqui Moly Longtime High Tech 5W30 Synthetic Oil.
Introduced in 1974, Mobil 1 offers synthetic motor oil and lubricant products. Its synthetic motor oil is perhaps the most recognized brand in the business, with prestigious auto manufacturers such as Porsche and Mercedes-Benz using Mobil 1 synthetic oil in all their vehicles. One of its best-selling products is the Mobil 1 Extended Performance 5W-30.
Established in 1986, Royal Purple is an American manufacturer of lubricant products for automotive, industrial, marine, motorcycle, and racing usage. It is best known for its motor oil products and garners the endorsement of car enthusiasts for its high-performance formula. A particularly popular product is the Royal Purple High Performance 5W-30.
Synthetic Oil Pricing
- Under $30: You’ll find a few options for under $30 for a 5-quart container, though most of these products are synthetic blends. Not all value-priced synthetic and synthetic blend motor oil brands are created equally, so make sure you scour our synthetic motor oil reviews to see which one fits your needs.
- $30-$39: The majority of synthetic motor oil products fall within this price range. You’ll find everything here, from high-performance motor oil to high-mileage oil. These options typically deliver a great mix of performance, efficiency, and value.
- Over $39: Some of the best engine oil in the world resides in this lofty price point. These premium synthetic oil products promise the best engine protection, performance, and efficiency.
Viscosity grade is the most important factor in selecting the right synthetic motor oil for your needs. If you operate your car in a hotter climate or ring your engine out often, a viscosity of 10W-40 is best. For commuting in most warm or cold climates, a 5W-30 synthetic oil fits the bill. Finally, if you drive in conditions that could be described as arctic, a 5W-20 or even 0W-20 synthetic oil is advisable.
The labels on all types of synthetic oil list the specific application that the oil is designed for. Some common synthetic oil applications include higher mileage, extended performance, diesel engines, and motorcycles. Do your homework on your vehicle’s condition before you purchase the best synthetic oil for your needs.
Compatibility with Existing Oil
Before you add full synthetic engine oil to your ride, it’s important to note if the brand is compatible with other types of oil. If it isn’t, you’ll have to drain the existing oil before filling it up with the synthetic stuff. It’s also crucial to consult your owner’s manual to verify which type of oil your vehicle requires. For instance, most vintage vehicles were engineered to run best on conventional oil.
Each synthetic motor oil brand adds its own proprietary blend of additives to enhance certain properties. For instance, viscosity-index improvers work extremely well in ensuring that oil doesn’t get too thin at higher temperatures. Other additives like detergents are efficient cleaning agents designed to remove deposits and sludge from your engine. Determine which additives would provide the benefits you need the most before purchasing a synthetic engine oil.
- Price: If you’re on the fence about plunking down the price premium that certain high-end full synthetic oil brands command, it’s completely understandable. Expensive synthetic oil brands aren’t always objectively superior to less expensive brands. Conduct your own synthetic oil comparison and research reviews online to determine which synthetic oil is right for you.
Best Synthetic Oil Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Synthetic Oil Overall: Mobil 1 Extended Performance 5W-30
The best fully synthetic motor oil in our comparison is the Mobil 1 Extended Performance. This premium synthetic oil offers unparalleled protection against engine wear, all-weather performance, efficiency, and longevity for automotive engines. That’s probably why most performance and luxury car manufacturers choose to run Mobil 1 in their cars right out of the factory.
Mobil 1 boasts incredible anti-wear properties in both extremely low and high temperatures, thanks to its SuperSyn Technology. This makes it a fantastic option for drivers in all types of climates. We were also impressed with the potent blend of cleaning and performance-enhancing additives found in this synthetic oil. You can expect a major boost in engine smoothness, responsiveness, and fuel-efficiency when you run Mobil 1 in your ride. Throw in the fact that users can expect to get up to 15,000 miles between oil changes, and you can easily see why we chose this for the best synthetic motor oil brand.
There are a few minor niggles, chiefly the high price tag this synthetic engine oil commands. In addition, there have been a few reports of consumers experiencing leaky bottles when stored over long periods of time. Still, if money isn’t an issue, then this could very well be the best motor oil on the market.
Best Value Oil: Valvoline MaxLife High Mileage 5W-30
Although Valvoline MaxLife High Mileage is technically a synthetic blend oil, it won the best synthetic oil value spot in our comparison because it offers an impressive blend (pun firmly intended) of protection, performance, and value for higher-mileage engines.
This is an excellent option for vehicles with more than 75,000 miles on the odometer. It’s formulated with special seal conditioners, anti-wear additives, extra detergent technology, and an array of antioxidants to boost long-term engine health. This proprietary formula helps reduce oil leaks, sludge, and poor-running engines in high-mileage cars. The fact that this synthetic oil blend has an enticingly low price point made it the clear winner for this category.
Complaints are few, but worth noting. The average oil change interval for this brand is anywhere from 5,000 to 7,500 miles, shorter than full synthetic oil brands, though this is to be expected for a blend. Additionally, Valvoline MaxLife is specifically engineered for vehicles with over 75,000 miles, so this may not be the best oil for your ride if it has lower miles.
Best Synthetic Oil Honorable Mention: Royal Purple High Performance 5W-30
Royal Purple is a renowned full synthetic oil brand among auto enthusiasts and racers everywhere, and this oil definitely delivers optimal performance. The secret behind Royal Purple’s superior performance is its Synerlec additive. This additive works on a molecular level by generating extra-strength ionic-bonds with the metal surfaces in your car’s engine.
The oil responds with increased viscosity, strength, and lubricity, so your engine performs at its prime—even under extreme stress. This makes it a wonderful choice if you have a lead foot, race your ride, or simply want maximum engine performance. You can expect an increase in fuel-efficiency and oil change intervals. Initially, you’ll have to change the oil at 3,000 miles when switching over to Royal Purple, but you can enjoy 7,500 to 10,000 miles between oil changes afterward.
This high-performance motor oil has a few shortcomings. If you’re on a tight budget, its higher-end price may push you over the edge. Also, there have been some cases where the containers leak if stored for extended periods. With that said, if your blood type is 5W-30, and your engine sees its redline multiple times per day, this is perhaps the best synthetic motor oil you can get for your needs.
- It’s important to carefully read the label of synthetic motor oil containers. These labels list essential information about the synthetic oil viscosity rating, application, and, sometimes, the additives it contains.
- Look for an American Petroleum Institute (API) rating donut somewhere on the synthetic oil container label. This seal of approval means that the synthetic engine oil has passed the API’s rigorous quality standards. To learn more about the API oil categories, click here.
- Before switching over to full synthetic oil, consult your vehicle’s owner manual to see if there are any break-in instructions to prep for the switchover. Also, make sure that the synthetic oil you intend on using is compatible with other types of oil. If it’s not, you’ll have to completely drain your existing oil before going full synthetic.
- If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and change your car’s oil yourself, ensure that you don’t overfill your engine’s crankcase with oil. Overfilled oil can rinse into the crankcase and cause air bubbles to churn into the oil. This can stress the engine components, cause overheating, and even foul the spark plugs.
- Check your oil at every other gas-up. For best results, run your car for 15 minutes then park it in a level place. Let it cool down for 15 minutes, remove the dipstick and wipe it with a clean rag. Reinsert the dipstick all the way, then pull it out to ensure the oil level is between the marks.
- If you plan on doing a lot of towing or racing with your vehicle, consider adding an oil cooler if your ride isn’t already equipped with one. Oil coolers function the same way your radiator does and can dramatically increase the lifespan of your engine.
Q: What does API SM/CF and SL, SJ, SH, SG mean on my oil container?
A: API sets industry-recognized standards for oil and petroleum products for passenger and commercial vehicles. The letters after API, like SM or SL, denote the quality of motor oil. Currently, the highest standard for passenger vehicles is SN. CF denotes a diesel engine or commercial vehicle standard, and the highest standard is CJ-4.
Q: Will I damage my engine if I switch from synthetic to conventional oil?
A: No, although you’ll experience a perceivable loss in protection, performance, fuel mileage, and longevity if you switch back to conventional oil. Be aware that some synthetic oil types aren’t engineered to be mixed with other oil types, so in this circumstance, you’ll have to drain your existing synthetic oil before adding any conventional oil.
Q: Do unopened bottles of synthetic oil have an expiration date?
A: This largely depends on the individual manufacturer of the synthetic engine oil. Some brands claim that unopened containers of their synthetic motor oil have a virtually unlimited shelf life if stored under ideal conditions. Alternatively, other brands like Mobil 1 claim that unopened containers of their oil last up to five years. Read the label of your synthetic oil container for this information and always follow the manufacturer’s expiration date.
Q: Will synthetic oil cause my engine to consume more oil?
A: This is another commonly-cited myth about synthetic motor oil, and it’s also false. Synthetic engine oil in no way causes your engine to consume more oil compared to conventional oil.
Q: Is it true that some synthetic oil brands can last up to 15,000 miles?
A: Thanks to the innovative additives and other properties of modern synthetic motor oil, you really can follow the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval without inflicting any harm on your engine. Note that the exact oil change interval may vary depending on your particular vehicle, so always consult your owner’s manual to make sure it doesn’t have a different recommended oil change interval.
The best synthetic oil in our comparison is the Mobil 1 Extended Performance 5W-30. It offers an unbeatable combination of superior anti-wear performance in all climates, amazingly long oil change intervals, and exceptional additives for maximum fuel-efficiency and long-term engine health.
Our budget-friendly pick is Valvoline’s MaxLife High Mileage 5W-30.
Do you run any of these brands in your ride? Have another favorite synthetic oil? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
- RELATEDBest 110v Air Compressors: Our Top Picks for Your Car, Workshop & GarageSeamlessly complete jobs in your workshop or garage with these top 110v air compressors.READ NOW
- RELATEDBest Antifreeze: Keep Your Engine Cooler for LongerImprove your engine’s performance with our top picks for the best antifreeze coolantsREAD NOW
- RELATEDBest Brake Cleaners: Extend The Life of Your BrakesEverything you need to know about the best brake cleaners in one handy guide.READ NOW
- RELATEDBest Portable Tire Inflators: Avoid Getting Stranded With These Top InflatorsQuickly and efficiently add air to your tires with these top portable tire inflatorsREAD NOW
- RELATEDBest Car Ramps: Our Top Picks for Lifting Your VehicleOur top picks for the best car ramps for your home garage.READ NOW