It’s that time again—another three months (or three thousand miles) has passed, and your car is due for an oil change. Even if you know how to change oil in a car at home, choosing an oil to use can be intimidating. With auto stores stocked with shelf after shelf of options, picking the right one for your car can be intimidating. You might even wonder if it actually matters which oil you choose—and it does. The last thing you want to do is to pick one off the shelf and hope for the best.
Certain cars take certain types of oil. The best oil for your car depends on a number of factors, including the climate where you live, what kind of car you drive, and how many miles it has on it. If you find yourself wondering, “What kind of oil does my car take?” we’ve got you covered. Take the guesswork out of choosing an oil with this guide to what kind of oil cars take.
Choosing the Right Oil
Motor oil is essential to keeping your car or truck running smoothly. It protects the engine from overheating and wear and tear. Good oil can protect the engine and keep it lubricated and running smoothly, making sure your car lasts as long as possible. It keeps the parts moving and cool. Choosing the wrong oil can damage your car and shorten its lifespan—or immediately make it stop working completely. You’ll want to invest in an oil that does its job well—and that is made for your car. Before purchasing oil for your car, keep these things in mind:
The first place to look when you’re wondering, “What oil does my car take?” is the owner’s manual. It likely won’t specify a brand, but will lay out what types of oil are best for your car based on temperature, mileage, and how much you drive each day.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) seal of approval appears on every reputable bottle of oil. Look for one of two symbols: the “donut” symbol, or the “starburst.” These symbols show that the oil has been tested, meets API standards, and is certified to function as it claims. The “donut” symbol contains details such as the viscosity of the oil and whether it has passed the energy conservation test. Only buy oil that has one of these two symbols on the packaging.
The viscosity—or a fluid’s resistance to flow—is labeled on the API symbol. This designation shows how well the oil flows at 0 degrees F, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The viscosity usually includes two labels, indicating that the oil has been tested in both warm and cold temperatures. The first half includes a number and the letter “w,” which stands for “winter.” The number in front of the “w” indicates the oil’s cold-weather viscosity. The lower the number, the runnier the oil is at low temperatures. The second number refers to the warm weather viscosity. The higher the number, the thicker the oil will be at higher temperatures. Your vehicle’s handbook may specify which thickness is preferred in cold and hot temperatures.
When the weather is cool, oil needs to resist thickening so that it flows easily throughout your engine. If it is too thick, it will be harder to start the engine. A 5W oil is generally recommended for use during winter months or in colder areas. In the summer and in warmer climates, a higher viscosity is recommended to keep the oil from thinning out too much. Most cars usually need 5W-20 or 5W-30 oil, though some need 10W-30.
There are several types of oil, including conventional, semi-synthetic, and full-synthetic. Conventional oil is best for new cars, while synthetic oil is generally beneficial for high-mileage vehicles. Synthetic oils also tend to be more expensive.
You may be surprised to learn that oil, synthetic or not, isn’t the only component of engine oil. Some oils contain a blend of chemical and mineral additives designed to help cars run better and last longer. Additives may include viscosity improvers, anti-wear agents, corrosion inhibitors, friction inhibitors, and more. Know which additives are in the oil you select and how they can benefit your car.
Types of Oil for Your Car
Once you’ve read the recommendations in your car’s owner’s manual, understand the factors that go into choosing an engine oil, and know the viscosity range, you are ready to decide what oil your car will take. Outlined below are general guidelines to which oils work with different types of cars:
- Conventional oil: This kind is the least expensive, but offers few additives. Conventional oil is best for cars with lower mileages, especially if you plan on changing your oil frequently and regularly. If you have a brand-new car, spring for premium conventional oil. These oils are available in the common viscosities.
- Full-synthetic oil: Best for high-tech engines, these oils have been proven to offer superior, lasting performance and protection. They flow well when it’s cold and lubricate well in the heat. While full-synthetic oils work great, they are much more expensive than conventional oils and should be reserved for engines that need the extra boost and care, including older and high-mileage vehicles.
- Synthetic blend oil: These oils can be a best of both worlds, offering better protection to engines in extreme temperatures, while still being affordable. Synthetic blends are especially popular among SUV and pickup truck drivers.
The best way to decide which engine oil is best for your vehicle is to find out the manufacturer's recommendations, research available options, know your car’s needs, and make a decision. Changing your car oil and filter regularly will help you keep your engine running for many years to come.
Keep up with our blog to learn more about how to take care of your car and keep it running smoothly.