How to Choose the Right Motor Oil for Your Car

DIY oil change | Valvoline USA via Facebook

We’re told that variety is the spice of life and that there’s something for everyone out there. But in this over-saturated, order-from-home-in-your-undies kind of culture of ours, it’s easy to buy the wrong product — especially for your car. Take motor oil for instance. An overabundance of lubricant choices have oversaturated the market, and since all of them promise to do different things, car owners often feel overwhelmed when trying to decide on an oil change.

But this isn’t like ordering “soup du jour” for your car, because most oils are specifically designed for a particular type of engine, driving style, or the amount of mileage your car has on it.  All those numbers on the bottle actually mean something: The “W” stands for winter, so you know that a 10W-40 oil flows like a 10-weight in freezing temperatures and protects like a 40-weight at higher temps.

Car maintenance
A DIY oil change will always guarantee that the proper motor oil is used and that everything is put back the way it should. Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Quick oil change stations can be a risky decision, but due to their convenience they remain a popular option for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, this also means drivers are left at the mercy of service technicians, thus running the risk of having an under or overfilled oil pan, or driving away with the wrong lubricant all together.

In order to help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding oil changes, we’ve taken the time to investigate what makes a few of the top engine oils on the market so special. While there are countless others to consider, the following five shine a little light on what makes motor oil so special, and how brand preference might make a difference in the longevity of your vehicle.

1. Mobil 1 Advanced Fuel Economy

Advanced Fuel Economy synthetic motor oil | Mobil 1

First of all let’s set the record straight: Synthetic lubricants are far superior to conventional motor oil and have been proven to reduce engine friction, lower temps, remove sludge, and require fewer changes.  Mobil 1 has expounded upon these advancements by tailor-making a motor oil that boosts fuel economy in non-diesel vehicles.

Its extremely low viscosity weight and unique blend of additives give this synthetic an edge that few other oils have. Being so thin, it’s ideal ingredient in cars braving colder climates since it does not thicken-up the way most other oils do.

Benefits and advice:

  • Super low-viscosity weight is designed to aid in boosting engine efficiency and improve fuel economy. Potential gains of 0.2-2.3% in fuel economy have been reported by drivers who have switched to this oil.
  • Outstanding thermal and oxidation stability helps reduce oil aging, so damage from forgetting to change your oil is less of a threat.
  • Be sure to first reference a Mobil 1 product guide or talk to your dealer about the zinc and phosphorus levels in this oil prior to use.
  • Available in 0W-20 or 0W-30 weights.

2. Castrol GTX Magnatec

This motor oil has been sold worldwide for well over twenty years, yet for some reason wasn’t offered in America until recently. This synthetic blend uses specialized molecules to protect engines during start-up and makes for a good middle-of-the-road oil for daily drivers that utilize a start/stop feature for conserving gasoline.

Benefits and advice:

  • Up to 75% of engine wear occurs during warm up, so Castrol engineered an oil that utilizes highly-refined molecular components that cling to the engine like a magnet when it isn’t running.
  • Designed to leave critical engine parts four times smoother than leading engine oils, this oil helps tame rough idling when a car first cranks-up.
  • Available in 0W-20, 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30.
  • Not designed for diesel engines.
  • Both full and part-synthetic blends are available, so choose wisely.

3. Valvoline Full Synthetic with MaxLife Technology

Valvoline Full Synthetic with MaxLife Technology | Valvoline

This oil is specifically designed for engines with over 75,000 miles. By utilizing special seal conditioners it both rejuvenates leaky seals within the engine block and serves as a full synthetic. That means it offers all the perks found within friction-reducing additives, and works extra hard to keep your engine healthy while enhancing fuel efficiency and horsepower.

Benefits and advice:

  • Additional antioxidants and a blend of enhanced detergents help reduce oil breakdown, preventing sludge and power-robbing deposits from forming in the process.
  • Advanced “ashless” anti-wear agents help protect against premature engine wear, so starting off with this oil the minute your car hits 75,000 miles is highly advisable.
  • Available in 0W-20, 5W-20, 5W-30, and 10W-30.

4. Pennzoil Platinum

Pennzoil Ultra Platinum synthetic motor oil | Pennzoil

Pennzoil’s Ultra Platinum synthetic motor oil is one of the few on the market today that has a warranty. The 15-year/500,000 mile “Lubrication Limited Warranty” covers fifteen crucial engine components and promises to reimburse anyone who experiences an engine failure while using this product.

In order to qualify new car buyers must use this oil exclusively from day one and be able to prove that Ultra Platinum was used at every oil change thereafter. The program is also completely transferable to future owners, so the insurance doesn’t disappear when ownership changes, and as long as proper documentation is in place new owners have nothing to fear.

Benefits and advice:

  • Made from blending converted natural gas with high performance additives.
  • Designed to keep pistons up to 65% cleaner than industry standards.
  • Has been proven to boost fuel economy.
  • Designed for faster low temperature oil flow while still providing superior heat protection during summer.
  • Available in 0W-20, 0W-40, 5W-20, 5W-30, and 10W-30.

5. Royal Purple HPS Series

Royal Purple’s HPS Series motor oil was exclusively formulated to boost performance while meeting the demands placed upon high performance modified motors. This street-focused motor oil is recommended for any vehicles that no longer are under a manufacturer’s warranty or for anyone seeking a higher level of performance and protection. By utilizing a blend of unique additives and synthetic advancements, Royal Purple has developed a way to outperform the synthetic and conventional competition in both gasoline and diesel engines.

Benefits and advice:

  • Ideal for high performance aftermarket builds, where warranties are no longer a concern.
  • Fortified with large amounts of zinc and phosphorus anti-wear additives, as well as Royal Purple’s own Synerlec additive technology.
  • Responds to increased pressure with increased viscosity, thus sealing the area between the piston ring and the cylinder wall for maximum torque and horsepower.
  • Advanced additive technologies improve the condition of metal-to-metal contact under severe load.
  • Available in 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40, and 20W-50.

6. Motul 8100 X-CLEAN

Motul 8100 X-CLEAN | Motul

Today’s final offering is a 100% synthetic engine oil that’s been specially designed to be work with Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) as well as normal gasoline engines. That means it may be used in any vehicle on the market today, including those being powered by turbo-diesel engines. As with all Motul products, this motor oil also comes with a handy built-in snorkel to eliminate spills and the need for a funnel.

Benefits and advice:

  • Specifically designed for cars with three-way catalytic converters, this motor oil helps keep engines running smoothly while protecting the environment at the same time.
  • Offers added protection for any vehicle powered by port or direct injected gasoline engines.
  • Turbo diesel engine compliant.
  • 100% EURO IV and EURO V emission regulation compliant, earmarking it as a factory approved product by many European automakers.
  • Available in 5W-30 and 5W-40.