So, you think you know your motor oils? You know what SAE stands for. You know how to interpret the numbers before and after the “W”. When cars pull up next to you at a traffic light, you think “that’s a cool 5W30” or “what a nice 10W40”. Even if you don’t know the science behind the numbers, all you need to do is pop the hood and your oil cap or tank will tell you which grade of motor oil you need. But how can you tell if your vehicle needs conventional, high-mileage, or synthetic oil? What’s the difference? And, how do you decide which type of motor oil is best for the age of your vehicle and the type of driving conditions you face?
Motor Oil 101
Next to gasoline, motor oil is one of the most important fluids your vehicle needs. The primary function of motor oil is to lubricate your engine’s moving parts. It prevents corrosion and excessive wear by taking heat away from the moving parts of your engine.
All engine oils perform the same basic function, but not all oils are created equal. Here is a description of the types of motor oil you’ll encounter throughout the life of your vehicle’s maintenance routine.
• Conventional oil is the traditional regular oil most people have been putting in their cars for years. It’s made from mineral oil and additives that ensure the right viscosity level, sufficient breakdown resistance, and adequate heat tolerance.
• High-mileage oil has some extra additives that reduce or prevent burn-off or oil evaporation which helps to protect engine seals. As the name implies, it is designed for older vehicles with more miles (75,000+) on the odometer.
• Synthetic oil, considered a premium oil because it contains additives with greater cleansing properties. Full synthetic oils provide superior engine protection because they offer the highest lubrication in all temperatures.
Pros: In Favor of Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil offers enhanced performance in certain driving conditions including:
• Taking short trips with lots of stop-and-go traffic.
• Operating your vehicle in extreme temperatures, hotter summers and colder winters.
• Hauling or towing heavy materials and equipment
On short trips, conventional oils don’t heat up enough to properly burn off moisture and the motor oil tends to break down faster. Extreme temperatures and heavy loads can also cause motor oil to break down quicker. Synthetic oil is engineered to withstand these conditions better that conventional oil.
Sludge, gunk, and residue can build up in your engine causing it to eventually stall and die. Since synthetic oil is engineered with additive not found in regular oil, synthetic oil is better at preventing buildup and extending the life of your engine.
Since synthetic oil is highly resistant to breakdown, it lasts for a longer time in your vehicle. So, you may be able to get fewer oil changes when using synthetic oil. Depending on your driving patterns, you could get six months to a year of oil life. But be sure not to exceed your manufacturers recommendations too much.
Cons: When You Don’t Want Synthetic Oil
Of the three types, synthetic oil is the most expensive. This means your synthetic oil change can cost 3x to 4x more than a traditional oil change. So, if your vehicle owner’s manual doesn’t specifically call for it, and your driving conditions don’t warrant it, you can skip the synthetic oil.
The Gray Area
If you have an older high-performance vehicle with more than 75,000 miles, consider using a full synthetic oil or synthetic blend rather than a high-mileage oil.
Synthetic motor oil is the winner, hands down, if your vehicle manufacturer’s specifications call for it. Even if it doesn’t, synthetic oil is still a strong contender.
Motor oil is essential in keeping your engine running smoothly and maintaining the life of your vehicle. Whether you choose conventional, high-mileage, or synthetic motor oil, remember to follow the recommendations in your vehicle owner’s manual for oil changes. When choosing the right motor oil, consider your driving patterns and the climate and temperature conditions you operate your vehicle in. when considering the cost of motor oil, remember that synthetic oil is more expensive that conventional and high-mileage, it offers longer life and can result in fewer scheduled oil changes.
Read your owner’s manual, visit your vehicle manufacturer’s website, and talk to your auto maintenance service technician for more information on what motor oil to use for your vehicle’s year, make, and model.