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Grades of Engine Oil: Demystifying What They Mean
Each manufacturer has a specific recommendation or minimum requirement for the type of oil a given engine will use. You might be wondering what is the difference between different weights, grades and viscosities? What’s the difference between 5W-30 and 10W-30? What do all these numbers mean? You can’t use oil in your car or does it really matter?
Decipher the petroleum code
The terms weight, grade or viscosity are commonly used interchangeably and basically mean the same thing. They refer to how thick or how easily the oil flows. Use of a multigrade 5W-30 oil for example, this type is very commonly used in millions of vehicles. The first digit followed by “O” indicates the viscosity (or thickness) for cold temperatures. The “O” represents winter. The lower this first number, the less viscous or thinner your oil will be at lower temperatures. While this may not seem trivial, the number is of major importance.
When engines first roar after turning the ignition key, the oil pump tries to push oil from the low oil pan to the top of the engine, to lubricate all moving parts (such as pistons, the camshaft, etc. ) Cold starts are the time of the hardest wear imposed on the engine. The heavier (or thicker) the oil, the harder the oil pump operates and the longer it will take for the engine to receive the crucial oil lubrication it needs to prevent metal-to-metal friction during start-up. Thus, a 5W- oil will flow faster and easier than heavier oil which would have a higher number like 10W- or 15W- oil.
The second number found after the “Ospecifies the viscosity in hot weather. The higher the number, the thicker the oil will be at the optimum temperature. In older cars, it was common to switch to different weights of oils depending on the season. is a less common practice today due to manufacturers building lighter engines and using different engine materials than in the past.It is always recommended to follow the manufacturer’s fluid specifications which can be found in your manual. vehicle.Using an oil weight other than what is recommended will likely result in reduced fuel economy or increased engine wear.
Are there exceptions to the rule?
The occasional exception to the “follow the manufacturer’s recommendations” rule comes into play when an engine has aged and when moving parts may have larger clearances between components. Thicker oils can sometimes improve performance and protection in such conditions, but for most vehicle owners, stick to vehicle manual specifications.
What are the manufacturers saying?
Some manufacturers list a range of different types of engine oil depending on the climate where the vehicle will be used. Heavier oil would likely be recommended for vehicles in arid southern areas such as Scottsdale, Arizona, while lighter oil may be better in colder climates such as can be found in Rapid City, Dakota from South. Oil from South Dakota will obviously experience colder engine starting conditions during the winter months than oil from Arizona during the same period.
What is straight oil versus multi-viscosity oil?
You should never use pure oil (SAE30, SAE40, SAE50, etc.) in a system designed for multi-viscosity oil. Pure oils are used for smaller engines or older car engines that were made before multi-viscosity oils were created. Although snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles have smaller engines than most passenger cars and trucks, straight oils should not be used in these vehicles. Even regular automotive oils may not be suitable due to specific engine designs, such as two-stroke versus four-stroke engines.
Take care of the engine you depend on
All things considered, using the correct grade of oil and changing your vehicle’s oil at regular, prescribed intervals are two of the most important preventative maintenance tasks you can perform for your vehicle. Failure to do so can lead to oil depletion, ultimately causing the engine to stall. Most repairs related to improper or careless oil management are both preventable and costly. It’s better to invest in good car care practices now than pay a painful repair bill later. Knowing the right oil to put in your vehicle (and why) is a great first step toward servicing the engine you depend on.
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