Engine Oil Guide: Everything You Need to Know

It’s important to know what oil is best for your car. The type of oil that you use in your car can have a significant impact on the performance of the engine and how much fuel you’re going to burn. Knowing which motor oil is best for your car will help keep it running smoothly and efficiently for many years.

Know how your engine works

The key to choosing the right motor oil is knowing how your engine works and what types of contaminants it is going to be exposed to during its lifetime. Your car engine will operate under many different conditions in its lifetime from cold startup, stop-and-go traffic, high speed highway driving and everything in between. To keep your car running smoothly, it’s important to choose the right motor oil that will protect your engine from the elements and contaminants.

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Check your owner’s manual

The best place to start when choosing an oil for your vehicle is by checking your vehicle owner’s manual and looking up what grade of oil is recommended for your vehicle. The manual will indicate what weight range of oil should be used. If you do not have your owner’s manual and would like to find out which grade of oil is recommended, contact your dealership or vehicle manufacturer directly.

Think about the environmental conditions where you drive most often

The motor oil that you choose should consider the environment that you drive in the most often. For example, if your primary vehicle use is in stop-and-go city traffic with short trips to the gas station, changing your oil more frequently may be a good choice.

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Use synthetic if you want maximum protection

The higher upfront cost of using synthetic oil vs conventional motor oil is well worth it. Synthetic oil will provide superior lubrication and protection from wear to your engine, especially during vehicle startup in cold weather. If you’re looking for maximum protection for your engine, synthetic oil is the best choice.

Consider higher mileage oil if you drive long distances

If you regularly drive more than 5,000 miles a year, using oil with a higher mileage rating will help prevent the buildup of acids and contaminants in the oil. Higher mileage motor oils provide better protection for your engine and can protect it against ring wear, which is a problem for engines that are regularly exposed to longer periods of time at startup.

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Consider extended service intervals

Many high performance cars come with a recommendation for extended service intervals. Your owner’s manual will tell you what interval is recommended for your vehicle. If you’re looking to save time and money, consider an extended oil change interval as it will save you the hassle of regular oil changes at the dealership and costly add-ons like synthetic oil, which can cost up to $10 per quart.

Use premium oil if you have an expensive vehicle and/or are concerned about engine life expectancy

If your car is an older model, using a higher quality oil, such as a synthetic or high performance motor oil, can help extend the life of the engine by providing better wear protection. Synthetic oils will also reduce oil consumption as they have a higher film strength.

Use filtering technology to keep your car protected from harmful contaminants

Some filters are designed to remove unwanted contaminants directly from the oil, protecting your engine while it is running. It’s recommended that you use these types of filters when using conventional motor oil with longer service intervals or if you’re using non-synthetic oil. On the other hand, if you’re using synthetic oil with shorter service intervals, the contaminants will be burned off by the high heat of your engine and will not need to be filtered out.

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Choose a viscosity that is appropriate for your motor and operating conditions

It’s important to know what viscosity is appropriate for your vehicle. Viscosity relates to how easily the oil flows when it’s at rest. If a lot of power or torque is generated quickly by your engine, using a higher viscosity motor oil will provide better protection as it can withstand more shearing force before being pumped out.

Consider synthetic wet clutch oil if you’re using your car to tow

Synthetic motor oil is not recommended for automatic transmission fluid or anything that needs a wet clutch such as all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles. Synthetic oils are preferred by these types of driveline components because they flow better than conventional oils under very low temperatures and high load conditions. Since most automatic transmissions are filled with conventional oil, it should be changed at regular intervals to avoid the buildup of contaminants.

Use nano-technology motor oil if you don’t want to overuse your car’s wet clutch

Studies show that using a nanotechnology motor oil can extend the life of a wet clutch. These oils are specially designed to allow them to fill in microscopic spaces so that they can lubricate the metal parts of your transmission and gears more effectively, which prevents wear and tear. When using conventional oil in these types of components, it will fill in the spaces on a larger scale and not be able to provide adequate lubrication.

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Choose an oil that meets your manufacturer’s specifications

When purchasing oil, make sure it has the correct number and viscosity rating to match the engine in your car. Some synthetic oils may come with special additives to help protect high performance engines like those found in a sports car. In some situations, this may not be ideal for a city car that’s mainly driven on the freeway.

Find out what oil is best for your car at the dealership or local mechanic

Knowledgeable staff can help you make an informed decision about which type of lubricant to use in your car. They will also be able to explain any warranty implications and tell you if using a certain oil is necessary for any other applications such as the power steering.

Different Types of Oil.

Know the different types of oil:  there are two main types of motor oils available,

  • Synthetic oil
  • Conventional Oil

Conventional Oil

Often referred to as “synthetic blend,” this type is ideal for drivers who do not drive more than 5,000 miles a year or do not want to pay extra for a high performance lubricant. It is usually a combination of synthetics and petroleum, which can cost as little as $4 to $5 per quart. Conventional oil is made up of several different types synthetic and petroleum components that have been blended together. These oils are less expensive than all-synthetic motor oils but also do not provide the same performance advantages of all synthetic oils.

Conventional oil is often used in the daily driven vehicles that are not subjected to harsh driving conditions, including stop and go traffic or heavy loads being carried on a regular basis.

Synthetic Oil

Typically referred to as “full synthetic,” this type of motor oil is designed for drivers who frequently drive their cars; it is more high performance and more expensive at between $5 to $10 per quart. 

This oil is typically made from a complex blend of hydrocarbons, polyalphaolefins (PAO), and various other synthetic chemicals that help the oil better resist heat, maintain viscosity over longer periods of time, provide increased protection and often lower engine wear.

Synthetic oils are ideal for drivers who drive a lot of miles, tow or haul loads, drive in stop and go traffic on a regular basis or live in extreme conditions (hot or cold). Typically synthetic oils will last 10 to 15 thousand more miles than conventional oil before they need to be changed; however the frequency of oil changes will vary based on how the car is driven.

However, synthetic oils do come with several drawbacks; they cost significantly more than conventional oil and need to be changed more often. They also require special handling during their disposal process, so many people opt for conventional motor oil instead of the higher priced synthetic options.

Understanding the SAE Ratings and the Viscosity Index

When talking about automotive oils, there are two main ratings used to describe them: the SAE Grade and the Viscosity Index. Here’s what they mean:

Look at the back of any bottle of motor oil, and you’ll see a number followed by a letter. The first part is an indicator for the SAE rating system which measures viscosity grades or categories – used to define how fluids flow in relation to the temperature. You’ll notice I said “fluids,” as this SAE rating applies to things other than motor oil too. The second part, the letter grade, is a measure of how an engine performs under different temperatures and loads.

The numbers (SAE 10w-30 or 20w-50) indicate how much weight is needed for a given oil to lose one degree Fahrenheit per hour. A lower weight number, like 5w-30, means that the oil will flow better at cold temperatures; 30 represents the approximate thickness of the oil at its thinnest point when it’s warmed up and ready to use (minus a few other key factors – more on those in a second). An oil with a higher weight number, like 10w-40 or 20w-50, might be too thick to start out with but will flow better once the engine has warmed up.

The letters (SAE JASO DH) represent the thermal and viscosity performance standard of the oils. A “J” grade, for example, indicates that it is suitable for diesel engines. A “DH” grade motor oil was built to the performance standard of American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D-975.

It’s important to remember that not all oils available are rated this way – some just have a single number like 5w or 20w. The SAE rating indicates that this is the minimum weight for the oil to flow well at low temperatures. So in short – a 5w30 will flow better than a 10w40 at start up, but maybe not as well as an 0w-20 over time when warmed up (as you can see by comparing their viscosity index ratings).

All of this gets a bit confusing, so I’ll try to simplify with an example. If you have a car that requires SAE 0W-20 rated oil (a newer, more efficient engine) and chooses between these three:

  • A 10w-30 weight oil
  • A 10w-40 weight oil
  • A 5w-20 weight oil

You might choose the first, but that’s not necessarily the right choice. The 10w-30 and 10w-40 will both flow better when cold, but are too thick for your engine when it’s warmed up. The 5w-20 flows well at start up and is thin enough to work with the demands of your 0W-20 engine. But…it might not flow as well when cold, which could cause problems if you live in a state with very cold winters.

Now, let’s take a look at the Viscosity Index (VI). The viscosity index is a number that represents how thick (viscous) an oil will be at a specific temperature. An oil with a higher viscosity index will be thicker at start up and require more energy to be pumped through the engine, but will flow better once things warm up – thus increasing fuel efficiency over time.

The number is given in two ways: VI followed by a temperature (85°C/150°F) or just VI simply. An oil with a VI of 100 would flow at least 10% better than an oil without that rating once warmed up to 150°F, while one rated lower than 90 will not meet the minimum standard for engine performance.

Think about this: if you live somewhere that gets cold in the winter, you’ll want oils that have high viscosity indexes. In hot weather, you’ll want lower numbers.

Here are the 4 ratings of some common oils:

  • 5w-30 SAE 30 = 100
  • 20w-50 SAE 50 = 88
  • 10w-40 SAE 40 = 85
  • 5w-20 SAE 20 = 72 
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As you can see, a 10w-40 is better suited for hot weather. If you lived in a really cold climate, like Alaska or Minnesota, you could use a 5w-20 to keep engine temperatures down and save on fuel – but it might get too thick at start up when things are colder outside.

So now the facts: 

The following chart gives a good example of what weight oil to use in different climates for optimum fuel efficiency, when matched with the appropriate viscosity index. Remember that these are just general guidelines – engine manufacturers know best and will suggest an oil’s specifications by brand name or model number in your service manual (you did save it, right?). But this is a great place to start…

Summer (DEER LAKE, NL):  0w-20 oil with a 82 VI Winter (WINNIPEG, MB): 5w-30 oil with a 105 VI

Winter (DETROIT, MI): 10w-30 oil with an 85 VI Summer (BURNABY, BC): 5w-20 oil with a 96 VI

So what does all this mean for you? It means that choosing the best motor oil requires more than just reading the label. You have to consider factors like weather and even your driving habits! Remember, if it’s not called for specifically by your car manufacturer, you might be spending more money every time you fill up than you have to.

Note: This information is provided in good faith and has been verified by a professional, but we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any of this information or its suitability for your particular situation. If you are unsure about something, please consult with an automotive technician before following this advice. The author will not be held responsible for any damage or injury that results from the use of this information.

Do engine oils have expiration dates??

Here’s something you don’t consider when buying motor oil: do engine oils expire? You may have noticed that some motor oils will have a date stamped on the bottle. The purpose of this stamp is to warn consumers that the oil should be used after a certain amount of time, typically one year. Unlike milk or aspirin, which can go bad, the chemical properties within oil don’t deteriorate with time. However, after time and exposure to heat (like being left in a hot garage) the additives degrade resulting in a less effective lubricant and increasing the amount of particulates that are released during combustion.

Why is it important to use the right kind of oil?

The oil that you put into your car is there to protect the engine from wear and damage. If you use a type of oil that isn’t meant for your car, the parts in the engine might not work as well or last as long. The motor oil will help keep the moving parts inside your engine lubricated and cooled down more effectively.

Will my car work with any kind of oil?

Not necessarily. The manufacturer of your vehicle will have their own recommendations as to which type of motor oil is best for your car and they’ll be the most likely source for this information. You can check the owner’s manual or ask a mechanic, too. If you’re not sure which motor oil is best for your car, listen to what the experts are telling you.

When should I change my oil?

This will depend on the manufacturer of your vehicle, but it’s a good idea to ask them how often you really need to change out the oil. If you’re not sure what to do after reading their recommendations, it’s better to listen to them – and in most cases, they’ll tell you when it’s time to put a new oil filter on your car.

How much should I spend on the right type of motor oil?

You can usually find great deals when you buy in bulk or get a case of different types. You may be able to save quite a bit of money when you buy in bulk, but you may also be stuck with motor oil that doesn’t fit your car at all. When it comes to putting the right type of motor oil into your vehicle, don’t skimp on quality.

The professionals will know what’s best for your car so listen to their advice and you’ll keep it running smoothly for a long time. Take care of your car and stick with the right type of motor oil and you’ll avoid a whole lot of problems down the road.

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