Close-up of a full synthetic motor oil pour. oil

Even if you know what motor oil is for, do you know which type is best for your vehicle?

For motor oil to keep your engine properly lubricated, you need to use the right kind. There’s synthetic vs conventional, and there are often a lot of numbers on each bottle that mean different things. The Salt Lake City car repair team at Master Muffler breaks it all down.

What’s the Difference Between Synthetic and Conventional Motor Oil?

Synthetic means “man-made,” so synthetic oil was fabricated by chemical compounds created by people. Conventional oil is made from crude oil, which is a raw material that can be obtained from the Earth. 

Since synthetic oil is man-made, it contains fewer variables. It has less potential for contamination since it was created in a controlled environment. Crude oil can vary in its composition, and the refinement process doesn’t always get rid of all contaminants. Some vehicles perform better with synthetic oil since this man-made oil causes less sludge build-up in engines. As a result, while synthetic oil is often the preferred choice, it is the more expensive one.

How Oil Helps an Engine

Engines have a lot of moving parts, many of which are made of metal. Imagine how well those metal parts would work if they had to grind against each other without any lubrication. Eventually, the metal would crack, or be worn down to the point of being useless. Motor oil provides a gooey buffer between engine parts so everything stays in contact as it should.

Why You Need to Change Your Oil

While the motor oil is busy lubricating your engine, it’s also collecting contaminants produced by the combustion process. While the oil can withstand some particulates, over time the contamination can affect the oil’s viscosity (aka weight, or thickness). If the oil can no longer glide, a sludgy buildup can develop on the engine, hindering performance. An oil change flushes out sludge and replaces it with smooth, “clean” oil.

Did you know motor oil also helps keep your engine cool? Friction causes heat, so reducing friction reduces heat under the hood. 

Of course, it depends on how much you drive, but you should have routine oil changes at least every 5,000 miles, if not sooner. If your “check engine” light comes on, it could be an indicator that it’s time to visit the Salt Lake City car repair team at our downtown Master Muffler location for an oil change.

Oil Weight and Viscosity

Your owner’s manual, the Internet, or your mechanic can tell you what type of oil to use in your vehicle, but what do the numbers on motor oil bottles mean? Why are you using a certain oil in your vehicle?

The numbers on the bottle stand for the viscosity of the oil, also known as weight. The “W” on the bottle stands for winter. So, the number before the “W” on the bottle states how thick the oil is during winter use (cold temperatures). The number after the “W” refers to the viscosity of the oil in warm temperatures. For example:  

  • 10W-30 = The oil has a viscosity of 10 in winter, and 30 in summer. 

It’s important to use the right oil for your engine as well as for your climate. Oil can get cold enough to solidify, which means trouble. Conversely, if the temperatures are too hot for the type of oil you’re using, the oil can get too thin.

Oil is tested for temperatures ranging from -40° Fahrenheit to 14° Fahrenheit to gauge performance in the cold, and 212° Fahrenheit to 302° Fahrenheit for performance in the heat. As synthetic oil production improves, the industry can offer motor oil with smaller numbers, indicating that even thinner oils can get the job done in a variety of temperatures.

Oil Additives

To improve motor oil performance, additives can be used. The most common oil additive is viscosity index improvers or VIIs. They are responsible for regulating oil viscosity regardless of temperature.

Other oil additives include:

  • Antiwear
  • Detergents/dispersants
  • Foam inhibitors
  • Friction modifiers
  • Rust inhibitors
  • Zinc

You can find motor oil that already includes one or all of these additives, or you can purchase them at an auto shop to add yourself. Generally, diesel engines will require oil with more antiwear additives and zinc, while gasoline engines do not. If in doubt, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual and always use what’s recommended. It will ensure optimal protection for and performance from your engine.

Oil Leaks

Regardless of the type of vehicle you drive or the motor oil you use, if you have an oil leak it can leave greasy, brown-colored puddles in your parking spot. If oil is leaking and landing on the engine, you might notice smoking under the hood. To see if your oil levels are low, pop the hood and locate the dipstick near the engine. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean with a rag, and then reinsert it down toward the oil reservoir. Remove the dipstick a second time and notice where the oil level hits (there are notches or holes on the dipstick). If it’s not where the manual recommends it, you might have a leak that’s draining it. Bring it in for servicing as soon as you can. Ignoring this problem can lead to more costly car repairs in the future.

Hopefully, this helps you understand the important job performed by motor oil, and why you shouldn’t shirk regular oil changes. If you have questions, contact Master Muffler’s Salt Lake City car repair location today. 

Categories: Automotive Info

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