Vehicle Oil Types
We use a wide variety of fluids to keep our vehicles on the roads. Coolants, brake fluid, and other hydraulic fluids, windshield washer fluid, steering fluid, transmission fluid, you name it. Obviously, gasoline is the most used fluid. A close second, though, is motor oil. While your car won’t run without fuel, it won’t run well without oil. It lubricates the engine and keeps it moving.
This means making the right choice in motor oils can make all the difference in getting a long and fruitful life out of your car, truck, or SUV! Along with changing the motor oil when necessary, choosing the right type is one of the keys to providing your car with a long, healthy life span. Do it right, and you may be able to get thousands of extra miles out of your vehicle. Do it wrong? You may end up knocking years off of your car’s useful life or have to spend more on repairs often. So what types of oil are out there, and what do you need to know to make the right choice?
What Types of Oil Are There?
Maybe you think oil is oil. And that’s fair – it rarely is part of the car-buying or even maintenance discussion. But not all oil is “just” oil, and not all oils are created equal. It’s not a matter of “good” versus “bad” oils. Instead, it’s a question of “right” versus “wrong,” It is on a case-by-case basis. Everything from the car’s age to driving conditions to the climate you drive plays into oil choice.
There are five notable types of oil out there:
- Conventional Oil: This is the most common oil on the market and generally the least expensive option. It is refined crude oil without any additives. It’s not necessarily inferior, as it still has to adhere to SAE standards. However, it is the most basic and offers the most basic lubrication and protection. Conventional oils are good for vehicles with low mileage, but they will receive frequent oil changes past their breaking-in period. Some classic and antique vehicles may be the go-to, as those vehicles were built to use these oils, and advanced oils may not provide the best results!
- Premium Conventional Oil: Take that conventional oil and add in some detergents and other chemicals for some additional lubrication and protection, and this is what you get. Many brand-new cars feature premium conventional oils when they come directly from the factory, although carmakers are now going with synthetics more and more these days. These oils are more expensive than conventional but less expensive than synthetic. They are good for any modern vehicle, at any life stage.
- Synthetic Oil: There use to be a fair bit of mistrust for synthetic oils. Over the years, as drivers and mechanics have learned more about them, that mistrust is misplaced. These are generally the most expensive; however, the price gap has shrunk considerably over the years. In particular European models such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen, some vehicles and high-end performance vehicles and hybrid cars come from synthetic oil factories. Synthetics tend to be the best choice in extreme temperatures, extreme driving situations, extreme tolerances. Switching to synthetic from conventional is usually fine, but it’s best to continue using full synthetic in vehicles that come with it. Going against the maker’s recommendation could potentially void a warranty.
- Synthetic-Blend Oil: Sitting between premium conventional and synthetic oils, blends are mostly conventional, with a little bit of synthetic mixed. This formulation helps engines deal better with rougher driving and slightly extends the interval between changes, but nowhere near as much as a full synthetic. It offers some of the positives of going full synthetic without the full price jump. It’s a good “middle ground” solution for the driver debating making the switch.
- High-Mileage Oil: Not a specific composition; this can be either synthetic or conventional. It features seal conditioners that help increase internal engine seals’ flexibility that may have deteriorated over time. These oils are aimed at cars with 75,000 miles or more on their odometer and don’t specifically call for special formulations.
What Does Viscosity Mean?
Viscosity is the oil’s resistance to flow. It indicates how much it thickens and thins, depending on the temperature. There are two different ways you may find viscosity noted when buying oil.
A simple SAE number, ranging from SAE 20 to SAE 60, has long been the go-to. This indicates a single-grade motor oil that is measured at the approximate engine operating temperature of 210 degrees. The higher the number gets, the slower the oil flow will be. This is particularly important in cold-weather environments, as the slower flow will take longer for oil to flow to the necessary parts from a cold start. In warm environments, the ambient temperatures will help the oil stay viscose and flow easier, so a higher SAE is usable.
Multi-viscosity oils have attributes that help at differing temperatures through the use of a polymeric viscosity modifier. This means you can’t just use a simple SAE number. They need to be differentiated to indicate the different levels of protection. This is done through using multiple indicators – the common form being something like “10W-40.” In this case, the number before W refers to how the oil behaves in the winter, while the second number is comparative to the SAE numbers. Having a multi-viscosity rating of 10W-40 means that in the winter cold, it will act as though it has an SAE rating of 10.
Using the polymeric modifiers, this oil will then behave in warmer conditions as though it has a rating of SAE 40. For those who live in areas with wide temperature fluctuations throughout the year, these types of oils tend to be more useful. This helps prevent having to perform seasonal oil changes.
What are Some Myths and Truths About Changing Oil?
There is a mix of myths, truths, and old mechanic’s tales regarding oil changes. What are some of the prevalent ones out there?
Change Your Oil Every Three Months or Every 3,000 Miles
The average driver doesn’t need to change their oil this often. This rigid schedule should only be adhered to by emergency vehicles, vehicles driven hard, or vehicles with constant commercial usage, such as delivery trucks. There is one caveat, though, that also sort of explains where this idea grabbed hold. If you are using plain, basic conventional oil with no additives, you will need to change the oil every 3,000 miles. This isn’t because of your vehicle through – these oils lose their effectiveness after 3,000 miles of driving. That’s why the myth persists because folks who grew up needing to change the oil every 3,000 miles because of inferior oils don’t necessarily understand that modern oils have eliminated this need.
All Vehicles Should Follow the Same Oil Change Schedule.
You could compare identical cars using identical oils. However, they will still have variance in their oil change needs due to different drivers and driving patterns. Synthetic oils can extend the time between oil changes as easy, consistent driving for moderate periods. Synthetic oils plus smooth driving can extend the change interval to 6,000 or even 7,500 miles between oil changes. Conventional oils can reduce how long you can go between changes, and so can heavy stop-and-go driving or constant long-distance driving.
Black Oil Is Bad
Darker oil indicates that the oil is doing its job, pulling contaminants out of the moving parts. Be worried If you don’t see a change in color between changes. This could indicate the oil isn’t doing its job or may not be circulating properly throughout your engine and pulling out metal bits, impurities, and the like.
You Should Wait to Switch to Synthetic Oils Late in Your Vehicle’s Life Cycle
Single-weight oils lack the detergents found in synthetic oils. Over time, sludge can build up in the engine. If you change over to synthetic multi-viscosity oil abruptly, you may loosen all of that sludge all at once. This will lead to engine fouling and could damage your vehicle. You can make the change, but you’ll need to do it gradually. You will want to mix in a synthetic blend or high-mileage conventional between the two for a gradual progression.
Lengthen the Time Between Oil Changes – Use an Auto Transport Service!
One way to minimize oil changes is to avoid driving long distances in one big go. Number 1 Auto Transport can help you with this, especially if you make a long-distance move or move a vehicle to another car dealer. By shipping your vehicle with Number 1 Auto Transport, you don’t put those extra miles on it, and you don’t needlessly reduce the period you can go between oil changes. If you’re the end-user, that means hundreds of miles are not wasted. If you’re a dealer, it could mean not having to perform another service before sale. So drop us a line, and help prolong your car, truck, or SUV’s life!