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What are the types of engine oils? What are engine oil grades? Which one should I use?

  • February 29, 2024
  • 6 min read
What are the types of engine oils? What are engine oil grades? Which one should I use?

Motor oil is like the blood for your car’s engine—it’s crucial for keeping things running smoothly. Imagine your engine as a bunch of moving parts constantly rubbing against each other, creating friction and heat. That’s where motor oil steps in. It doesn’t just lubricate these parts; it also absorbs heat, helping your engine work better.

If you want to know more about motor oil—like the different types and grades—keep reading. Understanding this stuff can help you take better care of your vehicle in the long run.

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What are the types of engine oils?

Before buying engine oil, make sure you know the type your hatchback, sedan, or SUV needs. Understanding your car’s requirements is crucial for ensuring a smooth, efficient engine performance.

Generally, there are three main types of engine oil: Mineral, Semi-Synthetic, Synthetic and High Mileage.

Conventional Oil

This type of oil has been the go-to choice for many years. It’s made from crude oil extracted from the ground, then refined and mixed with additives to boost engine protection, viscosity, and heat resistance. It’s the least expensive option and typically needs to be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

Mineral Oil

Mineral engine oil is the most basic type of engine oil. It’s essentially petroleum oil that has been refined to function across a wide range of temperatures. Mineral oil is typically cheaper than other types and is commonly used in older vehicles and motorcycles.

However, mineral oil has some drawbacks. It provides minimal lubrication and protection against heat from friction. It also performs poorly in cold temperatures and can break down more easily when exposed to high temperatures. As a result, it needs to be replaced more frequently, usually every 5000 kilometres.

Refueling and pouring engine oil into the car engine checking and car maintenance concept, selective focus

Synthetic Oil

Full synthetic engine oil represents the forefront of engine oil technology. It provides outstanding protection and contributes to improved fuel efficiency.

Synthetic oils undergo extensive laboratory treatment, breaking down mineral oil into its most basic molecules. This process results in oils that are vastly superior to conventional options, with a high degree of purity and consistent molecule size and shape. As a result, synthetic oils offer superior lubrication and perform optimally in both extreme temperatures and under intense stress.

The manufacturing process for synthetic engine oil is complex and costly, reflecting its advanced nature. As a result, synthetic oils tend to be more expensive than conventional options.

Synthetic Blend Oil or Semi-Synthetic Oil

Semi-synthetic engine oil falls between mineral and full synthetic oil in terms of performance and cost. It combines the affordability of mineral oil with some of the benefits of synthetic oil, offering up to three times the protection compared to mineral oils.

Also known as synthetic blend oil, semi-synthetic oil is a mixture of a small amount of synthetic engine oil with mineral oil. This blend improves the oil’s properties without significantly increasing the cost. The addition of synthetic oil enhances viscosity and wear resistance, particularly at higher temperatures and under stress. Semi-synthetic oils can also perform better at lower temperatures compared to mineral oils.

However, semi-synthetic oils do not provide the same level of superior protection as full synthetic oils.

High Mileage Oil

Designed for vehicles with over 75,000 miles, high mileage oil contains special additives and seal conditioners to reduce leaks and extend engine life. It also guards against deposit buildups, sludge, and friction. Available in conventional, synthetic, and synthetic blend formulations, make sure to check the label to know which type you’re buying.

What are engine oil grades?

Engine oils come in various grades, classified by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) based on their viscosity, which measures the internal friction of the fluid. Different oils have different viscosities at room temperature and react differently to temperature changes.

What does 20W-40 mean in engine oil? Engine oil grades are represented by an alphanumeric code. Let’s break down what each character in the code signifies:

The first number, followed by a ‘W’ (which stands for Winter), indicates how the oil performs during a cold start. In simple terms, the preceding number indicates the oil’s cold flow capability—the lower the number, the better the flow. For example, 5W-30 oil flows better in cold conditions than 10W-30 oil. The number following the ‘W’ indicates the oil’s viscosity at normal operating temperature. For instance:

  • 10W-30 oil has better flow than 10W-40 oil at normal operating temperature.

Motor Oil Grades Here are some commonly used engine oil grades internationally:

0W-20: This oil is thinner when starting the engine, with a viscosity of 0 when cold and 20 when at normal operating temperature.

0W-30: Engineered to act as a 0 weight oil when cold and a 30 weight oil when at normal operating temperature.

0W-40: Acts as a 0 weight oil when cold and a 40 weight oil when at normal operating temperature. 5W-30: The most widely available and used engine oil in the Indian market, recommended by many car manufacturers.

5W-40: Fully synthetic oil that behaves like a 5 weight oil when cold and a 40 weight oil when at normal operating temperature.

10W-40: Offers 10 weight performance in cold conditions and 40 weight performance at normal operating temperature.

What type/grade of oil should I use?

The type or grade of oil you should use depends on various factors, including the specifications provided by your vehicle manufacturer, your driving habits, and the prevailing climate conditions where you drive.

  1. Vehicle Manufacturer Specifications: Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine the recommended oil type and viscosity grade. Manufacturers typically provide specific recommendations based on the engine design and requirements.
  2. Driving Habits: Consider your typical driving conditions. If you frequently drive in stop-and-go traffic or tow heavy loads, you may benefit from a high-performance oil such as synthetic oil. For lighter driving conditions, conventional oil may suffice.
  3. Climate: The climate in your area also plays a crucial role. In colder climates, oils with lower viscosity ratings, such as 0W-20 or 5W-30, are often recommended to ensure easier cold starts and better flow during cold weather. In warmer climates, oils with higher viscosity ratings, such as 10W-40, may be more suitable.
  4. Vehicle Age and Mileage: If your vehicle has high mileage or is prone to oil leaks, you might consider using a high mileage oil specially formulated to address common issues in older engines.
  5. Personal Preference: Some drivers prefer synthetic oils for their extended durability and performance benefits, while others may opt for conventional oils for their lower cost.

Ultimately, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure optimal engine performance and longevity. If you’re unsure, consult with a trusted mechanic or refer to the specifications provided by your vehicle manufacturer.

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