The Right Stuff: Why Using the Right Oil Makes a Difference

What oil to use

Although it may shock some old-school drivers, if you’re not using the proper oil for your vehicle you could be cutting your fuel efficiency, paying more for repairs and possibly shortening the life of your engine.

That’s because most manufacturers have increased the fuel efficiency of their cars by making everything in them lighter. As engines have become lighter and smaller, oils have become lighter, so that they can move vehicles more efficiently.

And that may be just the start. Some experts say that oils are becoming more specialized. No matter what the future of lubrication holds, here are some key ways to protect yourself and your car:

1. Resist the urge to shop the sales

Sure, the oil your manufacturer recommends may be pricey, but you shouldn’t opt for another, similar grade of oil because it costs less the day you’re in the store, according to “Car Care for the Clueless” author Pam Oakes.

“Don’t do it,” she says. “It’s cheap for your wallet in the beginning when you’re pulling it off the shelf, but in the long run it’s going to get you because you’re going to have to be doing repairs because of the ineffective oil.”

2. Ignore old wives’ tales

Engines may have changed but some inaccurate perceptions linger on, according to Kevin Ferrick, manager of the Engine Oil Program at the American Petroleum Institute. Many still believe all oils are the same and the thicker the oil is, the better.

“That’s simply not true,” Ferrick says, “If your car is designed for 0w20 and you put in a 10w30, you’re not only going against your owner’s manual, you’re going to hurt your fuel economy.”

It’s also important to heed those distinctions because the way cars use oil has changed, Ferrick says. It still lubricates, but in some cars it now cools the engine and helps the hydraulic system operate.

3. Follow all your manufacturer’s oil recommendations

The suggestion not only covers the type of oil but the oil change interval as well, Ferrick says, adding, “If they say do it at 5,000 miles, do it. If your oil light monitor goes off and it says it’s time for an oil change, it’s time for an oil change.”

Failing to use the right oil and follow other recommendations may mean more than shelling out more for extra gas, it may also mean having to pay more for repairs stemming from improper lubrication, Oakes says.

4. Make sure your mechanic is using the right stuff

Even if you are committed to using the right oil, your car still could be at risk if you have a garage where some mechanics prefer to use cheaper bulk oil. If you have a favorite garage, ask what they use. If not, call around until you find a garage that uses the oil your car needs.

5. Get it in writing

Ferrick urges owners to take their vigilance one step further and get the type of oil written on the receipt, especially if the car is still under warranty. Should a problem arise, this will help the owner prove that the manufacturer’s recommendations were followed. Not only is it required by law in many states, but it could provide further protection.

“If you have a car under warranty, you need that information to prove you maintained your car according to manufacturer specifications,” he says.