Are All Auto Oils the Same? Why Using the Wrong Kind of Oil Can Cost You Thousands

A quick tour down the aisles of any auto parts store will show you exactly how many kinds of auto oil are on the market. Unfortunately, for many people, the number of products can seem overwhelming. 

It brings to mind an immediate question: are all auto oils the same? If you’ve ever wondered what the answer to that question is, this article will give you the details you’ve hoped to learn. 

Vehicle owners know what auto oil comes in various brands, types, and quantities. This can make it challenging to decide which oils are correct for your needs. It also might make you wonder what the harm would be if you select a container of oil at random.

Whatever you do, don’t give in to that impulse. It can cause severe issues with your car and end up costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

This article will explain why you need specific types of oil and what happens if you don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions and choose another oil.

Is All Auto Oil Essentially the Same?

If you want the short answer to this question, it’s no. Not all engine oil is the same. It’s not all made in the same way or for the exact same purposes. That’s why choosing the right oil is so important.

It also comes down to more than just different types of oil. Some oil will have a different viscosity than other oils. One might have a particular additive that the other does not. All of those things can impact the life and performance of your engine.

But before we delve into all those factors, let’s start at the beginning and look into why your car needs oil to begin with.

Why Vehicles Require Engine Oil

Engine oil acts as a lubricant that offers several benefits to your vehicle. However, the primary purpose is to cut down on friction and prevent wear and tear on the moving components in the car engine.

In addition, engine oil is used to seal, clean, protect, and cool down all the metallic areas of the engine.

However, oils differ in some regards. The type of oil you use will significantly impact how well it works for your specific car, truck, or SUV.

The Four Common Types of Motor Oil

You might know that were are several types of oil on the market. Some of you may even be able to name all four of them. These oils are conventional, synthetic, synthetic blend, and high-mileage. 

Below, we’ll share the characteristics of each of these oils to provide insight into which is suitable for your needs.

Conventional Oil

When you think of traditional motor oil, that’s the same as conventional oil. This engine oil is made using crude oil that is moved out of the ground and then taken to a factory to be refined.

Several processes take place, and different additives are introduced to the oil to better protect the engine and improve viscosity. Once that’s done, the oil is placed in bottles, and you buy it from an auto parts store, big-box store, or even online.

Conventional oil has both pros and cons to be aware of. When it comes to benefits, conventional oil has a much lower cost than other motor oils. That means you spend less to ensure your vehicle runs smoothly and your engine is protected.

In addition, conventional oil is fairly effective compared to other types. In reality, no motor oil you can buy today is terrible. It all comes down to choosing the correct quantity and grade to get the performance you want.

But we also need to talk about the downsides of conventional oil. Since conventional oil is a natural material, it comes to you in a less refined form than other oils. 

On top of that, when comparing the four types of oil, conventional will offer the lowest amount of engine protection comparatively.

Full Synthetic Oil

Entirely opposite to conventional oil, full synthetic oil is manufactured in a laboratory or a factory. This makes it more consistent since the process of manufacturing is highly controlled, and strict standards tend to be in place.

As such, full synthetic is more refined than conventional oil. This leads to it being a better choice for motor protection.

On the other hand, full synthetic oil is more expensive than the alternative. In fact, it can be quite a bit more costly for someone on a budget. 

Assuming you take your vehicle into the shop for an oil change, it might cost $20 to $40 more depending on the amount of oil the car takes.

However, there is a silver lining to consider when choosing between conventional and full synthetic oil. In most cases, a full synthetic will keep working longer than a traditional one. That means you may not need to have your oil changed as often as you would using conventional motor oil.

Synthetic Blend Oil

Now that you understand what synthetic oil is and how it differs from conventional oil let’s get into synthetic blend oil. This offers some of the best parts of each type of oil because it’s created using both synthetic and conventional oil together.

The idea behind synthetic blend oil is to offer many of the benefits of each type of oil while avoiding some of the downfalls of each. However, that doesn’t mean that this is the perfect oil for everyone.

As you might guess, synthetic blends have improved performance and protection compared to conventional oil. However, neither of these things is quite as good as a full synthetic can offer.

Synthetic blend oil can also last somewhat longer than conventional but won’t stand up to the longevity of a full synthetic oil.

As far as price goes, a synthetic blend oil is more expensive than conventional oil but not to the extent of a full synthetic. So in most cases, they’re an excellent middle-ground between the two when conventional isn’t enough, and synthetic is too expensive.

High-Mileage Oil

It’s hard to compare high-mileage oil to the other types since it is a unique oil variation for cars and trucks. 

A high-mileage oil will have a specially formulated blend of additives that are meant to help engine seals stay protected. This results in better performance and less oil evaporation.

If you drive a vehicle that is getting up there in terms of mileage, the additional protection may be helpful. Oil burn-off is more common in cars that have been used a lot and can create a reduced engine lifespan and extra wear.

For cars with over 75,000 miles on the odometer, choosing high-mileage oil over the other three alternatives is usually recommended.

Engine Oil Grades

Another aspect of motor oil is the grade. This is indicated on the bottle through several numbers and letters. Many grades of engine oil are available on the market, and each of them is designed for a specific type of condition.

Some of the most common grades that you may have seen include:

  • 20W-50
  • 15W-40
  • 10W-40
  • 10W-30
  • 5W-30
  • 5W-40

Understanding what these oils are good for requires an explanation about what the letters and numbers refer to. Taking a 15W-40 as an example, check out the details.

While you might think that the W in the grade means weight, that isn’t true. It’s actually an abbreviation for winter. So in the case of the 15W-40, the 15W indicates the viscosity of the oil in cold temperatures.

For example, a 5W will have a better flow in the cold than a 20W would. The oil typically gets thicker when it’s cold, so those located in cold areas might want to choose a 5W or 10W motor oil.

That still leaves the second number to contend with. The 40 in 15W-40 indicates how thick the motor oil is in a normal operating situation. The higher this number is, the better it resists thinning when in hot temperatures.

As an example, 20W-50 and 15W-40 are designed for warmer areas of the world.

Choosing the Right Engine Oil to Use

The owner’s manual for your vehicle will indicate the appropriate motor oil to be used with your engine. Manufacturers will also recommend which grade and type of oil are likely to work best for you.

If you believe you should switch to a different grade or type of oil, it’s best to speak with a professional before doing so. A mechanic at a trusted auto shop is a good choice. They can share the benefits and issues so you can be sure you select an oil that works well with your engine and vehicle.

What Problems Can Occur When Using the Wrong Motor Oil?

One of the most important aspects of car maintenance involves engine oil and, more specifically, using the right kind of oil for your car. 

As different components and parts contact each other in the engine; this creates friction and results in heat. When these two things continue, it can result in failing parts, even in costly components.

If these parts are not appropriately lubricated with the appropriate oil, you have less protection, and all sorts of negative things can occur.

Curious what you can expect if you use the wrong oil? Several of the most common problems are outlined below.

Oil Leaks

When you use a synthetic in the wrong car or use a conventional when you should use a blend, it can cause serious issues. One of those is the leaking of seals and gaskets. 

Once this starts to occur, the oil may leak out under your car. It can also cause white smoke to come out of the exhaust pipes in the back of your vehicle. 

If you notice either of these things, you may be using the wrong oil and should rectify that.

Strange Engine Noises

Using motor oil that can’t sufficiently coat all the parts moving around in the engine might lead to strange noises. 

When you hear knocking or tapping noises that seem to come from the engine, especially in the cold or when starting a car, this often means the engine is not adequately lubricated. 

In this situation, you may need a different grade of motor oil. Look at its viscosity and choose a thicker oil to avoid this problem. This is even more important in winter conditions when the weather is frigid outside.

Stunted Fuel Economy

Low oil viscosity can lead to engine noise, but if the oil is thicker than it should be, that can cause other problems. One of the most common is declining engine performance.

It’s generally harder to determine that thick motor oil is causing a drop in engine power, but there is one trick that can tip you toward this being a problem.

If you’ve noticed that you had an oil change and now the car is using up far more fuel than it used to, this often means that the wrong kind of oil was used to refill the vehicle. 

Reduced Engine Life

The biggest issue that can result from using the wrong oil is reduced engine life. As you might already know, a new engine can be prohibitively expensive. The labor associated with it only drives that number higher. 

So if the motor goes out, you could be looking at spending thousands on a solution.

How does that apply to using the wrong motor oil? If the motor oil is too thin, it may not offer enough resistance for your engine. And if it happens to be too thick, it might not flow into all sections. Metal might start to grind against metal and cause parts to wear away.

In either case, the wrong oil can result in less lubrication and even lead to an engine that gives out on you much more quickly than expected.

Final Thoughts

It isn’t enough to put motor oil in your vehicle – it needs to be the correct oil. This varies based on the car you drive, the conditions you spend time in, the temperature where you live, and more.

Not sure whether you’re using the right oil? Take a look at your owner’s manual. If you don’t have access, you can often find it online. But remember that you may need a more or less viscous oil depending on your climate!

Sources:

https://runautoparts.com.au/blog/post/are-all-engine-oils-the-same

https://www.cbac.com/media-center/blog/2019/february/understanding-the-different-types-of-engine-oil/

https://www.firestonecompleteautocare.com/maintain/oil/types/

https://www.championautoparts.com/Parts-Matter/by-the-numbers/All-About-Motor-Oil.html

Written by Strut Daddy's

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