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What’s the Best Oil for Your Vehicle?

Wondering what the best oil for your vehicle is? There’s one easy way to find out. Regardless of what automobile you drive, the best oil is the one that’s listed in your owner’s manual. After all, the company that built your car spent thousands of hours designing and building its motor to work with a specific type of oil, so it makes the most sense to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Of course, sometimes you may find yourself in a unique driving situation or environment that calls for you to go above and beyond the factory specification. There’s also the question of performance and wanting to extend the life and improve the efficiency of your engine. Once you start adding these and other variables to the equation, it’s no longer quite so easy to provide a clear-cut answer, but there are still some guidelines you can use when choosing your oil.

Understanding Viscosity

Every bottle of oil lists its viscosity on the label. Sometimes this will be a single number, such as SAE 40, and sometimes it will be a combination of numbers and letters, such as SAE 10W30.

What does this mean? The number refers to the weight of the oil, with lower weights flowing more quickly than higher weights. This means that an SAE 30 oil is thinner than an SAE 40 oil. The W refers to how a multigrade oil flows during cold weather. A 10W30 oil flows like a thin 10 weight oil during winter temperatures but performs like a 30 weight oil once your engine is up to temperature.

Generally, when it comes to choosing the best oil for your vehicle, you only want to deviate from the manufacturer’s recommended viscosity when dealing with extreme conditions. In very cold weather, you’ll want an oil with a thin W rating (such as five) so that it coats the engine components quickly on start-up, while matching your original-spec viscosity once the motor is warm. If your car is an older model and doesn’t run during the winter, then you may see a benefit to running a straight oil without a W rating. It’s a good idea to discuss this with your local NAPA AutoCare first.

Synthetic or Conventional

Oil changeBoth synthetic and conventional motor oils start from the same crude oil stock but take different paths when it comes to refinement and additives. Synthetic oil must meet higher standards than traditional engine lubricants when it comes to resisting the effects of engine heat and frothing, as well as keeping the motor clean of deposits. It also typically lasts for much longer than standard oil during normal use, which in turn allows for longer intervals between changes in some situations.

Is synthetic the best oil for your vehicle? That depends, once again, on how you’re using it. If your owner’s manual doesn’t call for synthetic oil, but you find yourself frequently towing, hitting the race track or driving in very hot or cold weather, then yes, synthetic might be a good upgrade. If not, then chances are your car or truck will run fine and enjoy a high level of protection from wear with conventional oil.

Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the best oil for your vehicle, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

about author

Benjamin Hunting

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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