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Knowing synthetics can help quick lube sales

October 11, 2010
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Today, a growing number of quick lube operators are enjoying the advantages of synthetic lubricants in applications ranging from passenger car motor oils and automotive gear lubricants and more.

Part of the reason synthetic oils have become so popular is they provide extra protection under extreme operating conditions and offer the potential for extended service life (i.e., longer drain intervals) compared with conventional, non-synthetic oils.

Knowledge means selling

Not only do synthetic oils provide specific performance advantages over mineral oils, they also enhance any automotive service business by attracting clientele with high-end luxury and performance automobiles that want the best possible protection for their vehicles.

When deciding if you want to incorporate synthetic oils into your product or service offering, there are certain criteria to consider in order to ensure success, such as:

1. Get to know your synthetics

It’s important to learn as much as possible about the product you are offering in order to educate customers on the benefits of synthetic oils.

Let them know that synthetic lubricants are formulated by blending proven performance additives with synthesized base stocks.

Unlike mineral oils, which are complex mixtures of naturally occurring hydrocarbons, synthetic base stocks are manufactured by chemically reacting specific petroleum-derived materials to produce a compound with a controlled molecular structure and predictable properties.

In other words, synthetic base stocks are human-made fluids custom tailored to predetermined specifications.

The most commonly used synthetic base stocks for automotive applications are:

  • Esters,
  • Synthesized hydrocarbons such as polyalphaolefins (PAOs); and
  • Severely hydroprocessed mineral oils.

These synthetic base stocks are blended with carefully selected performance additives such as anti-wear agents, dispersants and rust and corrosion inhibitors to produce the finished synthetic lubricant.

The choice of additives depends on the intended application.

Although these additives are typically the same generic types of additives used in conventional mineral oils, they are carefully matched to a particular base stock to assure optimum performance.

2. They are designed to address specific performance issues

Because synthetic base stocks have carefully controlled structures, synthetic oils can be designed to address specific performance issues.

They are recommended for use in applications where operating conditions are too severe for conventional mineral oils, such as at very low or very high temperatures.

Synthetic base stocks typically have higher viscosity indexes and lower pour points than conventional mineral oils of similar viscosity.

Thus, synthetic oils can provide better oil pump-ability and easier starting at low ambient temperatures, resulting in less wear and potential fuel savings.

Synthetic base stocks don’t thin out as much at high temperatures, resulting in thicker oil films for better protection against metal-to-metal contact.

Quicker oil flow at low temperatures and thicker lubricating films at high temperatures can lead to reduced engine wear and longer engine life.

Synthetic oils provide better oxidation resistance and have better thermal stability at high temperatures compared to mineral oils.

This results in improved resistance to viscosity breakdown, fewer high temperature deposits, less oil thickening and longer service life.

Synthetic oils also have lower volatility at elevated temperatures, which can lead to reduced oil consumption and lower operating costs, as well as lower emissions.

Reduced oil consumption, fewer deposits, and better resistance to oxidation and oil thickening translate into longer service life compared with conventional all-mineral oils.

Finally, because they have carefully controlled structures, synthetic base stocks produce less fluid friction than mineral oils.

Less friction results in lower operating temperatures and a slower rate of oil oxidation, contributing to longer service life.

Although the contribution is small, less friction can help contribute to fuel economy savings.

3. What kinds of cars can (or should) use synthetics?

Automotive applications for synthetic oils include:

  • Passenger car;
  • Heavy-duty diesel engine oils;
  • Gear lubricants, and
  • Automatic transmission fluids.

Synthetic gear lubricants are used in passenger cars, light and heavy trucks, and some off-highway equipment.

They are also used in non-synchronized manual transmissions in trucks, buses, and some heavy equipment, as well as in manual steering gears, universal joints, and rear wheel bearings normally lubricated by automotive gear oil.

Compared with conventional automotive gear lubricants, synthetic gear lubricants offer greater year-round performance and, in certain applications, extended drain intervals.

4. What vehicle situations are synthetics best in?

Synthetic engine oils are recommended for vehicles operating under severe driving conditions such as extreme temperatures or towing, and for customers interested in maximizing oil drain intervals.

Of course, they will also provide enhanced engine protection in normal everyday service.

Many luxury and high-performance automobiles are factory-filled with synthetic motor oil and synthetic oils are recommended for service fill.

High mileage vehicles can also benefit from the use of synthetic oils that are specially formulated to provide the extra protection required by those vehicles.

Today’s automatic transmissions require higher quality fluids because of increased power densities, reduced sump size, and restricted airflow, which result in higher operating temperatures.

Although current generation ATFs will provide excellent protection in normal service, synthetic transmission fluids provide extra protection in severe service. They offer the potential for longer service intervals because they have better oxidation resistance and greater thermal stability than non-synthetic fluids.

5. In order to close the sale

Clients rely on the business owner’s knowledge and expertise in the automotive services industry to help to maintain their vehicles.

With this information at their fingertips, owners can help educate the consumer on the benefits of synthetic oils for their vehicles.

Although they are more expensive than conventional oils, synthetic oils can be very cost efficient because they provide increased protection under severe driving conditions and offer the potential for extended service intervals in certain applications.

Offering a higher quality product brings higher-level service that customers will undoubtedly appreciate.

A veteran with 28 years of experience in the petroleum and lubricants industries, Allan Perry is a technical specialist for the ConocoPhillips Product Management Team, Kendall Motor Oil brand, specializing in automotive lubricants, including Kendall engine oils, transmission fluids, and gear lubricants. Perry is an STLE Certified Lubrication Specialist (CLSTM) who has worked with ConocoPhillips and its predecessor companies since 1976.

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