Skip to main content

Here’s What You Need to Know About Choosing the Right Motor Oil for Your Car

Oil changes are one of the most common maintenance jobs that people do themselves; you can save quite a bit of money, and, once you know how to do it, it’s not too difficult. The hard part can be figuring out which motor oil to buy. If that’s the case, then the first question you should ask yourself is “where’s my owner’s manual?” Hopefully, it’s in the glove compartment. If not, you can find the manuals from most major automakers online. Paper copies can be purchased, but the PDFs are usually free. The manual will tell you if there’s a specific kind of viscosity to look for. After you figure that out, there are some other factors you’ll want to consider before choosing a motor oil.

The first factor to consider is the viscosity, and part of that has to do with checking the weather report. Oil thickens when it’s cold and thins when the weather is hot. So the kind of climate you’re driving in should be considered when choosing an oil. The numbers you see on a container of motor oil, in fact, refer to the viscosity as it relates to temperature. A number before the letter “W” indicates how well it’s designed to run in cold weather (the “W” is for winter), and the second number relates to how it runs in hot weather. Another thing to consider is the car you have. Some manufacturers produce high-mileage oil, for example, which can be a good choice for older cars that have seen their fair share of highways.

If you’ve never changed your oil before, the basics look a little something like this. You’ll need gloves, a wrench, a drain pan, a funnel, an oil filter, and of course, the oil. You’ll potentially also need a jack and jack stands, depending on your car. The car should be warm but not too hot, and you’ll want to position the pan under the car to catch the old oil. The old oil should be drained first. Then, replace the filter. After that, add the new oil and check the oil level. Many major auto shops will take the old oil and recycle it for you once you’re done.

There are also certifying agencies that verify the quality of the motor oils. Seals to look out for include the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the American Petroleum Institute (API)  stamps. Motor oil also varies between synthetic, partially synthetic, and conventional. Synthetic has many benefits, including performing better at higher and lower temperatures and helping to keep your car cleaner. The drawback of synthetic oils is the substantial cost compared to conventional. Some newer cars will require that you use synthetic, but in some cases, the choice may be up to you. With that in mind, these are some of the best motor oils out right now.

1. Royal Purple High Performance Synthetic Motor Oil

Royal Purple makes oil and lubricant for racing and commercial use, and it’s beloved among many gearheads. This high-performance motor oil from the brand has a viscosity of 5W-30. The oil is fully synthetic, and comes in a variety of sizes between 1 and 12 quarts.

Pros: High-performance fully-synthetic oil from a well-regarded brand.

Cons: Expensive.

Lazy loaded image

2. AmazonBasics High Mileage Motor Oil, Full Synthetic

AmazonBasics continues to make affordable versions of pretty much everything you could possibly need, including this high mileage fully synthetic oil. Its viscosity is 5W-30, and it’s specifically formulated for cars that have over 75,000 miles. AmazonBasics also offers conventional oil and synthetic blends.

Pros: Highly affordable fully synthetic oil, good option for high-mileage vehicles.

Cons: Packaging makes it difficult to see how much oil you have left in the bottle, because there’s no transparent strip on the side.

Lazy loaded image

3. Valvoline High Mileage Synthetic Blend Motor Oil

This option from Valvoline is designed to improve the performance of high-mileage vehicles. If you have a car with more than 75,000 miles on it, this may be a good option for you. It’s a synthetic blend. Like many of the other options on this list, its viscosity is SAE 5W-30. However, you can also choose more unconventional options like 20W-50 from this same listing.

Pros: Good option for high-mileage vehicles, and is easy to choose from a wide variety of viscosities, including 10W-40 and 5W-20.

Cons: Issue with bottling where the cap can be hard to re-seal.

Lazy loaded image

4. Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Full Synthetic Motor Oil

Another well-regarded fully synthetic oil is this option from Pennzoil. It’s designed to be stable under extreme driving conditions, and it’s rated SAE 5W-20. It’s formulated to keep the car clean of build-up and boost fuel economy. An added bonus is that the smartly designed bottle has handles on the top and side for more precise pouring control.

Pros: Designed to boost fuel economy and preserve the cleanliness of the pistons. Good all-around fully synthetic option.

Cons: Somewhat expensive.

Lazy loaded image

5. Castrol Full Synthetic Motor Oil

Another fully synthetic pick is this 5-quart bottle from Castrol. The viscosity of this oil is 5W-30, but a 5W-20 option is also available from the same listing. The oil is designed to cling to critical engine parts to reduce wear upon starting up, and it’s designed to perform well under poor driving conditions such as short trips, extreme weather, and stop-and-go traffic.

Pros: Fully synthetic oil, good for vehicles that are driven in poor conditions such as heavy traffic and short trips.

Cons: More regular oil changes may be required.

Lazy loaded image