How to Choose the Right Oil for Your Vehicle

Engine oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle, so it’s paramount that you not only have it changed every 3,000-5,000 kilometers, but that you know and trust your mechanic to change your oil with the best product possible.

Even if you’re confident that you’re never going to change your engine oil and filter yourself, it’s important to know the basic facts about different types of engine oil should you ever need to top up your vehicle in the event of a roadside breakdown or emergency.

Gasoline engines require regular oil changes and maintenance because oil lubricates, cools and protects various moving parts in your engine. Oil also helps to seal the pistons in the cylinders creating compression – without oil, your engine would run for a few seconds and inevitably seize.

Your local dealership mechanic will likely have a plethora of oils on display within their garage, and for good reason; different engines require different oils. There are oils developed for high-tech engines, off road trucks and SUV’s, vehicles with high mileage, and oils for new cars.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you understand and choose the best engine oil for your vehicle:


When you look at a bottle of oil, you’ll notice a few letters and numbers thrown together, think 10W-30. These labels are meant to tell you about the viscosity of the oil. Viscosity is a liquid’s resistance to flow, and is rated at 0 degrees Fahrenheit by the number prior to the ‘W’ (which stands for winter), and at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the second number following the ‘W.’

So by comparing a bottle of 10W-30 and 20W-30 for example, you can understand that the 10W-30 oil has less viscosity when hot and cold that the ladder, meaning it has less resistance to flow. Since oil thins as it heats up within your engine, and thickens when it’s cold, the right additives are required to help it from thinning too much. Some of these additives include corrosion-reducers, antiwear agents to help reduce engine wear and tear, antioxidants to prevent oxidization of oil, and detergents to help remove deposits within your engine.

The more resistant an oil is to thinning, the higher the second number will be following the ‘W.’ For most applications, thicker oil means keeps a better seal and maintains a thicker, better layer of lubrication between engine components. But don’t go out and purchase 10W-50 because having the thickest oil sounds correct – always use the type of oil recommended in your vehicle’s owner manual.

Conventional Oil

Every leading brand will have a conventional premium oil meant available for regular service rated at various viscosities. Usually, a 5W-20, or 5W-30 will be the spec for lower temperatures, with a 10W-30 listed as optional for higher temperatures. These three viscosity ratings are the norm for most light duty vehicles on the road, and a conventional oil will keep your motor running in peak condition, pending you have it changed on schedule – about every 3,000-5,000 kilometers, or every 3 or 4 months.

Full Synthetic Oil

Made for high-tech engines, whether that be a performance-tuned Camaro SS, or a bossy BMW 5-series, chances are all of these motors will require synthetic oils for a few reasons. Synthetics are subjected to a number of special tests, optimizing them for longer lasting performance in critical areas. Synthetic oils typically flow better than their conventional oil cousins at low temperatures, and maintain peak performance and lubricating ability while running hot. These products are pretty expensive by comparison.

Synthetic Blend Oil

A little of column A, and a little or column B; these blended oil products are optimized with both conventional and synthetic oils to achieve better protection for heavier loads and higher temperatures – think off-roaders, or pick-up trucks that regularly pull a large boat or trailer. Drivers of big trucks and SUV’s tend to prefer synthetic blends because they are a little less erratic of a substance, and evaporate less. As a result, expect reduced oil loss and increased fuel economy. Finally, they’re a lot cheaper than full synthetics, and about par with conventional oils.

High Mileage Oil

When your vehicle slips into the unknown realm of six-figure mileage, you may begin to notice a loss of oil over time. This is because seals, gaskets and cylinder walls are beginning to loosen up, wear down, or crack – particularly at low temperatures, so you may begin to notice a drop or two of oil on the driveway, or garage floor.

Higher mileage oils are formulated with seal conditioners that help to fill in the seals’ weak points, increasing their flexibility and restoring their original shapes.  These oils also have typically higher viscosities that conventional oils.

If your vehicle has around 80,000 kilometers or more, high mileage oils may be a better fit for your motor than a full synthetic option, at a fraction of the cost.