What Oil Does My Car Take

It’s best to follow the rules in your owner’s manual to help promote a clean-running machine.

Woman checking oil under hood of carGetty Images

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Engine oil is one of the most critical components in assuring proper performance and longevity for your beloved automobile. Consider oil a crucial part of your car’s health.

With so many different types and brands of oil for sale, it can be confusing to figure out what’s right — or even necessary — to keep your car in top running condition.

Stick with your manual

The most accessible and authoritative place to start is that owner’s manual tucked in the bottom of your glove box. Consider it the number one source of specific information about the oil type best suited to your vehicle.

While it might seem like any kind of oil will do the trick, your owner’s manual will provide detailed instructions on the oil weight, the required volume and even the type of oil filter required, and if you should use a different oil at different times of the year if your climate changes a lot during the winter.

Ford owners, for instance, can also use the Motorcraft website to find the details on the correct oil for any Ford product. In most cases, you can use different brands once you know the right numbers, though your carmaker may suggest a preferred oil.

What do all these numbers mean?

As you look at your manual, you’ll see a series of letters, numbers, and different organization names that will help you make the right choice at a gas station or auto parts store.

One typical oil identification is 10W-40. The numbers refer to cold and hot viscosity — the thickness and fluidity of your oil — and the “W” refers to winter. If you live in a cold climate, the oil you choose will need to be thin enough to circulate on a cold morning start. The first number refers to cold engine oil weight, and the second applies to the correct weight when your engine is at full running temperature.

Most oil sold in the United States has labeling ratings from either the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) or the American Petroleum Institute (API), which provide codes to help you determine:

  1. If the oil is made for a gasoline or diesel engine
  2. If you can use the oil in an older vehicle

Do I have to follow my mechanic’s advice?

Hopefully you’ve found a mechanic you can trust with your car’s maintenance, but what happens when they say there’s not much difference between oil grades or brands, and that you should just go with the least expensive choice?

According to Valvoline, it’s essential to use precisely the weight and type of oil specified in your owner’s manual and not to get creative. While you might save a few bucks, using the wrong oil weight can lead to increased oil consumption or even cause long-term damage that will mean a shorter life for your automobile.

As they explain, using a heavier grade of oil can cause more pressure inside your engine and lead to more gas consumption; a lighter grade can also mean more wear on your engine’s components. Overall, it’s best to simply follow the instructions set out by your carmaker, and stick with them — as well as following the recommended intervals for having oil and filter changes.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.