Here is a complete guide to answer your question: what kind of oil does my car need? I made it simple and easy to understand. I believe that car care maintenance should not be rocket science. Each car owner deserves clear and actionable steps to keep her or his car safe and on budget.

Your Reference

Who knows your car’s technical requirements more than its manufacturer? Whenever you need to maintain your car you have first to check your owner’s manual.

If you need oil maintenance and you ask: what kind of oil does my car need? Then jump to the maintenance section on your owner’s manual. You’ll find the answer and the instructions to help you check and change your motor oil.

You should never use fluid types that are not recommended in the manual.

Viscosity Is King

The viscosity, or thickness, of motor oil, indicates its ability to flow at different temperatures. Viscosity changes according to the engine temperature. It becomes thinner under a high heat level, and thicker with a low level.

The right viscosity is crucial for your engine protection. using wrong oil can result in costly damage.

Your owner’s manual already lists the recommended values you’ll need for regular use. You can adjust the viscosity to pick for your oil if you have any specific use. You have to understand the labels that brands mention for each oil.

Understanding Labels

5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40.. These are some motor oil codes. You have to understand their meaning to choose the right oil for your car.

  • W stands for winter.
  • The first number, before the W, is related to the viscosity at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The second number is related to the viscosity at 212 degrees.

Understanding Motor Oil Types

  • Conventional Oil: this motor oil type is the most commonly used in older, late-model cars, and light vehicles with low to average mileage. Conventional Oils are the least expensive on the list.
  • High-Mileage Oil: this motor oil type is the right option for cars exceeding 75,000 miles. Some of the high-mileage benefits are: oil consumption reduction, leaks, and oil seepage decreasing. If your car has an older engine, using this oil type can help in smoke and emissions reduction.
  • Full Synthetic Oil: this motor oil type is designed for high-tech engines or heavy-duty needs where you require a high level of lubrication and performance. Full synthetic oils are the most expensive.
  • Synthetic Blend Oil: this motor oil type is a blend of synthetic and conventional base oils with some additives. Synthetic blend oils offer good engine protection at a lower cost compared to the full synthetic oils. A common choice for your SUV or pickup if you seek more protection when you apply more stress on your engine.

Understanding Motor Oil Additives

In most cases, you’ll find up to 30% additives in the motor oil you’re using. The goal is to have a better performance of the oil and higher engine protection.

  • Antioxidant: to slow oxidation.
  • Anti-wear agent: to reduce friction in metal-on-metal context.
  • Detergent: to prevent rust, and corrosion on surfaces.
  • Dispersant: to absorb and hold solid contaminants.
  • Foam inhibitor: to inhibit forming foam and bubbles.
  • Friction modifier: to reduce friction under high temperatures and with heavy loads.
  • Pour-point depressant: to prevent wax particles under cold temperatures.
  • Rust and corrosion inhibitor: to protect the engine’s metal parts from acids and moisture.
  • Viscosity-index improver: to improve performance in spite of temperature fluctuations.

Pro Tips

  • Mixing different motor oil types: technically, you can mix different types. But you get nothing better. It’s better to save your money.
  • Changing oil Filter: make sure you change your oil filter if you change the motor oil.

The Bottom Line

“What kind of oil does my car need?” is a common question most car owners ask when it’s time to choose the right oil for their car.

It may seem a daunting task, especially with the various offers on the market. As explained throughout this article, the answer is simple. Your reference is your owner’s manual. Then, just understand the labels, oil types, additives, and you’ll be able to get the right oil for your car.