You probably already know you should change your engine oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, and it’s a job that even a green DIYer can do in about 30 minutes. It seems like such a simple job, and maybe you don’t even think twice about what parts and supplies you’re using. If you visit a mechanic for an oil change, what kind of parts and supplies may he suggest? Does oil quality matter to your engine or only to your wallet? Can’t you just use whatever’s on sale?
You can use any oil that meet the industry standard API class required by the manufacturer of your car, but there are better options to protect your engine and help it last even longer. Engine oil is specially formulated to lubricate, clean and protect in an extremely harsh environment. Temperature can vary from -50 °F to near 300 °F in a matter of minutes. Oil is pumped through the system at up to 60 psi, squeezing through spaces as small as 0.0005 inches — just 12.7 µm or a quarter the width of a human hair — at which point the pressure skyrockets to hundreds of psi before dropping to zero and draining into the oil pan.
There are dozens of engine oil brands and each carries a range of varying oil quality. Whether it’s the cheapest conventional oil or most expensive synthetic blend, all engine oils are the product of specialized refinement. Additional processing gives each oil specific qualities — some engine oils contain up to 30 percent additives — such as higher resistance to oxidation (sludge) or improved stability in extreme temperatures. It’s only logical that more refining and processing adds to the price of each quart of oil that you put in your engine.
What Kind of Oil Should You Use?
When comparing oil quality, take note of its intended application and how you use your vehicle.
- If your vehicle requires a synthetic oil, stick with what the manufacturer recommends.
- If your vehicle doesn’t require synthetic oil, conventional oil will do, but practically any engine can benefit from the detergent and lubricant qualities of synthetic oil.
- If you drive a high-performance vehicle, choose a high-performance oil.
- If your engine is turbocharged, look for an oil rated for turbocharged engines.
- If your vehicle is older — the average vehicle in America is over 11 years old — consider a high-mileage formulation to improve lubrication and prevent deposits.
As always, make sure you change your engine oil and oil filter regularly, depending on vehicle recommendations and how you use your vehicle. Using the right oil, you’ll keep your engine running for years to come.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.