Is all the mineral engine oils poor quality?

Article by: Dr Trisonic. Jan 2020.

Every car owner wants to have a trouble-free driving experience. While we all want to feed our beloved car engines with the best engine oil to avoid engine problems, many of us are confused about the grades and qualities of oil available.  This is due to the lack of knowledge on how engine oil formulations are developed. This article aims to provide some insights into how one can choose the correct engine oil for their car.

Let us start by understanding what are the main elements that are used to manufactured engine oils: base oil and performance additives.  When an engine oil is classified as fully synthetic, synthetic blend or a mineral oil, this refers to the type of base oil being used.  Additionally, the additives formulated together with mineral base oil enhance the properties of the engine oil.

Many online articles highlight the main difference of engine oil quality by stating it is a mineral, semi-synthetic and fully synthetic oil, with little to no emphasis on oil performances. There is thus a preconceived notion that synthetic oil is ‘better’ than mineral oil. However, such information merely tells us about the type of base oil being used, and does not tell us much about the actual quality of the engine oil. Even among synthetic and mineral oil, there exists a range of different qualities. Contrary to belief, there exists high quality mineral oil, which can provide your engine equal or better performance than what synthetic oil can. To give you a better understanding, I will explain what mineral oil is.

Mineral oil is the most basic variety of engine oil. It is most commonly used for a large majority of everyday vehicles and is less expensive than synthetic oils. In simple term, mineral oil comes from crude oil extracted from the ground and is created as part of the oil-refining process. This type of base oil has been around for as long as cars have been around.  Over the years, the quality of engine oil has been enhanced by improved technology to meet the demanding requirements of modern engines, in response to evolving engine design stresses such as minimized internal engine clearances, increased combustion pressures and emissions requirements. 

The quality of the performance additives that go into the engine oil is the crucial factor in determining the actual performance of the engine oil. For example, a mineral API SN engine oil (especially those with hydro-processed base oils) can provide more performance and protection to the gasoline engines than an API SJ fully synthetic engine oil. With the addition of good quality additives, the oil change interval of these mineral engine oils has increased from less than 100 km about 100 years ago to 5,000 km (or more) since Year 2000.  Some of these mineral engine oils with higher quality additives may outperformance fully synthetic engine oils with standard quality additives.

Now that we have cleared the misconception about mineral engine oil being inferior to synthetic engine oil, how do I select the correct engine oil for my car?

My advice would be to use the viscosity grade as recommended in your car owner’s manual, which is denoted by the appropriate SAE standard (for example SAE 5W-30 or SAE 10W-40).   In addition to using the correct viscosity, it is equally important to use the oil performance (such API SN or SN Plus) that your engine needs.  For some cars, you can also check the oil reservoir cap on the engine too as it may tell you which oil your car require.

Choosing the right engine oil is important, and it can mean the difference between years of smooth engine running or frequent engine problems. There are many engine oil brands in the market, with some offering very low prices. While the immediate cost savings may seem attractive, it is important to choose a quality engine oil to avoid engine problems which may arise when using lower quality oil. This can ultimately cause more inconvenience and may result in high repair costs.

It is thus imperative to choose a trusted engine oil with  API approvals, such as TriSonic™ UltiMach™ 10W-40, to ensure optimal performance and reduce problems.  Such engine oil has been tested by the American Petroleum Institute (API) (indicated by the ILSAC starburst and API doughnut) and passes the rigorous standards required of an engine oil that provides reliable and efficient performance. You can thus be assured of smooth performance and quality driving experience.