Chapter Six – What Brand Should I use? Which Oil is best?
By now if you’ve read the preceding 5 chapters – you may feel armed with enough basic knowledge to go out and start looking at different kinds of oil. Here you may come up with a common dilemma – which oil should I use? Which one is best for my car? Wouldn’t it be nice if we just told you what was the best and you could go on your merry way…
Well that just isn’t going to happen.
The reason we don’t tell you which oil to use is because everyone is different, even 2 people who have the exact same car and live in the exact same climate will have different driving habits and will use their cars differently. Everyone has their own personal favorites, but there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all oil, or a best oil “overall”. Every engine is different. Every oil has its place. What works for one engine might not work for another. There is also a great deal of personal preference which falls into the decision to pick one oil over another. But there has been research into what most people look at when they choose to buy an engine oil.
The first one is Brand. You may like the sleek look of a Mobil1 bottle, or the reliability/price for a house brand like Supertech – far and away most branded oil products (with some exceptions) are good quality oils. Pick a good reputable brand – whether it’s a local/regional or a global major – it doesn’t matter but a little bit of research, including asking the BITOG community if it’s a smaller brand that you’ve never heard of can help you settle on something you like. Me, I’m a sucker for cool packaging.
The second one is Grade. If you read the earlier chapters we focused a lot on pointing out how the grading system works and what you should look for. Be careful with oils that aren’t labelled correctly 5-30 is not the same as 5W30 so go back and familiarize yourself with the nomenclature and only choose the viscosity grade that is right for your car as recommended by the OEM. If you choose to do something different for example choosing to use a 0W20 over a 5W20 then make sure you have a good reason to believe it would work better.
The third is asking someone you trust. This is one of the reasons why people use the same oil their dad did. Because its’ something you trust. If you want peruse the BITOG forums and see what other people have to say about the oil you are considering. You will find lovers and haters of almost every brand in our community. Ask us and we will give you our opinions.
Last is specifications. This one is REALLY important, but often the one that people look at last. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you want to be really comfortable with your choice, you should get to know some of the key specifications related to your car.
Here are some specifications you may want to learn about:
API – American Petroleum Institute – this has a donut shaped mark on the back of the bottle. It has the service category (ie API SN) as well as the phrase “Resource Conserving”. On the front of the bottle there is a starburst logo that says “For Gasoline Engines”. These marks are backed by rigorous industry standard tests and if the oil has this you should be good to use it in your vehicle. The API is supported by a group called ILSAC which stands for the International Lubricant’s Standardization and Approval Committee
Dexos1 – This is a specification run by GM for GM vehicles. If you own something from GM you may want to learn a little more about this specification.
ACEA – this is the European specification and is listed with letter codes like A3/B3 or C4. If you own a car manufactured by a European company, you may wish to familiarize yourself with these specifications.
BMW, VW, MB – all have their own specifications as well. Each focus on different levels of performance. If you have questions about this, the community at BITOG can help answer them.
There is a group known as the Petroleum Quality Institute of America or PQIA which often has alerts regarding oils that either don’t meet the right grade, or the specifications claimed on the bottles or have misleading labelling practices. Be sure to check them out at, http://www.pqiamerica.com/ .
Now in addition to all that you may have some other questions about engine oil. Some of which we will try to answer. If you don’t find the answer here, just jump on the forum and post your question, someone will be available to help you out:
Semi-Synthetic or Synthetic Blend: In chapter four we talked about some of the differences between a synthetic oil and a conventional oil. There are also companies that sell Synthetic blend or Semi-synthetic oils. These are exactly what they sound like – a mixture of synthetics and conventional base oils to get a product with performance somewhere in the middle. Without getting too technical, an oil maker may want some of the advantages of a synthetic (like low temperature pumpability) without all of the cost. There are lots of reasons why an oil maker might make that choice. The best thing for you to do if you want to try it out is to do it, and see if you like how it works in your car.
High-Mileage Oils – this is an important product category for most engine oil makers. They recognize that the average vehicle age on the road today is 11 years. Not all these engines need the latest and greatest engine oil technology. Some of the engines are tired and starting to show wear, burn oil or leak a little. High Mileage oils are typically designed to work with some of these aging engine’s issues. Gaskets and seals get harder from repeated heat cycles and loss of plasticizers as the vehicle ages – high mileage oils use special additives to condition these seals to help keep them functioning and pliable. No high mileage product will fix a serious mechanical issue – but if your car is getting to the 75000 -100000 mile mark or if it is more than 10 years old– you might want to think about a High-Mileage product. There is no rule saying that you have to use HM oil, especially if it has never shown any noticeable oil usage between oil changes. There is also no rule saying you can’t also use it in a newer engine either. The choice is 100% up to you.
Racing oils and Track days – This is Oil 101. We deliberately left out special circumstances like racing oils and track days. These oils exist, some of them are really, really, good. But most racing oils are designed to protect the engine for a short amount of time under really intense operating conditions. Just because an oil is good for race day doesn’t mean it’s good in your daily-driver. Some of the additives that are needed for your daily driver – may not be in the racing oils so pay close attention to what specifications the race oil meets (or doesn’t meet) before trying it out.
How long should you keep the oil in before it is changed – Again this is up to you. There are people that change their oil every 3000 miles, some every 10000 miles. When choosing how long to go between oil changes there are a couple of things you should consider: First what is the OEM recommendation on oil changes and oil type. This gives you an idea about what the person who designed your engine thinks is best. Second, what are your driving habits – in general people who drive long highway miles at constant speeds can go longer on an oil change then those who drive stop-and-go in the city. Third what kind of oil are you using – again as a general rule synthetic oil can run longer than conventional oil without an oil change.
Some people though like to buy expensive synthetic oil and change it as soon as the color changes on the dipstick – while this is no indication if you have used the oil to its full life potential, it’s your car so do what you want. If you have doubts about your oil change interval at first, use the “Severe Service” interval as defined in your car’s Owner’s Manual as a guide, and if you really want to get technical about it visit our Used Oil Analysis forum and learn how to get your oil evaluated over the life of an oil drain and stretch it out for a long, long time.
Do it yourself or Do it for me – it used to be that most people changed their own oil. And some say a true BITOGer is one who has a large stash of engine oil bottles that he got on discount sale at Walmart. There is nothing wrong with getting someone else to change your oil – the dealership, the quick lube shop etc. The fact that you are getting the oil changed is good enough in its own right. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you get the oil you want and that you feel like you can trust the person/company that is doing it for you. Sometimes this may cost extra but will give you the warm fuzzy feeling inside like you are in control of the maintenance on your car.
Lastly we hope the forums can help you get more of the answers you need. Here are some tips for when you ask for advice:
Tell us about your car! The more details, the better. Here are the essential points:
1. What kind of vehicle you have
2. What your owner’s manual says — not just viscosity, but certifications (look for acronyms like API SM, ILSAC GF-4, etc.) and change intervals as well
3. Where you live
4. How you drive (easy? hard? fast? slow?)
5. What your daily drive is like (short trips? long trips? city? highway?)
6. Whether your car has any known problems (leaks, oil consumption etc)
If you have any preferences — synthetic vs. conventional, store-bought vs. ordered online, how long you’d like to go between oil changes, etc. — or any other info you think might be important, let us know that as well.
Once again, the more details, the better. BITOG loves a good oil recommendation thread, especially when you give us a lot to work with. cheers
Welcome to BITOG. See you in the forum!