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AAA Spills Truth On Oil Changes

Synthetic Oil Performs Nearly 50 Percent Better Than Conventional Oil In AAA’s Tests

Synthetic oil infographic

Consumers now can make a more informed decision about oil changes, thanks to new research on the quality of engine oil. AAA found that synthetic oil outperformed conventional oil by an average of nearly 50 percent in its independent evaluation, offering vehicles significantly better engine protection for only $5 more per month when following a factory-recommended oil change schedule. To protect vehicle engines, particularly those that operate in extreme conditions, AAA urges drivers to consider a switch to synthetic oil at their next oil change service.


“Oil protects critical engine components from damage and AAA found that synthetic engine oils performed an average of 47 percent better than conventional oils in a variety of industry-standard tests,” said Dave Skaien, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s AAA Approved Auto Repair Program. “With synthetic oil’s superior resistance to deterioration, AAA’s findings indicate that it is particularly beneficial to newer vehicles with turbo-charged engines and for vehicles like those in Southern California that frequently drive in stop-and-go traffic, tow heavy loads or operate in extreme hot or cold conditions.”


While only a limited number of vehicles specifically require synthetic oil, all vehicles can benefit from using synthetic oil. At an oil change service, many drivers are offered a choice between conventional or synthetic oil. However, in a companion AAA nationwide survey of U.S. drivers, 44 percent are either unsure (27 percent) or do not believe (17 percent) that the more expensive synthetic oil is better for a vehicle’s engine. Reasons cited for regularly choosing cheaper, conventional oil include feeling that synthetic oil is too expensive, offers no benefit, that the upgrade to synthetic oil is an unnecessary up-sell by a repair facility, or they are simply not offered the choice.


Switching from conventional oil to synthetic oil will cost the average driver $64 more per year, or an extra $5.33 per month. A survey of AAA’s Approved Auto Repair facilities reveals that the average cost of a conventional oil change is $38, while a synthetic oil change is $70. For those that change their vehicle’s oil themselves, the average cost of 5 quarts of conventional oil is approximately $28, while synthetic oil is $45. AAA’s survey also shows that vast majority (83 percent) of service professionals’ select synthetic oil for their personal vehicles.


“It’s understandable that drivers may be skeptical of any service that is nearly twice the cost of the alternative,” continued Skaien. “While manufacturer-approved conventional oil will not harm a vehicle’s engine, the additional $30 per oil change could actually save money in the long run by protecting critical engine components over time.”


The hesitation to select synthetic oil may stem from American distrust in repair facilities. Another recent AAA survey found that two-thirds of U.S. drivers do not trust repair facilities, with most citing concern over the recommendation of unnecessary services. Those looking for a trusted repair facility are urged to consider one that meet AAA’s high standards, including, technician certifications, ongoing training, financial stability, facility cleanliness, insurance requirements, rigorous inspections and customer satisfaction through the AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) program.


To find the nearest Auto Club AAA Approved Auto Repair facility and for a referral, visit  or call 1-800-713-0003.  Drivers may also download the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad, Android and Apple Watch to locate a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. AAA members also may drop by an Auto Club branch to pick up a directory listing of repair shops. There are approximately 7,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada. 


AAA’s engine oil research focused on eight industry-standard American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) tests to evaluate the quality of synthetic and conventional engine oils in terms of shear stability, deposit formation, volatility, cold-temperature “pumpability,” oxidation resistance and oxidation-induced rheological changes.


At the time of testing, all tested oils were licensed by the American Petroleum Institute and advertised to meet the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee’s GF-5 specifications. When selecting oil, it is critical to reference the vehicle’s owner’s manual to ensure that the oil meets the exact specifications for that particular engine.


CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.