AUTHORIZED DEALER

The Lube Page

D&J DIVERSIFIED, LLC
Daniel Watson
Certified Lubrication Specialist, STLE
1-800-370-2986
For so many years the term synthetic (in lubrication) was understood to be defined as:

  • The process of chemically reacting materials of a specific chemical composition to produce a compound with planned and predictable properties (Practical Handbook of Lubrication 2nd Edition).
Also:
  • Man made products created by chemically combining specific compounds, producingsubstances with specialized lubricating qualities to meet specific objectives (The Lubrication Engineers Manual, AISE).
These definitions were ignored in the late 1990s during a dispute between Mobil Oil Co. and Castrol Inc. Castrol was using Group III Hydrocracked oil as synthetic and Mobil challenged this as fraudulent advertising.  A hearing was conducted by the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau. In this hearing it was decided that Synthetic was a Marketing Term, NOT a technical or chemical term.  As a result, Group III Hydrocracked oils could be marketed as synthetic.

In response to this decision, oil companies who had been slow to produce synthetic oils now began to enter the market with their version of Group III Hydrocracked synthetic.  The profit margins of selling less expensive to produce Group III oil as synthetic was too good to miss. Amsoil entered this market with the Amsoil XL series of oils. The XL oils are produced from the very top of the Group III Hydrocracked range of oils and have turned out to perform very well within boundaries.  Amsoil Dealers reluctantly accepted the addition of the Group III Hydrocracked oils as synthetic and adjusted marketing methods to take advantage of the wider market the XL oils provided. Eventually Amsoilproduced the OE series oils that are also Group III Hydrocracked oils.  The Amsoil Hydrocracked synthetic oils do reflect the lower production cost with better pricing passed on to the consumer.

Now to continue on with this discussion it is necessary to specifically define Hydrocracked and HydroTreated terms.  These two terms sound so closely the same but they are distinctly different and it is paramount to this discussion to know the precise definitions.

  • Hydrocracked:  is a process by which the hydrocarbon molecules of petroleum are broken into simpler molecules, as of gasoline or kerosene, by the addition of hydrogen under high pressure and in the presence of a catalyst.

  • Hydro Treated:  Hydrotreater. Also known as: hydrodesulfurization, HTU, HDS unit. The purpose of a hydrotreater unit is primarily to remove sulfur and other contaminants from intermediate streams before blending into a finished refined product or before being fed into another refinery process unit.
The primary difference in these two processes is the fracturing of the hydrocarbon molecules into smaller fractions.  Hydrotreating is a purification process and is the preceding step beforeHydrocracking.  You can hydrotreat heavy fractions of oils losing some large molecules to mild amounts of cracking.  In severe hydrocracking the hydrocarbons will be fractured and only small fractions can be produced.  Hydrocracking is similar to hydrotreating but at higher temps and pressures.  The significant advantage to severe hydrocracking is the ability to separate fairly uniform hydrocarbons which are then depolarized to produce a high quality lubrication basestock.  The hydrotreated oil is really clean pure petroleum hydrocarbons of many different sizes.

So what is the purpose of drilling down into the weeds to make these distinctions?  The NAD decision stating that synthetic was a marketing term opened the door to calling anything that lubes synthetic.  The NAD removed the chemical definition of synthetic and simply allowed red to be called blue, this decision was a sellout to the oil industry and the beginning of a fraud perpetrated on the American Consumer.

The practical result, which was tolerable, was if you simply allowed severe hydrocracked oil to be called synthetic little harm would be done.  Top of the band Group III severely hydrocracked oils perform close to the low level PAO and other synthetic hydrocarbons.

When this decision was handed down Mobil warned that the day would come when the charlatan’s would be selling glorified petroleum as synthetic, because legally they can.  That dayhas come.  Reputable oil companies are now selling hydrotreated oil as full synthetic.  These are Group IIA oils not even Group III. The term Group IIA is used to delineate these hydrotreated base oils because in the hydrotreating process 10% to 15% hydrocracking occurs.

This practice will eventually cause problems in the applications where synthetic oils are specified because OEMs are requiring much higher performance especially with regard to higher operating temperatures.  Recently 0W-16 oil was introduced to the USA from Japan. In Japan the light weight 0W-16 and 0W-12 are using severe hydrocracked Group III oils and they specify synthetic for these grades. There are reports of engine problems and failures with North American made synthetic 0W-16.  Hydrotreated petroleum is very clean but not able to handle the engine temps encountered with oil as thin as 0W-16. As this glorified petroleum spreads as full synthetic it will invariably move into transmission oils. Consumers will believe they have the extra protection of synthetic ATF but the light weight Trans fluids made of faux pau synthetic won’t respond well to the elevated temps of modern transmissions.

Lubrication professionals are relied on by unaware consumers and it is incumbent on each of us to give honest advice to our customers and accounts regarding product quality and application.  It really is difficult to see where the synthetic market is going, greed and knowing that 99% of consumers have to believe what is on the bottle allows the Oil Companies to hoodwink the consumers.

My best advice is to investigate via the Internet the quality of the oil labeled synthetic to determine quality.  Be suspicious of low priced synthetics that can actually cost less than high quality conventional oils. I recommend Amsoil Synthetics, because I have researched the products and Amsoil has the reputation of being very high quality and it is that reputation that sets it apart.  Price is what you pay, cost takes into consideration what you get for your money. Amsoil is the most cost effective oil in the market place- superior quality, worth every penny.