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Should you use synthetic oil in an RV?

By Thomas Johnson
President, JG Lubricant Services

“My buddy swears by his synthetic oil. He says it does a great job and thinks I should use it too.”

There’s something you may have overheard at the local auto parts store, around a campfire or, perhaps, you’ve read something similar on your favorite auto, pickup truck or RV enthusiast Internet forum.

Before you take your buddy’s advice, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my buddy know if he’s using a full synthetic or could it be some sort of “blend?
  • How does he know it’s doing a good job?
  • Does he have any data to back up his claims?

Don’t be fooled by the word “synthetic.” Though the word brings thoughts of wonderful lubrication performance, the definition has changed significantly over the years and could mean a lot of different things.

“Synthetic” really refers to the base oil used in the oil’s formulation. Oils are made up of base oils and additives. Base oils impart “beginning” or fundamental performance properties of the oil which includes such properties as”

  • It’s resistance to oxidation (thermal breakdown)
  • Initial viscosity (oil thickness at starting and operating temperatures)
  • Compatibility with seal and gasket materials.

Unfortunately, the term “synthetic” can mean different things to different people depending on their amount of knowledge concerning oils and how they’re manufactured including such things as crude oil source, crude oil type and method of refining.

Synthetics, basically have two “claims to fame.” They offer excellent cold temperature properties, and excellent oxidation (thermal breakdown) resistance.

Generally, you’ll pay a premium price for a true synthetic. Synthetics are designed, formulated, tested and validated to remain resistant to oxidation for very long periods of time. This means the oil molecules don’t breakdown as easily as some other conventionally refined oils may.

In essence, it generally takes a lot longer — more hours and/or more miles — before it begins to breakdown and form bi-products of oxidation, called “radicals” or other precursors to oxidation, that can end up in the form of a heavily thickened acidic sludge. It’s kind of like “shoe polish.”

Synthetics are generally more acceptable for extended drain intervals which is of great value to almost everyone and is most especially important to large fleets. In addition, as previously stated, synthetics are also very good at remaining pourable and pumpable at very low (sub-zero) temperatures. So, they’re good for engine starting at very low ambient operating temperatures.

Now for the million dollar question: Do synthetics really represent good value? The truth is that your buddy’s high dollar synthetic oil — the one you’re considering switching to — might be the “world’s best oil” and it may very well be worth every penny.

However, you need to understand that, if it thins out from an internal fuel leak that you’re unaware of or if it gets contaminated from an internal coolant leak caused by a cracked block, warped head or gasket leak or it gets contaminated by ingested water or excessive road debris, then it’s of very little remaining value and, unfortunately, in need of an immediate oil change.

The bottom line is that only an oil analysis can properly assess the true condition of lubricants, including synthetics.

It’s important to be religious about periodically sampling your vehicle lubricants and sending samples to a reputable testing laboratory for evaluation. A scientific oil analysis can help you maintain your vehicle lubricants.

Only oil analysis can make an accurate diagnosis and tell you, for sure, what’s going on inside your engine, transmission, gearbox, differential and generator. That analysis can show whether or not the oil, be it a synthetic or traditional type of oil, remains viable for further use.

Here’s a tip. Before you buy any recreation vehicle, especially a preowned unit, it’s a good idea to have a scientific fluid analysis completed. The results can often detect major problems with the engine, drive train and generator before other symptoms appear.

For more information on having an oil analysis performed on your vehicle’s lubricants, or if you just want to know more oil analysis, visit www.jglubricantservices.com.

To purchase oil analysis test kits and supplies, visit the online store at www.jglubricantservices.com/online_store.html.

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