How to Choose the Right Motor Oil for your Car

There's an old TV commercial where a man is driving a car spewing smoke. Someone off camera asks him what kind of motor oil he uses. He replies, "Motor oil is motor oil." And he drives off in a cloud of smoke. Knowing how to choose the right automotive motor oil can be tricky, especially if you are not familiar with the different types available. In this article, we share information to help you choose the right motor oil.

There are many options to choose from when purchasing motor oil. While some drivers only check viscosity to determine what type is suitable for their car, it is essential first to understand what role oil plays in an engine's performance, as well as its age and number of miles driven.

The Four Main Types of Motor Oil

There are four main types of motor oil available in the market today. Which one to choose depends on a vehicle’s age and mileage.

Conventional Oil

Some older cars use the most common and cheapest type; made from refined petroleum or crude. Manufactures recommend this type for those who change oil often, four times a year or every 3,000 miles. This oil breaks down quickest of the three types.

Synthetic Oil

Manufacturers claim this type of oil is more uniform with fewer impurities. Made for high-tech engines, it is typically more expensive than conventional oil and performs better in low and high temperatures. Cars using synthetic motor oil need oil changes once a year, or after 10,000 to 15,000 driving miles

Synthetic Blend Oil

This type combines conventional and synthetic oils. If you are planning to switch from conventional to synthetic oil for your vehicle, this can be a good transition oil. More expensive than traditional oil but less than full synthetic, synthetic blend has more durability than conventional oil but not the performance level of synthetic. It provides better protection for pick-up and SUV engines and is pricier than premium conventional. Oil change frequency is recommended at 7,500 miles or twice a year.

High-Mileage Oil

For an older vehicle or one with more than 75,000 miles, this motor oil helps minimize leaks and improve performance over time due to the added seal conditioners.

Label Meaning

Before selecting any oil, review the weight recommendations in your owner’s manual, and adjust it for the weather where the car is most frequently driven. Do the differences on the package labels merit review and paying closer attention? The answer is yes; let's try to understand it.

These are the different types of oil certificates:

* American Petroleum Institute (API)—is best-known because it certifies the contents meet original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standards.

* Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)—uses a numerical system to grade motor oils viscosity.

* International Standardization Approval Committee (ILSAC)—used by American and Japanese car makers.

* European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA)—associated primarily with European manufacturers.

API Certification

The API Certification mark is known as the “starburst” and its Service Symbol, the “donut.” Click Here to view more detailed information. The “donut” has three parts:

  • API Service – describes the performance levels
  • SAE W- – identifies the viscosity range
  • Resource Conserving – energy conserving potential

Recent API ranks use “S” and “C” categories for gasoline or Diesel fuel.

S-category ratings are the following:

  • SN-Plus – licensing began May 2018
  • SN – for newer cars, combining sludge control and seal compatibility
  • SM – for 2010 and older engines
  • SL – for 2004 and older engines
  • SJ – for 2001 and older engines

Diesel engines, C-category is further divided into:

  • CK-4 – high-speed, four-stroke cycle diesel engines
  • CJ-4 – diesel engines older than 2010
  • CI-4 – diesel engines older than 2002
  • CH-4 – diesel engines older than 1998

The most used grades currently are 5W-30 and 10W-30; W designates “winter” grade.

Consider all these factors before choosing the right motor oil. Service shops will generally select what’s works best for the vehicle when changing the oil, but if an individual opts to do it him or herself, asking for professional advice before making a selection can help.

How Often Should Car Oil be Changed?

There is little agreement regarding the necessary frequency of oil changes. Quick-lube companies recommend 3,000 while manufacturers fluctuate between 5,000 – 7,500 miles, and environmentalists say it’s 10,000 miles. Generally speaking, it works to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Motor oil damages the environment; never drain or dump the old oil onto the ground. After finishing an oil change, recycle the old oil by taking it to an auto service shop or oil collecting site. Visit Earth 911 to find a recycling center near you; type “motor oil” in the search box and your zip code to see different locations in your area.

These guidelines facilitate smoother and environmentally friendlier driving and will extend the life of your vehicle.

You should also think about safety when on the road, and Infinity Insurance can help you with that. Call one of our friendly agents at 1-800-INFINITY to find out about our auto insurance plans or visit our website to receive a quote in minutes.

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