It's important to choose the right motor oil for your car to keep your engine in working order. While motor oil isn't exactly the most exciting thing to shop for, spending a little time picking the right oil for your budget, your car, and the way you drive will do wonders when it comes to maintaining your engine.
Motor oil works by creating a thin barrier between your engine's moving parts to reduce wear and resistance. The more smoothly all those parts move, the more efficiently an engine operates. There are a mind-boggling number of options that will do the job, so I've sorted through them all to find the best motor oils for a variety of needs.
I considered price, availability, personal experience and consumer reviews in choosing these top picks. I also included conventional oil, synthetic oil, and synthetic blend oils so no matter your preference, there's a motor oil on this list to fit your needs. After checking out the list, make sure to read on afterwards to learn more about the different types of oil and tips for picking the one that's right for your ride.
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The best engine oil overall is a synthetic oil that's highly regarded for its ability to not only protect your vehicle's engine but also for its excellent cleaning capabilities. It's formulated with special additives that make it well-suited for people who often drive in dirtier environments either off-road or in cities. This synthetic motor oil performs well in both high temperature and cold temperature environments and is long-lasting with a life of up to 20,000 miles between engine oil changes.$9 at Walmart$60 at Amazon$28 at Amazon
If you're looking for a reliable synthetic motor oil, then Castrol has you covered. This affordable synthetic engine oil option is designed to reduce engine wear leaving engine parts up to four times smoother through molecules that stick to the engine. Even when the engine is turned off, those molecules in the GTX Magnatec engine oil remain in place. This helps protect your engine while it's warming up, which is where most engine wear happens.$7 at Walmart$29 at Amazon$45 at Amazon
This high-performance Pennzoil Platinum motor oil offers extended performance life and is the first motor oil made from natural gas rather than crude oil. It's designed to maintain its performance even in extreme temperatures and delivers superior wear protection. According to Pennzoil, fuel economy is improved by an extra 550 miles a year on average compared to traditional oil. Whether you're driving on unpaved roads, carrying heavy loads or making lots of short trips, this synthetic oil is designed to maintain its integrity and protect your engine from wear.$9 at Amazon$25 at Amazon
This premium synthetic motor oil from Amsoil provides 75% more engine protection and 50% more cleaning power than conventional motor oils. It also delivers 72% better protection of turbochargers. Formulated for thermal durability, this Signature Series synthetic motor oil resists breakdown and controls heat to maximize engine life and improve overall performance for up to 25,000 miles.$30 at Ebay$15 at Amsoil
An affordable option from a well-known and trusted name, this Valvoline full synthetic motor oil will help keep you within your budget. Despite its affordable price, it includes anti-wear additives and performs well at both hot and cold temperatures. Antioxidants in the Valvoline Advanced synthetic oil formula help maintain viscosity and detergents help prevent the buildup of harmful deposits for extended performance.$6 at Amazon$23 at Walmart
A synthetic-blend motor oil provides added protection over conventional motor oil at a lower price than a full synthetic. This Quaker State All Mileage synthetic blend is formulated with anti-wear that offer added protection, especially for high-mileage engines. This oil also helps condition seals to stop leaks and reduce oil consumption, which prevents engine damage.$5 at Walmart$17 at Walmart$16 at Walmart
Older car engines often do better with a conventional motor oil rather than the newer synthetic or synthetic blends. If you want to keep it old school, then Castrol GTX is a great traditional motor oil option. It provides good protection against burn and helps prevent the buildup of damaging sludge. This oil's formula includes antiwear additives to protect your engine and prevent thermal oil breakdown that your older engine will appreciate.$5 at Home Depot$20 at Home DepotSee at Amazon
This Valvoline conventional motor oil protects against deposits through a wide range of temperatures from high heat to cold to keep your engine in good working order. It features detergents that reduce sludge formation and has anti-wear additives that stay in the oil longer. The goodies in this Valvoline Daily Protection conventional oil can more thoroughly protect your engine from one oil change to the next.See at Walmart
Designed for engines with 75,000 miles or more on the odometer, this high mileage motor oil from the Valvoline oil brand features anti-wear additives to help protect your engine components. It also includes detergents to help reduce the accumulation of dirt, so it's more easily flushed out during oil changes rather than sticking to your engine. Lastly, this Valvoline High Mileage with MaxLife synthetic blend oil formula includes seal conditioners that help prevent and treat oil leaks, which can be a problem with high-mileage vehicles.$4 at Walmart$32 at Amazon$18 at Amazon
This Shell synthetic oil is specially formulated for diesel engines only. According to Shell, it improves fuel economy by 1.5 percent compared to SAE 15W-40 viscosity motor oils. Special additives included in the formulation of Rotella T6 protect against dirt and grit and this oil also resists viscosity loss, which helps maintain oil pressure. Rated for use in a variety of diesel vehicles from tractors to heavy-duty pickup trucks, this synthetic oil is my top pick for diesel engines.$32 at Advance Auto Parts
Motor oil is what keeps the components in your engine moving smoothly, so it's important that you change it at the manufacturer's recommended interval. Pushing beyond those recommendations could damage your engine. If the light comes on or if you smell burning, you should get your oil checked to be sure there isn't an issue even if you aren't due for your next oil change.
As you can see from our list, the three main types of motor oil are conventional oil, synthetic blends, and full synthetic engine oil.
Conventional motor oil is made from crude oil and has been around for ages. It does a fine job of protecting your engine and it does so at a lower cost than synthetic oil and synthetic motor oil blends. The drawback to conventional motor oil is that it breaks down more quickly. It also usually lacks detergents that help prevent sludge and keep your engine cleaner overall. While most newer cars are rated for synthetics, that might not be the case for an older car built before synthetics were commonplace.
Synthetic motor oils aren't made from crude. Instead, they're a man-made liquid designed for lubricating engines. They offer significant improvements over conventional oil with additives and formulas that help your engine stay clean and reduce friction. They also have a longer life that ensures they fully protect your engine between oil changes and may even let you go longer between oil changes. Since they don't require crude, they have the added benefit of a reduced environmental impact during manufacturing that extends to possible improvements in fuel economy. The biggest drawback to synthetic motor oil is that it's a more costly option.
A synthetic blend is the happy medium between the conventional oil and synthetic oil. It costs less than a full synthetic while still offering some of the same bonuses including a longer life than conventional oil and formulas that include detergents. It's a great choice if you want the benefits of a synthetic engine oil but you have a limited budget.
There's also weight to consider, which is the viscosity of a motor oil. You'll see this information in a format that looks like 5w30 or something similar. The first number indicates viscosity at low temperatures while the second number indicates viscosity at high temperatures. Depending on where you live, changing the weight of your engine oil between winter and summer may be recommended to ensure it flows freely. Follow whatever viscosity is recommended by the manufacturer to ensure you don't damage your vehicle.
Our list of recommended engine oils includes several affordable options, but you can still find cheaper motor oils on the shelves of your local automotive parts store. It may be tempting to grab that $.99 quart of oil from a company you've never heard of, but it's not a good idea. Unless you are in desperate need of some oil right that moment and there's no other option left on the shelf, stick with a reputable engine oil brand.
There are several things you can look for to help determine if the engine oil you're about to buy is going to do the job for which it's intended. Look for the API Donut. This symbol indicates that the oil meets the American Petroleum Institute's engine oil standards. It's usually on the label on the back of the bottle. You may also see the API Starburst, which is usually on the front of the label, and indicates that the formulation meets International Lubricant Specification Advisory Committee standards.
Another symbol to look for is the SAE logo on an engine oil label. This stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers, which is the group that designed the viscosity coding system I mentioned earlier. Seeing SAE listed next to the viscosity information on a bottle of oil ensures that it meets the group's standards for that grade of oil.
Written by Nicole Wakelin for Roadshow
The new synthetic oils are the longest lasting motor oils, but some last for longer than others. You should be able to find this information right on the bottle. Your next longest lasting oils are synthetic blends followed by conventional motor oil. Keep in mind that despite any recommended oil life you may see, getting your engine oil changed per the manufacturer's recommendations is always a good way to go.
The best way to know which kind of motor oil to put in your car is to break out that trusty owner's manual. It will provide information on exactly what type and weight of oil is recommended for your vehicle. Adhering to the manufacturer's recommendations is the best way to ensure the oil you use is doing its job to protect your engine.
The answer to this question varies depending on your car. Once again, going with the manufacturer's recommended oil change intervals is always your safest bet. You shouldn't go longer, but there may be times when you want to change your oil more frequently. If you drive off-road or anywhere with a lot of dirt in the air, then you may want to consider changing your engine oil sooner. The same is also true if your engine is put under constant strain towing a trailer or carrying a heavy payload.
Synthetic motor oil costs more than conventional motor oil so you may be wondering if it's worth the extra cost. In short, yes. A synthetic oil offers numerous benefits including a longer life, which may help you extend the number of miles you drive between oil changes. It often includes detergents to help clean your engine and reduce sludge as well as reducing friction. You may even see improved fuel economy, which again helps offset a bit of the extra cost.
Do not simply pour old motor oil down the drain. It needs to be disposed of properly or it will pollute the environment. Check with your city or town to see if they have either a permanent spot for disposing of oil at the dump or if they hold collections for hazardous materials including oil on select days during the year. Your local auto part store is also a good place to check with as many accept and recycle used engine oil.
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