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Synthetic Oil: Sending Petroleum the Way of the Dinosaurs
Before the invention of synthetic motor oil in the 1930s, machinery was protected with not only petroleum but also rendered fat, vegetable oil, and even whale oil. Read on to learn how synthetic oil got cars moving more efficiently.
The widespread use of synthetic oils began in World War II, when massive tanks and jet fighters required a source of oil not tied to strategic regions in enemy hands. Under the high heat of a jet turbine or the bitter cold of a winter battlefield, naturally derived lubricating compounds could fail or freeze, but impurity-free, manmade oils churned along, and are currently capable of keeping a car's moving parts humming for up to 7,000 miles between changes.
As with many aspects of car maintenance, the use of synthetic oil in engines is a source of fierce debate among auto enthusiasts. Some tinkerers fervently tout the superiority of naturally derived lubricants, citing synthetic's relatively high cost or the tendency for early manmade compounds to leak. However, Popular Mechanics insists that modern synthetic oils run perfectly fine in most vehicles. Provided they refrain from loading up high-mileage or older vehicles with fully synthetic blends, car owners using synthetic motor oil may rest assured that their pistons are churning away safely and securely, even without the help of dead dinosaurs or rendered whales.