Motor Oil 101
One of the most important things you can do to help your car last a good, long time is regularly change the oil. Motor oil does three things:
- Lubricates the moving parts of your engine.
- Cools the engine by conducting heat away from the moving parts.
- Prevents engine corrosion by holding the products of combustion (metals like silica, water and dirt) in suspension.
There are two main types of motor oil for car engines on the market today.
- Mineral oils, refined from crude oil to make a base lube stock. Motor oil manufacturers take this base and add detergent, dispersants and anti-foaming agents to make the oil you buy in the store. (This is the oil you are probably most familiar with.)
- Synthetic oils, manufactured in a laboratory. This controlled process produces small oil-like molecules that are uniform in size and shape and give synthetics a more flowing “slippery” quality.
Motor oils, both synthetic and mineral, are available in several viscosity grades. If you have ever stood at the auto parts store scratching your head at the numbers on the containers they have to do with how well the oil will flow at varying temperatures. If you live in very cold or very hot temperatures it is particularly important to have the right viscosity oil in your engine. Using the wrong viscosity oil can lead to shorter engine life and in cold climates can make your car harder to start.
Which Type of Oil Should You Use?
The short answer is use the motor oil recommended by your auto manufacturer and change the oil and filter at least every 5000 miles. If you drive in extreme weather conditions (very cold or very hot,) do a lot of stop and go driving or drive high performance vehicles you may want to consider switching to synthetic oil. A semi-synthetic (combination of petroleum and synthetic oils) is also available. There are varying opinions among car experts about the pros and cons of synthetic oils. Here is a summary:
Synthetic Oil Pros
- Resists extreme temperatures.
- Last longer (more miles between oil changes.)
- Environmentally friendly (due to the fact you change the oil less frequently and the fact that a non-renewable resource wasn’t used in the production of the oil.)
Synthetic Oil Cons
- Significantly more expensive than regular motor oil (approximately three times more.)
- Debate about oil changing frequency. Many auto experts feel it is still important to change synthetic oil on the same schedule as regular oil due to the dirt and other contaminants that get in the oil.
- Recycled synthetic oils are processed the same way as recycled mineral oils and are equally as damaging to the environment when they are not disposed of properly. (Most recycled oil whether it is synthetic or petroleum is filtered, cleaned and reused as a lubricant.)
Our best advice? Have your oil changed regularly and if you think you’d like to try something different talk to a qualified auto service technician who will help you make the right decision for your car.