Spec Checker and a Synthetic Misconception

Part 1-

There is a new tool I’ve built for MotoTribology called the Spec Checker. It can be used to identify the compatible specifications with what is recommended by your bike’s manufacturer. People can enter a recommended viscosity or ambient temperature and it will show compatible winter grades (standard grades should not deviate from what the manufacturer recommends), compatible JASO and API specifications and there is also tool to cross-reference engine oil viscosities to equivalent gear oil viscosities for transmissions that specify the use of engine oils rather than transmission oils.

I hope this tool can be used to easily identify compatible specifications based on OEM requirements, so people can more easily identify what products are backward compatible and suitable for their machine.

I plan to build a calculator to give calculations of mix ratios for 2-stroke oil pretty soon as well, so if you’ve got the need for something like that, I should have it put together in the next month or so.

Part 2-

The second thing I wanted to write about is a commonly used sales pitch for synthetic oils. Synthetic base oils are great, don’t get me wrong, but it is this particular sales pitch I have a problem with.

I’m sure many of you have heard the argument that synthetic oil molecules are so pure and uniform compared to a petroleum oil that has all different sized molecules due to its impurities. I bet you’ve seen pictures of two surfaces and a row of neatly arranged circles depicting a synthetic oil compared to a bunch of misshapen circles depicting petroleum oil. Well guess what…..

Syntehtic oil falacy 1

The thing that I realized that makes this argument illogical is that oils rarely use just one base oil in the formulas regardless of whether they are synthetic or not. Typically, at least two oils plus a viscosity modifier are used in oil formulations. What this means is that you have varying molecule sizes in the complete formula regardless of whether the individual base oils are uniformly pure. So, rather than this:

Syntehtic oil falacy 2
Commonly used graphic to explain synthetic oil benefits

In reality the oil film of a fully formulated synthetic oil probably looks more like this:

Synthetic oil reality
A more accurate representation of a synthetic oil film

So even though the individual components are pure and the same size, when they all come together you still have disparities. You will have different oils, a viscosity modifier, anti-wear & extreme pressure additives and possibly more. All of these different components will have different molecule sizes and result in disparities. There will be fewer disparities than a petroleum oil, true, but is it really all that different from this?

Petroleum oil film
Petroleum oil film representation

Synthetic oils do have benefits and they are superior to petroleum oils in a number of ways, and chemical purity is one of these benefits; just not for this particular reason. This one commonly used sales pitch just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when you really think about it.

Ok, that was my quick soapbox, and I feel better now that I have it off my chest. My next article should be posted relatively soon. It will be about polymer additives and shear stability of oils. Keep an eye out for it in the next couple of days.