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Synthetic engine oils in cold weather

Do synthetic engine oils perform better in cold weather? We passed that reader question on to Suncor’s lubricants team

One Grainews reader contacted us and asked if we could help provide some insight onto what, if any, real advantages synthetic engine oils offer over the regular, mineral-based types that have been on the market for over a century. In particular, he wanted to know if they really perform better in cold winter weather and why.

To get an answer to that question we contacted Suncor, a major Canadian synthetic lubricants producer. Their media representative put the query to the members of Suncor’s Lubricants Team, and here’s how they responded in an email.

“Synthetic base oils tend to have an overall better low temperature performance (lower pour point, lower cold cranking, and better low temperature pumpability), which is largely enabled by the higher purity of the base oil, especially with respect to lower (or virtually no) wax content. With minimal wax content, there is a significant reduction in the occurrence of gelation in the oil, which can hinder all of the low temperature properties. Better oil flow translates to quicker and better engine protection.

jug of synthetic engine oil
The cost of synthetic engine oil is higher than mineral-based types. Is it worth the extra expense?

“Synthetic oils are also beneficial for high temperature performance since they naturally have better resistance to oxidation and nitration, which occurs more frequently when the oil is exposed to high temperature conditions.

“Synthetic oils will often better resist oxidation, which can help to extend drain intervals, provided they are combined with high quality additives.

“In some cases, synthetic base oils may translate to higher quality engine oils due to better synergy of the base oils with the additives (e.g. improved soot handling).”

We followed that up with a look at what Shell Oil’s web information page had to say about synthetics:

“Thanks to the oil’s high viscosity index, the viscosity is affected less by temperature changes than with normal mineral oils. In high temperatures, viscosity and shear resistance are retained. This means better engine protection at high speeds or when heavily loaded.

“In low temperatures, oils do not thicken unduly. This means easier starting with less strain on the battery. Oil circulates quickly around the engine, giving protection from the outset. The engine warms up faster and reaches optimum performance sooner, which improves fuel economy.”

There you have it, straight from the horses’ mouths.

Do you have an equipment or workshop question you’ve been trying to find an answer to? Maybe we can help you solve the mystery. Email your question to [email protected], and we’ll try to find an expert that can give us the straight goods. We’ll pass their answers back to you in the pages of Grainews.

About the author


Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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