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What Oil Does My Car Take?

Oil and filter changes are part of your routine maintenance schedule. It’s a service that’s among the easiest to do, even for a budding DIYer. And while it’s a simple procedure, few things are as crucial as using the right oil in the engine. Options abound including different viscosities and a range of oil types, and making the wrong choice could result in sudden and expensive repairs.

Engine oil prices range from around $4 per quart to $20 or more per quart, and your engine could take anywhere from four to eight quarts in most cases. But more important than the cost of changing the oil in your car is ensuring you have the right oil to protect the engine. Here’s what you need to know about choosing the right motor oil.

What Does Motor Oil Do?

Knowing what roles motor oil plays in your engine’s health can help to understand why choosing the right oil is so important. Oil is first and foremost recognized as a lubricant, keeping parts separated by a thin film of molecules that act like tiny ball bearings, preventing them from rubbing against each other. Not only is it a lubricant, but engine oil also: 

  • Coats metal parts to prevent rust and oxidization
  • Reduces friction between moving parts
  • Dissolves and washes away deposits and sludge from inside the crankcase
  • Circulates hot oil to the engine oil cooler to maintain the right operating temperature
  • Neutralizes acids created from the combustion process

If the wrong grade of oil is used, these protective qualities can be compromised. 

Find the Correct Oil Grade

The Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, has developed a grading system for engine oil. One common grade is 5W-30 engine oil, and it can be generally explained for how it performs based on its grading. 

The first part of the number, 5W, indicates how well it pours in cold weather since the W stands for Winter. The lower the number, the better it flows in the cold. The second part of the number – in this case, the number 30 – indicates the oil weight at normal operating temperature. The higher this number, the thicker it is when it’s warm. 

The grade you’re looking for will be marked on your engine oil cap, in most cases. You’ll also find it in your vehicle’s routine maintenance guide booklet or online. If your manual gives two different possible grades, the one with the lower numbers is intended for winter driving. For example, a car might use 5W-20 engine oil in the summer but have 0W-20 oil recommended for winter.

AutoZone makes it easy to find the correct motor oil for your vehicle. Simply enter your Year, Make, Model and Engine and shop several motor oil options.

Types of Motor Oil

what-do-different-oil-grades-mean-for-your-engine

Grade is only one portion of the motor oil equation. Perhaps even more important is the type of oil you use in the engine. And if you’re wondering, “Are all engine oils the same?”, no they are not. It’s true that they may all start with a base oil that’s refined from crude oil drawn from the ground, but there are some very distinct differences between oil types, even though you can’t see them with the naked eye.

Conventional oil

Crude oil extracted from the earth in a variety of ways needs to be refined before it can be used in an engine. Once impurities have been removed, it’s mixed with detergents and additives that are intended to keep your engine clean and protected. 

Once conventional oil has been put into the engine and used, it begins to degrade. Within a matter of months or a few thousand miles, it will be saturated by contaminants and particles that would otherwise damage the engine, and it begins to lose its protective qualities. That’s why oil changes are so important – it removes these harmful compounds from the engine for disposal.

Synthetic oil

Contrary to popular belief, synthetic oil is not completely synthesized. It’s formulated from crude oil, just like conventional oil is. However, the refining process is more thorough. Synthetic oil’s molecules are a more consistent size, allowing for better protection against wear inside the engine. It’s a higher quality base oil to start with, and that means it’s more chemically stable, resists oxidization better, and won’t lose its protective properties as soon. 

Combined with a better base oil, synthetic engine oil also tends to have premium additives and detergents mixed in it. Because of that, synthetic oil keeps the engine cleaner, experiences less wear, works to protect at higher temperatures better than conventional oil, and doesn’t degrade as quickly. 

Synthetic blend

The problem with full synthetic engine oil is that it’s expensive. A less costly option is a synthetic blend or semi-synthetic engine oil that offers similar benefits without such an expense. It starts with a mixture of synthetic and conventional base oils and receives additives and detergents, typically better than you’d find in conventional oil. It’s a popular choice for carmakers and service shops alike. And in most cars, it’s become the minimum required grade.

Which Oil Should I Choose?

The minimum type of engine oil your car requires is specified in the maintenance guide, which you should always follow. 

For naturally aspirated cars, it’s often conventional engine oil that’s the minimum standard. However, if you’d like extra protection for your engine, you can upgrade to semi-synthetic or full synthetic engine oil. 

If your car has a turbocharger or supercharger, or if you have a high-performance model, the required type of oil is often semi-synthetic or fully synthetic. You should not downgrade to conventional oil as it doesn’t have the properties necessary to protect your engine as it needs.

How Often Should I Change My Oil?

Changing oil is routine, but the interval should never be neglected or extended beyond what your maintenance guide says. You can expect longer intervals from synthetic oil, typically, since it doesn’t degrade as easily, and 7,500 miles or more is common. For conventional oil, usually, an oil change should be performed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

If it’s time for an engine oil and filter change on your car, buy your motor oil at AutoZone. Shop with your year, make, model, and engine size for the right oil options to keep your car running like new. 

FAQs

How do I find out what oil my car takes?

You can usually find the oil grade stamped on the engine oil cap, or you can find the type and grade in your car’s owner’s manual or maintenance guide.

What car is 5W-30 oil for?

5W-30 engine oil is an extremely common grade and is used by hundreds of vehicle types. However, to know if it’s right for your engine, check the maintenance guide or oil cap for the grade you need.

What is my car oil capacity?

To find out how much engine oil your car needs, locate the Vehicle Specifications section in your owner’s manual. You’ll find how many quarts your engine takes, and get extra in case you require a top-up.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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