There’s a reason we lavish extra care on classic vehicles. Yes, they can be quite expensive; yes, it can be challenging to find replacement parts when something goes wrong. But they’re also our babies. They’re a tangible memory from another era, often bringing back all the warm memories and feelings associated with years past. It’s no wonder classic car owners tend to be ever-so-careful about every aspect of maintaining their collector cars. And the synthetic vs. conventional oil debate has certainly spawned some heated disagreements in the past.
Yes, you can use synthetic oils in classics.
Although in years past, it wasn’t recommended because of a lack of information and because of certain compounds that could damage older engines, those concerns have been put to rest. Today’s synthetics are perfectly safe for a twenty-year-old Ford or a fifty-year-old Benz. In fact, they tend to work even more effectively than conventional oils, often lubricating certain parts of the engine better, resisting sludge, and generally lasting far longer before oxidizing and losing efficacy. Synthetics also tend to handle temperature changes better, and they’re more consistent on a molecular level than conventional crude oils (which are hardly modified at all after being pumped out of the ground).
Then why do some people say not to use synthetics in older vehicles?
Most of the anti-synthetic oil advice probably came from a time when synthetics just hadn’t been tested extensively in older vehicles. Many classic car lovers hold tight to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy of car maintenance and vehicle upgrades alike, so for years they were unwilling to change up their maintenance routine.
Another reason for the controversy? Some early synthetic oils from the 1970’s contained ester, a chemical compound that was capable of damaging engine seals. Ester in early engine oils even caused leaks in some engines. Those oils were quickly adapted and modified to ester-free versions which were tested repeatedly for their safety and effectiveness in all engines, old and new. Today’s synthetics no longer contain ester, and they’re all extensively tested to ensure they don’t cause damage to engines or seals.
Is it worth making the switch from conventional to synthetic motor oil?
That answer varies among owners of collector cars. For some, the enhanced performance and the longer lifespan of the oil itself makes it worth paying extra for a high-quality synthetic. For others, conventional lubricants do the job just fine, and the extra expense just isn’t worth it. When deciding whether to switch to a synthetic, keep in mind that you’ll likely have to perform fewer oil changes than you do with conventional oil, and that alone can offset the added expense of purchasing a synthetic. If you do decide to make the switch, make sure to stick to your manufacturer’s recommendations for oil viscosity.