Know Your Oil Labels

Tending to your engine’s health frequently long extends the longevity of every vehicle on the road, and one of the most important details of maintenance is changing your engine oil on time.  It’s a daunting task when looking at all the oil options at the auto store, best advisable by the expertise of your owner’s manual and trusted mechanic’s opinion. Viscosity needs to adjusted to account for the season’s climate, motor’s temperature, performance, and age of the vehicle, plus you have that odd distinction between synthetic and conventional oils!  What, exactly, are you putting into your car? Ensure you’re asking for the right product when requesting oil changes from a new mechanic and better judge the price you’re paying to have an oil change by understanding the labels and needs of your car with these three steps!

Synthetic or Conventional?

There’s four primary brands of oil that cater to specific engine builds and functionality.  Specializing in high-tech performance, full-synthetic oils create superior protection against power-busting buildup.  They flow better at low temperatures and maintain lubrication at high temps, too, but they come with a more expensive price that not everyone needs to dish out for the engine their cars have.  Synthetic blends are more affordable, and are tailored for heavier vehicles such as SUVs and trucks that still need a definite edge in performance in order to haul and tow all that you need of them.  As the name suggests, they’re a blend of synthetic and organic oils, which lowers these brands’ volatility so there’s less evaporation at high temperatures. Our technical source at Apple Valley Hyundai (Winchester, VA) explains that this increases the mileage you can get between oil changes, as well as improves the vehicle’s fuel economy.  Premium conventional oil is the brand that many vehicles will default to, though. The standard for new cars, conventional oils come in a variety of viscosities to service a majority of vehicle classes.  They do need to be changed more frequently than synthetic oils, but their price point makes them affordable for how often you need to switch out old oil for fresh and clean product. Every 4,000 miles or once a season is the recommended interval.  Lastly, there are specific mixtures that keep older cars running like new. These are high-mileage oils, helping numerous cars run well into six-figure odometer counts. As your vehicle ages, its seals harden and lose flexibility, causing those leaks that dot your driveway or garage floor.  Higher-mileage oils are formulated with conditioners that aid in rejuvenating the seals of your car. They also consist of a higher viscosity that better lubricate worn piston-to-cylinder clearances better with an anti-wear additive to return some performance you may have noticed has left your vehicle’s power and protect it from further  wear and tear.

Viscosity and Temperature

In scientific terms, viscosity is a fluid’s resistance to flow.  Measurements are taken at zero degrees Fahrenheit to determine an oil’s thickness and at 212 degrees Fahrenheit to determine its thinning.  These measurements are reflected within the oil’s labeling, one reading before the W (for “Winter”) and the second hotter reading after. Every oil thins as it gets hotter, and resistance to this thinning is called the oil’s viscosity index.  When additives are mixed to the oil to resist this thinning, the oil’s rating gains one viscosity when cold and another when hot. More resistant oils have a higher second number, which signify they can function through heat better. For example, a 10W-40 is more resistant than a 10W-30.  These higher numbers are generally better for your vehicle, as they seal better and maintain better lubrication despite the friction of moving parts. At the other end of the scale, you also want an oil that’s resistant to thickening as well, so it functions admirably through the cold winter months and doesn’t hinder your engine from starting.  That’s the number tacked next to the “W”, and a lower number here is more favorable as the weather dips cooler. A 5W oil is typically recommended for winter, but synthetic oils can be specialized to even offer ratings that are 0W. Your owner’s manual will specify which viscosity index to favor based upon the engine’s running temperature.


Thus, you have the brand of oil to best suit your vehicle, and the viscosity index that will maintain great lubrication of your engine’s elements through weather and friction.  How else can you boost your engine’s lifetime and performance? Oil additives are sold separately, and boost a particular aspect of the oil’s lubrication to help your vehicle run better.  Additives assist oils in maintaining good lubrication through severe temperatures, clean out engine build up, or protect your engine’s mechanics from wear and tear. Aiding in the oil’s flow, you can opt for adding viscosity-index improvers, friction modifiers, pour-point depressants, and foam inhibitors.  Cleaning agents, such as detergents and dispersants, remove built up gunk from your moving engine parts to improve efficiency. Protecting your vehicle from build up, moisture, and acids are additives such as antiwear agents, antioxidants, and corrosion inhibitors. It’s best to consult with your mechanic to diagnose any lag in performance you may be experiencing to determine what additive would be best!

Keep your engine healthy and running for years to come!  Frequent oil changes keep your vehicle functioning to the best of its ability, and can protect it from any decline in power or performance.  More is not always better, and certain compounds added without the exact know-how could be harmful to your engine’s fuel economy and performance.  Always consult your owner’s manual to determine exactly what your engine needs, and ask the experts what would best improve your engine’s performance and efficiency.  

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