The major benefits of using the correct engine oil
Keeping your car’s engine lubricated is a vital part of its operation. The smooth running of your engine isn’t just to make your journey as comfortable as possible—the correct lubrication protects your engine to achieve its longest possible life and best possible performance.
With many different types and grades of engine oil to choose from, it isn’t easy to know which one is the best option for your car. And as technology improves, new options are hitting the shelves for us to reconsider at every purchase.
We often hear: “What oil for my car?” and decided it was time to provide the answer to that common question—and to a few others while we were at it.
What are the different types of engine oil?
There are a few different types of oil on the market.
Conventional engine oil
Conventional engine oil is the standard type of oil. It’s suitable for use in most typical family cars and comes in a range of viscosities. Typically, manufacturers will recommend the correct grade for low and high-temperature use.
This ‘mineral’ oil is manufactured by refining crude oil. Refining removes unwanted contaminants and substances to leave an efficient and good value lubricant.
Synthetic engine oil
Synthetic engine oils are manufactured from highly modified mineral oils. They are refined, distilled and purified, then broken down and rebuilt with numerous additives designed to create a premium product. This leaves a high-performance oil that comes, no surprise, at a higher price.
Synthetic oils flow well at low temperatures and are ideal for high-tech and high-performance engines. They provide superior and longer-lasting capabilities.
As the name suggests, this oil is a blend of synthetic and conventional mineral oil. With their improved formula, they provide great protection for vehicles operating with heavier loads at higher temperatures.
What is ‘viscosity grade’?
Manufacturers grade oil by viscosity. This measure determines how each oil flows in cold weather conditions and at higher running temperatures.
The two numbers of each oil grade dictate the range of your oil’s operation. The W number stands for winter. The lower the grade, the lower the density, and the easier it will flow around your engine. The second number is the flow at a working temperature—typically around 100°C.
So, for example, 0W-20 oil is thin and free running, where a 15W-40 is much thicker, and heavier oil.
What are engine oil additives?
You’ll probably have also noticed a range of additives that improve the performance of your oil. Each carries out a specific task, protecting a particular area of your engine.
Viscosity-index improvers – This additive reduces the oil’s tendency to become thinner as temperatures increase.
Detergents – Detergents help to remove the deposits left in your engine oil. Their main purpose is to keep surfaces clean, preventing the formation of rust, corrosion and other deposits.
Dispersants –These additives help to prevent solid particles from coming together to form sludge, varnish or acids. Often, dispersants and detergents work together.
Anti-wear agents – When the lubricating film of the oil breaks down, these agents continue to protect the metal surfaces inside your engine.
Friction modifiers – Working in a different way to anti-wear agents, friction modifiers work to reduce engine friction and improve fuel economy.
Pour-point depressants – Even oils designed to work in low temperatures can congeal and reduce flow. Pour-point depressants make sure the oil continues to flow even in the lowest temperatures.
Antioxidants – With higher temperatures utilised to improve emissions control, antioxidants help to prevent oil from thickening.
Foam inhibitors – When the crankshaft turns through the oil, it can produce foam. The foam isn’t as effective a lubricant as the liquid oil, so inhibitors keep the oil in its premium liquid state.
Rust and corrosion inhibitors – These additives protect the metal parts in your engine from moisture and acid, and in turn, from any build-up of rust and corrosion.
Choosing the right engine oil for your car
What oil to use for my car? Well, your choice will depend on your engine. Is it diesel? Petrol? A family run-around? A compact city car? A high-performance sports car? An off-road 4×4? Depending on these and a few other factors, understanding your correct oil type can seem like a quest to another universe.
But don’t worry. There are some simple ways to find out which one’s the best option for you and your car.
The optimum engine oil for your car will be in your manufacturer’s handbook. If you don’t have access to a handbook, your auto-centre will have a chart, booklet or digital database, detailing every car and its best option engine oil. You’ll find the same databases and searches online, so finding the correct oil for your car is easier than it’s ever been.
For digital searches, you won’t need anything more than your registration number. Type it in, and the hard work is taken care of for you. Otherwise, with booklet or paper options, you’ll need your make and model, and year of manufacture.
You see—we told you it was easy.
How to check your engine oil
If you lift the bonnet of your car, you’ll spot a ring sticking out at the top and to one side of your engine. This is your dipstick. If you pull it out, you’ll notice that the bottom tip is covered in oil (hopefully!).
Wipe the oil off, and you’ll see markings showing the minimum and maximum oil levels for your engine.
Slide the dipstick all the way back in, right to the bottom. When you pull it out should give a clear indication of the level of your engine oil.
If it’s low, then it’s time to top it up. Do this a little at a time, through the cap at the top of your engine. Be sure not to overfill your engine, as getting it