Oil, it’s one of the most important things aside from gasoline that you can put into your vehicle to make it run. Motor oil has many functions and special properties, but none of those are going to make much sense if you don’t know how to answer the question, “What is motor oil”? Simply put, motor oil is a lubricant that goes into the engine to keep the metal parts from getting too hot and destroying one another as they move.

But there is much more to engine oil than that.

Motor oil bottles image

What is Motor Oil Exactly?

Motor oil is made up of two parts: the base oil and additives. The base oils take up the highest percentage of space in motor oil and can be petroleum, synthesized chemicals, or a combination of petroleum and synthetic ingredients.

Petroleum is crude oil and is most often found in conventional engine oil, as well as synthetic blend motor oils. Synthetic oils, however, do not contain any petroleum, only engineered ingredients. These chemicals serve the same purpose as crude oil and have the same viscosity. The only benefit to using synthetic oil is that they end to lasts longer and also promotes better engine health.

A Brief History of Motor Oil

Engine oil may not seem like something with thousands of years of history, but it is. There is evidence of crude motor oil existing for over ten thousand years, although it was used for other things than combustion engines. When humans eventually discovered crude oil deposits, it revolutionized the world—and spawned the creation of moving vehicles. In the early days of automobiles, a lack of standardization led to varied lubrication techniques among manufacturers, resulting in inconsistencies and failures. Recognizing the need for uniformity, the Society of Automobile Engineers in the 1930s classified oils by viscosity, establishing SAE 30 as the standard engine oil.

World War II became a catalyst for advancements as testing revealed the necessity for additives to prevent oil thickening in high-stress conditions. Synthetic oil made its debut during the war, with Poly Alfa Olefins proving effective in preventing engine oil degradation. However, challenges arose with imposter oils causing issues with rubber oil seals, leading to unjustified criticism of synthetic oils.

The automotive industry’s focus shifted to poly-ol ester lubricants, initially used in jet engines for their strength and durability. Despite the high initial cost, poly-ol esters found wider adoption, especially in older and antique vehicles, as their preservation qualities became apparent. As popularity grew, prices dropped, making these lubricants more accessible and contributing to the ongoing narrative of engine oil innovation.

Is Engine Oil and Gasoline The Same?

Now, you may be slightly confused by the use of the word “petroleum.” Does that mean that the gas you put in your car to make the engine go and the oil used to lubricate those moving parts are the same thing?

Not exactly. Yes, both engine oil and gas are derived from petroleum, a naturally occurring fossil fuel found under the Earth’s soil. However, during the distillation and cracking processes, gasoline and motor oil are made, with gasoline using derivatives like naphtha to form.

So, while gas and conventional motor oil come from the same source, they have very different properties after refinement. Do not attempt to lubricate your engine with gasoline or to power your vehicle with engine lubricant. It will not work.

Final Thoughts on Motor Oil

So, what is motor oil? A lubricant for engine health that may come from crude oil or engineered ingredients with the same properties. Whether you use conventional or synthetic oil, one thing remains true: A gasoline-powered engine cannot do without it. As such, prioritize your vehicle by selecting high-quality engine oil.

Categories: Oil Guides


Hi, I’m Alastair. Welcome to SyntheticOil.me, a website for the best oil recommendations for your vehicle, whether it is a two-door sports car, SUV, hatchback, or tractor. Having grown up on a family farm and working as an engineer, I became interested in just about anything with an engine. I also found that motor oil, despite being essential for internal combustion engines, is overlooked, underestimated, or just misunderstood. There may come a day when motor oil is obsolete as electric vehicles become more and more popular. But until then, you are going to need to know the best type of motor oil for your vehicle. That is why I was inspired to create this website. SyntheticOil.me aims to be the internet’s destination for everything related to motor oil, including news, comparisons, features, and recommendations for vehicles by make and model. All the information you need to keep your treasured vehicles running clean is right here. In particular, I am also obsessed with the upkeep of vehicles in general. That is why you will also find troubleshooting tips for removing oil filters and drain plugs, for example. Consider it the mission of SyntheticOil.me to provide accurate information, as well as insight for automotive professionals and enthusiasts.


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