Dear Car Talk:
I am an old geezer who probably has lived through 100 or more oil changes in my lifetime, always using regular motor oil. Now I own a 2014 Honda CR-V that I bought used with about 10,000 miles on it, and it's due for an oil change. The previous owner used synthetic motor oil. When I called the dealership to make an appointment, I asked about the difference between synthetic motor oil and regular motor oil. I was told that synthetic oil costs twice as much. For comparison, an oil-and-filter change using regular oil is $29.95. An oil-and-filter change using synthetic oil is $59.95.
I also was told that synthetic oil is recommended for my vehicle. In addition, they claim that synthetic oil lasts longer, so you can go longer between oil changes. However, as far as I know, the computer-controlled oil-life indicator on the vehicle makes no distinction between regular oil and synthetic oil. In my generation, the $30 difference between the two is no small amount. Is synthetic motor oil really worth the extra cost?
I think it is. In my experience, and in legitimate testing, synthetic oil consistently performs better than dinosaur-bone oil. It lubricates better, makes engines last longer, improves mileage and takes longer to break down under the heat of engine use.
A number of supposedly informed people say you can go nearly twice as long between oil changes with synthetic. If you did that, the cost would be the same over the life of the car. But you're right that your car's computer has no idea what you're putting in the crankcase. You could put a kale smoothie in there, and it'd tell you it's time for a new one after about 7,500 miles.The "maintenance minder" system in your Honda keeps track of things like the number of engine starts and how many revolutions the crankshaft makes. And when it believes that your four and a half quarts of conventional oil is getting dirty, breaking down and needs to be changed, it lights up an indicator on your dashboard.
If you use synthetic oil, you'll have to make your own decisions on when to change the oil and filter. You could go ahead and change the oil and filter when the light goes on, which is what Honda would tell you to do, and accept that you're just paying that extra $30 to get better engine protection and longer engine life. I'd be tempted to do that, too.
Or you can ask the Honda service manager for his or her recommendation. And ask him to make a note on your oil-change repair order when you're due for your next oil change, given that you're using synthetic oil. That way, Honda can never challenge you if you need a warranty claim someday by saying you didn't change your oil as often as Honda recommends.
If it were my car, I'd use the synthetic oil, Robert, and pay the extra $30. Using good, clean oil is one of the cheapest insurance policies you can buy for your engine. So, don't think of it as a wasted $30. Think of it as a hell of a deal on engine insurance.