Pickup Trucks 101: Synthetic or Conventional Oil?

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By Matthew Barnes

Changing fluids in a pickup truck has been necessary since the first one rolled off the assembly line more than 100 years ago. Vehicles — and what goes into them — are constantly changing and improving, especially in the last 20 years. With so many types of oil available, we're focusing this installment of Pickup Trucks 101 on the best motor oil to use for pickup trucks.

Keep in mind that many of the strategies that apply to motor oil carry over for most of the lubricants used in your pickup. The types of available gear oil, transmission oil (for manual transmissions), transmission fluid, transfer case oil and even grease for greaseable joints will have performance advantages similar to the types of motor oil discussed.

The Purpose of Oil


For most vehicles, oils are used for lubricating and dissipating heat; grease in mechanical joints are the main exception to this, as their focus is on lubrication with cooling being an extra property. Having clean lubricants is imperative for a vehicle to function properly.
While there is a variety of differences between oil and grease brands and ratings, there are two main properties to look at: viscosity and base oil.

Oils receive single-grade and multigrade ratings, with multigrade being the more common option today. Multigrade oils contain additives that allow them to have a winter and summer rating. For example, in 10W-30 oil — in which the "W" means "winter" — behaves like an SAE International 10 viscosity rating at low temperatures and an SAE 30 viscosity rating at high temperatures.

Some vehicles today require or recommend the use of synthetic oils, but if a vehicle doesn't, is it OK to use synthetic oil? What are the fundamental differences between synthetic and conventional oils? Do synthetic and conventional oils have different oil change intervals.

Conventional Oil

Conventional oil has been used for almost as long as internal combustion engines have been around. While conventional oils have improved considerably over time, they still use the same crude oil base as they did 100 years ago. Crude oil has a lot of naturally occurring, unwanted compounds that remain after processing. These impurities can be detrimental to the oil's function. Additives in new conventional oils override some — but not all — of those impurities and they function much better than the oils of yesteryear.

The main benefit of using conventional oil instead of synthetic is cost. Conventional oil is significantly less expensive than synthetic. If conventional oil is changed on a regular schedule, it will work fine for most vehicles.

The downside is that conventional oil breaks down quicker than synthetic and doesn't hold up in high-heat applications. And for pickups used in rough terrain, for heavy towing or those that experience long intervals between oil changes, conventional oil will not provide the same level of protection as a synthetic oil.

Synthetic Oil

Synthetics french 2

Synthetic oils have been around since World War II, but they've started to boom in the last 10 to 15 years. Synthetic oils are made from more refined raw materials such as mineral oil.

The benefit of synthetic oil is that it is purer and allows for a wider viscosity range. For example: While 0W-40 is readily available in a synthetic, the biggest range commonly found in conventional oil is 5W-30. Synthetic oils also don't degrade as easily at high temperatures, they flow better at low temperatures, have better shear properties and hold their properties longer than conventional oils. Synthetic oil also reduces friction within the engine, promoting better fuel mileage, and you don't have to change it as frequently.

Both conventional and synthetic oils have additives to reduce sludge buildup, keep the engine clean and reduce corrosion. Because synthetic oil holds its properties longer, the additives will also last longer. All of this equates to better engine protection and longevity.

The downside is that synthetic oil costs significantly more than conventional oil. If you consider only cost, synthetic oils will be more expensive; however, when you factor in better fuel economy and reduced engine wear, synthetic has the potential of saving you money.

Which Oil Is Best?


There are many opinions about which oil you should use in your pickup. Always use what the grade the owner's manual recommends or better, and follow the manufacturer's oil change interval.

So, is it OK to switch between conventional and synthetic oil? Again, if the oil in the engine meets the specs laid out in the owner's manual, you can use conventional, a synthetic blend or full synthetic oil, and switch between them as desired. The oils can even be mixed, if needed.

When doing an oil change, you should use one type of oil, but if you are a quart low and the gas station doesn't have your favorite brand of oil, pick one that meets the specs listed in the owner's manual and you should be fine.

Some consumers have complained that after switching to synthetic oil their vehicle began leaking more oil. While this is possible, it only happens when there is an underlying condition, such as a bad seal that blocked the used conventional oil, but doesn't block the new synthetic.

AAA found that synthetic oils outperformed conventional oils in eight ASTM International tests by 47 percent. In short, it's almost always better for the engine, and other components, to use synthetic oils and greases for all the lubrication needs of a pickup. Also, be aware that some oil filters are specific to synthetic or conventional oils.

If you are on a tight budget, then conventional oil may better suit your needs. Not only is the oil less expensive, but the oil filter can be less expensive as well.

Cars.com photos by Angela Conners and Evan Sears; manufacturer images


There are two oils that are now best, bar none:
1) Amsoil
2) Royal Purple

After 25 years of "Mobil 1" (which was quite good), I switched over the Royal Purple for EVERYTHING (Trans, Diff, Engine).

What a detectable difference!!


Run pennzoil synthetic for 20K miles before I change my oil. The filter gets changed every 5K miles. I sell my trucks when they reach 250K and never had a problem doing oil changes this way.

Use what the manufacturer recommends.

Royal purple for me, never looked back, not sure why people still use the conventional oil anymore. The manufacturer recommends the min, you can however, do more, go above and beyond. Good article!


Newer vehicles require synthetic oil and it is best to stick with that. If you have an older vehicle with high mileage and it is on conventional oil then it is probably best not to switch to synthetic oil. Many years ago it was not advisable to use synthetic oil because it would go out the seals but that is not a problem on today's vehicles. I use Mobil 1 5w30 on my 2008 Isuzu I-370 and Castrol GT 5w30 on my 99 S-10. My wife's 2013 CRV uses a 0W20 synthetic oil. My middle brother back in the late 70's to mid 80's used Mobil 1 in his company cars and didn't change the oil until 20k. He would get 250k miles out of his cars which were mostly highway miles and the engines were still like new and did not burn or leak oil.

meant Castrol GTX 5w30. Good oil for conventional oil.

Today's synthetic blends are almost as good as pure synthetic (and cost almost as much). It's less important whether is full synthetic or not than it is what sort of additives and detergents are added by the manufacturer.

Back in the 1990s I think, Consumer Reports did an extensive evaluation of this discussion and they found that regular Pennzoil was superior to every product tested except Mobil 1. They called it a tie.

It's been at least 20 years since I looked it but that is my recollection of it. I started using Mobil 1 back then and never looked back.

Part 2

Consumers said that all oils have the ability to lubricate metal, but not all oils stay in their original grade (i.e., 10-w-30) for the life of the oil change.

If the oil thickens during that time it is a big problem for folks who live up north in the winter. Oils that thin out create another issue.

They said the additives cause this to happen.

Oils also have the ability to suspend metal fragments in the oil. Otherwise they'll pile up in the oil pan (not good). If the fragments are suspended in the oil, the filter will catch them as they pass through the medium. If the filter's by pass is allowing too much oil to get through, those fragments stay in circulation.

Good filters won't do that. Buy good filters.

Compared to what you spend on depreciation, insurance, gasoline and taxes, oil (and filters) are cheap.

Use 100 % synthetic motor oils. These oils are less prone to breaking down under extreme heat or RPM than conventional oils.

Mobil 1 is good if you like throwing away money, but I find Castrol is superior at half the price.

A few years back a friend of mine put me in contact with an AMSOIL dealer. I have use AMSOIL products in all my vehicle since and have never had any issues with any vehicle I have owned. my 2004 Duramax has 685,981km with no issues, I use their engine oil & filters, transmission fluid, gear lube and fuel additives. I tow a 38 ft fifth wheel in the hot summer months and my truck runs cool I have never look back

2 things the article should have covered; the specific differences in different oil filters and the fact that synthetic doesn't burn as good as conventional oil. This is the reason royal purple split there oil up into 2 versions, one meeting the manufacturer standards, and the other with higher zinc content. Zinc is like an enbalming fluid for metal, good for an engine, bad for a catalytic converter. If you miss the old royal purple with more zinc and synleric, you can special order royal purple hps. Amsoil is good too. Gm tends to lean towards ExxonMobil. Ford has motorcraft, but would use castrol as 2nd choice. FCA leans toward SOPUS (shell oil products united states), which is shell, pennzoil, quaker state, rain-x, and jiffy lube. But the interesting question I have to get one thinking is, if synthetic doesn't burn as good as conventional, should I use a higher octane fuel to offset that? I use pennzoil 5w-20 synthetic and she'll 93 in my hemi.

should I use a higher octane fuel? Posted by: Josh | Nov 9, 2017


this is a story about lubricants.

regarding gasoline, you should refer to your owners manual. If the car/truck needs 93 or 91 that's what you should use. If 87 is ok, you're wasting money using higher octane fuel.

Oil and filters are much cheaper than a new engine. Preventative maintenance will extend the life of your vehicle and you will be more likely to keep it. I have a 99 S-10 that runs like new and I have had few issues with. I did spend some money recently repairing a rust spot on the drivers side below the extended cab. The metal was cut out and a new piece of metal was welded in. The body man also put rust inhibitor and rust proofing on the new metal and I paid him to do the same on the frame since he had to remove the bed to do the body work. I also replaced the grill and had a full size rim which I provide put on to replace the compact spare. The body man said that customers came into the shop and could not believe that my truck was a 99 and that the paint was original. Some though that I had it restored but it is all original and I am the original owner.

One more thing what is the difference and why is there full synthetic and advanced full synthetic? Just how conventional is conventional nowdays when you consider manufacturer specs such as a ram 1500 oil change interval of 10,000 miles on conventional? The 2012 and older rams was 6,000 for easy driving and 3,000 for severe. I would think that most modem conventional is closer to being a less than half synthetic blend. Another question, is high mileage oil a gimmick? Fram's high mileage oil filter with time released gel was a gimmick. I see pennzoil brought out a synthetic high mileage to compete with valvoline and Mobil 1.

Since most people don't respect their vehicles, and don't let the engine warm up, even for just 30-60 seconds; opt for a 0w-20, 0w-30, or 0w-40.

@Jeff S

You know I love S10s, but I hope you didn't spend a bunch of money on a 1999 doing professional bodywork.

Those trucks will never be collector's items and the used car market for a 18 year old S10 is squat.

I would have used fiberglass cloth and Bondo and water-sanded the paint so you could not see the difference in the gloss coat from any angle.

Less than $50 bucks and a six pack of cold PBR.

Below is my pick on oil filters matched to oils from my opinion in least best to best. Tell me if you agree or disagree.

Wix with chevron/havoline
Fram with valvoline
Purolator with pennzoil/quaker state
Shell Rotella with shell Rotella
Bosch/Bosch distance plus with castrol gtx/castrol edge
Mobil/Mobil 1 with mobil/mobil 1
Royal purple with royal purple
Amsoil with amsoil
Motorcraft with motorcraft
Ac delco with mobil/mobil 1
Mopar with shell/pennzoil/quaker state

@Papa Jim

Not just should I use a higher octane, but should I use a higher octane with synthetic considering synthetic doesn't burn as good?

@papa jim--Jeff S spent less money on work on my truck than you spent on Mobil 1.

@George C

I would use 0w-40 if my ram wasn't picky. I have to run 5w-20 for mds (multi displacement system) to work correctly. It's a technical service bullitin. The ecotec3 5.3 uses 8 qts of 0w-20 in the gm twins.

Man I remember when a 5qt jug use to cost around $9-10. Prices have gone up and a good 5 qt synthetic jug today can run you about $40. I use Castrol Edge on my newer truck. But I also own a 1986 F-150 with I6 that has been running conventional for 30+ years, is at 240k and still going strong.


My 1988 S10 got Mobil 1.

When it was 10 years old and it had 180k miles on it, we had a bad collision.

Body was toast. Motor was still perfect. Trans was still perfect.

I get it.

Conventional oils have come a long way. The only real reason to run synthetic is for longer change intervals but I dont' put the miles on that fast and you really need to change the filter every 5-7K anyway so I would rather do more frequent changes.

I feel if I had a turbocharged engine, synthetic and high octane is a no brainer. I laughed at a guy with a 3.5 ecoboost for using a regular Purolator with regular havoline. If I wasn't using motorcraft oil and filter minimum, it would be a Bosch distance plus with castrol edge or mobil 1. I felt bad for those turbos.


40 dollar jug of oil....?

Two words.

1. Wall
2. Mart

at my store the Mobil 1 is about half the price you're talking about.


That's not the joke. The joke is owning an Ecoboost.

Putting synthetic in a Ecoboost would be like putting a silk hat on a pig.

100% synthetic = Amsoil

Full synthetic = all that other junk

Learn the difference.

@ Papajim. You were doing so well right up till the ecoboost comment. Dont worry your 5.3 wont need synthetic. No real engine strain driving around the trailer park. Next you will be telling us how using synthetic and a good oul filter in GM peoducts will boost their stick price. As far as oils go I only use Shell Rotella T6 syntheiic in my diesel and will only ever use Motorcraft filters. I also get an oil analysis done every third oil change. My Hondas get full synthetic and mobil 1 filters.

*^stock price. Man I cant type for crap on my phone

Only good oil is the fresh oil, change it often if you own a Ford ecocrap or else you'll have 10 plus hours of no fun engine repairs head. Just to save that cheap china slappy timing chain from busting.

and will only ever use Motorcraft filters. I also get an oil analysis done every third oil change. My Hondas get full synthetic and mobil 1 filters.

Posted by: Smokin’ a 6.2 | Nov 9, 2017 5:21:55 PM

Says a Ford nut hugger, why no OEM Honda oil filters on your Honda? Give it up your a Ford bragger loser, that's just what you are 2nd place to GM. HAHAHA! Do what ever it is you need to do to keep trying to make Ford money, just so you know Ford still bleeding money.

Since most people don't respect their vehicles, and don't let the engine warm up, even for just 30-60 seconds; opt for a 0w-20, 0w-30, or 0w-40.

Posted by: George_C

New trucks can drive right away even not fully warmed up,,
As long as the oil presure is ok,,
only time I wait few minutes is when temperature is very cold,,at minus 30 it took about 3 seconds for oil presure to come up..
Only reason to wait longer is for defroster heater to blow hot air..

I Always use what vehicle manual recomends 5W 30 or 10W 30,,change once a year or 10klicks..
Never had engine problems

@ johnny GED. I see you mommy let you play on the computer tonight. I use motorcrafr in my diesel because its a filter cartridge not a spin on u dope. If you actually knew anything about enginge you would know that. And the fact that the motorcraft ones are the inly ones that fit correctly in the filter housing. Now GFY

@smokin a pink cigar

So you're taking off the gloves.

Trailer park? You keep referring to the 5.3 Are you uptight because you don't have a V8?

You must be part of the elite turbo six country club crowd.

@ papajim That would be V8 turbo Diesel. Although i do have a silky smooth J35 In my Accord Coupe that your weak 5.3 would be sucking my exhaust into its intake. I will look you up the next time im down in sunny Florida

Wake up GM owners. The only reason GM, and others, "recommend" Mobil One is because they get paid to do so. I use Castrol SynTech in all my engines from cars to boats to motorcycles to lawn mowers.

Never had any car engine fail due to the selection of the oil used, in over 40 years of owning and driving cars.

Hard to argue with my logic. It's not like you can actually see the difference between oils

Truth of the matter is, as soon as Wal-mart's super cheap Super Tech synthetic shows up on the shelves being 4718M certified, it's just as good as M1 or Castrol or Amsoil. And it meets the powertrain and emissions warranties.

I get paid to market Mobil 1 at the dealership I work for.

I buy Wal Mart Brand oil and change every 25K miles. Never had a problem .

Arguing over oil...meh.
Use what you want.
I use a high-zinc Royal Purple in the flat tappet and race roller engines. I use Mobil 1 in the rest. Don’t like it? Don’t care.
Base stocks of synthetics are important.
I have never and will never understand extended oil change intervals. It is the cheapest longevity extending item you can do for your engine and trans. I paid $500 to have the trans flushed at 50,000 Miles. The dealer said it is a “lifetime” fluid. Who’s lifetime and does it harm the trans? My money, flush the trans.
Recycle the oil and you are just spending a little money.
As to fuel, if you can actively scan and watch the timing, you’ll find many cars do perform better with mid grade, especially in summer. The Hemi is different and it will actually pull timing with 93, a little with 91, but none with the recommended 89.

Easy there GM supporters...., you were doing so well...., until someone mentions something about a Ford truck. Then, you go downhill. Oh well....


I have used regular ole Valvoline 10w-30 in my 2001 4.7 liter dodge Dakota since new and have 430,000 miles on the same engine, and counting. change the oil and filter every 5000 miles and do it myself not trusting the quick change monkeys.

@papa jim--I am not keeping the S-10 as a collector truck, I use it. I spent about 2k but I plan on getting another 5 years out of it. Much less expensive to spend 2k on some body work than thousands on a truck with unknown history that needs extensive mechanical work. I use the S-10 a lot especially for hauling stuff off and it is paid for. I have taken care of it and it is more reliable than many newer vehicles because of the care. I had a Monte Carlo for 18 years and my wife had a Honda Accord for 17 years.

@Jebsdaddy--There are many vehicles like yours that have used conventional oil and have 100's of thousands of miles on them with no engine failures. There was an article back in the early 80's about an old man who had an airport chauffeur service in New York City driving a 56 Cadillac Fleetwood with over a million miles on convention oil and frequent oil changes. The Cadillac had its original motor and it had never been overhauled and the body and paint were original. The car was washed and waxed on a regular basises and the old man used the severe maintenance schedule because he used it daily and put a lot of miles on it. I worked with an oil man in the early 80's who had a 75 Cadillac DeVille that he kept the maintenance with regular oil changes on conventional oil with over 200k miles--the car looked brand new and it ran like new. The oil man told me at one time he had a 56 Cadillac with 400k miles that he kept the same way--both cars had mostly highway miles.

@papa jim--Mobil 1 is $30 with tax at Walmart, not almost $20. I am glad you sell Mobil 1. I am not in sales.

@big truck

you don't sound too big to me!

Here's mobil 1 for 22 bucks.


Don't forget the filter!


So you really spent TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS on cosmetic repairs on a 1999 S-10... Please confirm.

I have a bridge to sell you

$2,000 is not much if the truck is in decent mechanical condition and it is your pride and joy.


The small patch of rust that was repaired on his truck could be fixed with spray paint and Bondo for less than 50 dollars. It was in a spot that really isn't that visible.

A really clean S10 with popular options can be had for less than $5000

The math doesn't work.

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