How to Choose the Right Motor Oil for Your Car

How To Choose The Right Motor Oil For Your Car

You want your engine to stay in good shape because engine repairs are inconvenient and expensive. You’ll need a good motor oil for your car if you’re going to save costs on engine repairs and lower the chances of an untimely breakdown.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to choose the right motor oil for your car so that your engine will stay at peak functioning for the longest possible amount of time without breaking down.

If you aren’t a car person, don’t worry — we’ll kick things off with an explanation of why your engine needs motor oil and why you shouldn’t skimp when you’re picking out motor oil.

Why Does Motor Oil Matter?

Motor oil has several functions which it fulfills for your engine. These functions include:

  • Lubricating the moving parts of the engine
  • Dissolving buildup caused by combustion of fuel in the engine
  • Inhibiting rusting, corrosion, and gasket degradation caused by acids
  • Absorbing and routing some of the heat from the engine

If your motor oil fails at one of these functions, your engine will experience a tremendous amount of wear and tear, which it wouldn’t otherwise. Engines are designed to operate using a specific type of motor oil based on the byproducts of each combustion cylinder’s cycle.

If you use the default motor oil, it does not mean that your car will never break. Instead, it means that you have a much larger chance of your engine reaching the manufacturer’s rated number of engine cycles before breaking.

In other words, using the default motor oil which meets the specifications of your engine’s manufacturer only guarantees that you are giving your car the best chance of breaking when the manufacturer thinks is an acceptable point to break.

By using a better motor oil than the bare minimum, you increase the chance of your engine lasting more protracted than what the manufacturer expected for each part.

Once again, there is no guarantee of each of your engine parts lasting more protracted than what the manufacturer expects if you switch out the motor oil for better oil, but your chances are better, which means that you will probably spend less on maintenance over any given interval of time.

Engine Strain With A Subpar Motor Oil

When your engine’s motor oil is worse than the bare minimum specified by the manufacturer, the engine will experience strain which will make it break faster. This strain is caused by a handful of issues that motor oil is designed to avert.

Specifically, most motor oils prevent sludge accumulation in the chambers of the engine by containing solvents. When each chamber of the engine undergoes repeated cycles of combustion, the combustion leaves traces of the explosion behind inside the engine chamber.

The trace combustion elements on the inside of each combustion cylinder can quickly become caked on and then start to accumulate over time.

After enough combustion byproducts have cakes onto the cylinder, the cylinder’s capacity for pressurized fuel is lower than it would be otherwise. This can then cause fuel to backflow out of the cylinder after being injected, causing the engine to flood.

It can also cause the output of the combustion cylinder to decrease, as the total volume of pressurized fuel inside of the cylinder is smaller than it would be otherwise. When the production of the combustion cylinder falls, the car’s performance decreases, and it may fail to start.

Thus, poor motor oils may lack the solvents which are necessary to prevent this buildup. Weak motor oils may also lack chemicals which neutralize the corrosive or acidic chemicals which are present in the combustion byproducts.

When these chemicals are left unchecked by weak motor oil, the edges of the combustion cylinder can become eaten away. More commonly, the spark plug is damaged or destroyed by these chemicals, however.

When the spark plug dies, the entire engine cylinder cannot operate, but it can continue to be injected with fuel until it overflows and floods the engine.

In summary, subpar motor oils tend to lack one of the following ingredients:

  • Solvents
  • Anti-corrosion chemicals
  • Acid neutralizers

We’ll use this list in the next section as a guide for how we can find the right motor oil for your car.

Features to Look for When You’re Picking Motor Oil

When you’re in the market for motor oil, most motor oils on the shelf will do the bare minimum to protect your car. If you want your car to last for the long haul, you will need to get the motor oil that goes beyond the basics.

The best motor oils have the following features:

  • Solvents
  • Acid neutralizers
  • Base neutralizers
  • Lubricants
  • Heat absorbency

Each of these features serves a specific purpose. Nearly all motor oils have some mixture of solvents and mild lubricants, so the majority of the differences between products will come from the differences in the neutralizer content as well as the strength of the solvents and lubricants.

While we’ve already discussed the benefits and importance of solvents and neutralizers, you may not have heard much about the purpose of lubricants in motor oil.

The lubricants in the motor oil ensure that when the piston within the engine cylinder moves back and forth as a result of the force from the combustion within the engine, it runs smoothly.

When the piston’s motion is not lubricated properly, the cylinder scrapes the sides of the piston. The scraping of the piston against the sides of the cylinder removes tiny pieces of metal.

Over a long enough period, the cylinder gets degraded by the grating. The efficiency of the engine will drop, and the engine may become flooded by fuel if holes in the side of the cylinder start to accumulate.

Heat absorbance is also an underrated but necessary feature of motor oil. When the engine heats as a result of combustion within the cylinders, the heat is transferred to the cylinders themselves, causing the metal to expand.

When your engine uses effective motor oil, however, the heat generated by the combustion of the fuel within the cylinders is partially absorbed by the oil. Then, when the oil circulates to other parts of the engine, it is dispersed into the surrounding air via the radiator.

The transfer of heat from the motor oil to the radiator is not a significant source of cooling capabilities for the engine as a whole. However, motor oil can make the difference between an acceptably warm engine and an engine that is in danger of overheating.

Thus, motor oil is not the only element of your vehicle’s cooling strategy, but a good motor oil will protect it from the wear and tear, which is caused by chronic overheating.

You shouldn’t prioritize heat wicking in your decision making regarding motor oil, but it is a desirable feature which can help you to decide between similar products.

Read also: Our updated guide to the top oil drip pans on the market

Riding Smooth

Now that you’re up to date on the best features to look for in motor oil, you’re ready to make a purchase. Remember to use your manufacturer’s suggestions as a starting point for your motor oil purchase — but don’t forget that they shouldn’t be an end-point, either.

Pick a motor oil which has the right mixture of engine-preserving chemicals to make sure that your engine has a long and healthy life.

When you hear about your friend’s engine breaking down right after its warranty ends, you’ll be grateful that you can expect yours to last even longer.

Brett Gordon

The engine behind editing at DigMyRide and the brains behind its build. During the day, Brett is a thirty-something dude from SoCal climbing the corporate ladder, but by night, he spends his time contributing to the online world of automotive tech & trends.