What Kind of Motor Oil Should I Use?

May 15, 2019
checking oil dip stick
It all comes down to personal preference. Below, we help you weigh the pros and cons of synthetic and conventional motor oil.

For consumers who are looking for ways to save money, motor oil may seem like a good place to cut some costs. While it’s relatively inexpensive as far as car maintenance goes, using the wrong oil can cause expensive problems in your vehicle. Read on to get answers to your questions about motor oil.

What motor oil do I need for my car?

Because engines vary so widely across makes and models, automakers recommend specific types of motor oil for each vehicle. Variations in viscosity, or oil weight, as well as ingredients will affect your vehicle’s longevity and performance. A standard oil weight of 10w30 means in cold temperatures the oil has a rating of 10, the “w” stands for winter, and once the oil has warmed up it has a rating of 30. The higher the number is, the more viscous the oil is. Engines need a thinner oil when they start-up in cold weather so it can easily coat the engine. As the engine gets hot, the oil becomes thicker, which lubricates the engine better.[1] Specifications for your vehicle’s oil needs can be found in your owner’s manual.

Synthetic oil vs. conventional: which is better?[2]

Not all oil is created equal, so in order to keep your car running properly it’s important you know what you’re getting—and what you need. Some newer cars, especially high-performance vehicles, require synthetic oil. It’s important you check your owner’s manual and find out exactly what you need.

Synthetic oils are processed to withstand extreme temperatures and take longer to break down. Taking a lot of short trips in your vehicle can prevent conventional motor oil from getting warm enough to function as needed. Living in a region with extremely cold winters or hot summers can cause conventional oil to break down faster. Drivers who deal with these conditions could find synthetic oil valuable to the life of their engine.

Remember that if your car uses synthetic oils, you shouldn’t use traditional oil, as it can compromise the longevity and performance of your engine. However, it’s fine to use synthetic oils in an older car that has previously only used conventional oil. It’s important that you read your owner’s manual and know what needs to go into your vehicle.

What makes synthetic oil different?[3]

From its molecular structure, synthetic oil is built differently than conventional oil. It’s still oil, but it’s been engineered for performance. Molecule size in synthetic oil is controlled with scientific precision. The uniform molecules cause less friction, an important feature in a lubricant. Synthetic oil also is cleaner and runs cleaner, due to refinement processes that remove deposits, and the presence of additives that can help clean the engine.

Between engine performance, environmental impact, durability, cleanliness and the potential for better fuel economy. There’s a lot to love about synthetic oil. However, while synthetic oil is generally considered the best for your car, the way it’s manufactured does make it more expensive.

How often should I change my oil?

Modern motor oil in newer vehicles can last much longer than the traditional rule of thumb “three months or 3,000 miles” interval.  Most cars now fall into an interval of 7,500 or 10,000 miles. Your owner’s manual is the best authority on what your vehicle’s engine needs. Several automakers are now including an oil monitoring system which alerts you when an oil change is needed based on driving conditions.[4]

Buying “cheap” motor oil

You don’t have to spend a fortune on motor oil; there are several ways to save money on motor oil without sacrificing the safety of your vehicle. They include:

  • Shop for oil at a wholesale club or at big-box discounters
  • Buy oil by the case, which usually offers some sort of discount
  • Join a rewards program at an automotive parts retailer, and you can typically earn rewards or get discounts on your future purchases

If you need multiple bottles of oil, it‘s cheaper to buy it in a one-gallon jug, although many people find such a big bottle difficult to handle. (You can always pour it into a smaller container when adding the oil to your vehicle, to keep from spilling it on the engine.)

You may find some great prices online, but look for a seller that offers free shipping. Since motor oil is a heavy liquid, you may find the shipping cost offsets any potential savings.

While we all want to save money, remember that it stops being a bargain the minute it causes damage to your vehicle. Knowing what to look for on the label can save you both time and money and give you peace of mind.

Now you know you have the right oil – but do you have the right car insurance? Learn more about the benefits of Nationwide auto insurance coverage, including auto insurance discounts.


[1] https://jalopnik.com/heres-the-difference-between-synthetic-and-normal-motor-1826240884

[2] https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/07/when-should-you-consider-synthetic-oil/index.htm

[3] https://www.idrivesafely.com/defensive-driving/trending/synthetic-oil-vs-conventional-oil

[4] https://www.edmunds.com/car-maintenance/stop-changing-your-oil.html

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