How to tell what kind of oil your car needs

The type of oil is crucial, but the brand is not

Published: July 05, 2015 08:00 AM

There’s no substitute for reading your owner’s manual. It will list what type of oil the automaker recommends for your car. It may also recommend different oil depending on whether you live in a hot or cold climate.

The most important thing is to use oil that’s the right thickness, or viscosity, for your car’s engine. Oil that’s too thick or thin won’t provide the necessary protection for your engine, which can result in costly damage. Your owner’s manual may recommend an acceptable alternative-weight oil if you can’t find the recommended product.  

Oils must also comply with different quality standards. The standards required for your car will also be listed in your owner’s manual. Sometimes the automakers list standards published by the Society of Automotive Engineers or the American Petroleum Institute. These will be listed on the oil container.

Others have their own standards that don’t necessarily correspond to SAE or API standards. Any car dealer who sells the brand, and most auto parts stores, list which oils conform to these standards.  

Because standard motor oil can't meet many of these standards, many of today’s cars require synthetic oils.

Although some mechanics will swear by certain brands of oil, it’s most important to use the right weight of oil that meets the required standards.  

For more insights, read our special report on excessive oil consumption.

Share your experiences in the comments below.

Eric Evarts

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