Head to the engine oil aisle of your local automotive goods store and you’re likely to be greeted with row upon row of different products. There are synthetic oils, fuel-saving oils, high-mileage oils, ultra-low viscosity oils, multi-grade oils, and much more. Not surprisingly, with so many choices on the market, many customers coming into an auto mechanic shop for an oil change feel a bit confused. You can help them choose the best oil for their vehicles by keeping these three facts about modern engine oil in mind.
Become an Auto Mechanic and Read Oil Grades
0W-20, 5W-30, 10W-60, 15W-40… Have you ever wondered what the numbers (and that one W) mean in different engine oil grades? While they may look mysterious, they’re actually telling you a lot about the oil’s viscosity (which roughly refers to its thickness). Oils with a higher viscosity generally perform better, but if the viscosity is too high then the vehicle may have trouble starting in the winter.
The first number tells you the oil’s viscosity at cold temperatures, with the W actually standing for “Winter” or, more specifically, the oil’s viscosity at 0⁰F. The lower the number before the W, the more it will flow in cold temperatures. The second number, meanwhile, is the oil’s viscosity in high temperatures (specifically at 212⁰F). The higher the second number is, the better it is at holding its viscosity when in warm weather or once the engine heats up.
European Vehicles Require Higher Quality Oil than American and Asian Cars
When you become an auto mechanic, you’re probably going to be working on vehicles that have been manufactured in many different countries. Where a vehicle comes from makes a big difference in terms of the type of oil it needs. For the most part, vehicles manufactured in Europe require much higher-quality oils that can maintain viscosity at higher temperatures and that will last longer than American or Asian models will.
There are a lot of reasons for the difference, but a main one is that European environmental regulations have long forced most manufacturers to focus on diesel-powered vehicles, which have lower carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions. The type of engine oil required for diesel-powered vehicles is different than what is needed in gas-powered vehicles. While European engine oil is definitely expensive, the intervals between oil changes are much, much longer.
Driving Conditions Are the Best Way to Determine When to Get an Oil Change
You’ll probably hear a lot of customers tell you, after you finish your auto mechanic courses, that they have always changed their oil every 5,000 km or twice a year. While the twice-a-year advice remains a good rule of thumb to follow, mileage is now less of a factor in determining when a vehicle needs an oil change. The additives in modern engine oils, like oil detergents, along with improved car engineering, mean most cars can now go much longer distances between oil changes.
However, that’s not true for everyone. Somebody living and working in the city, for example, who is in a lot of traffic will need an oil change more frequently than somebody living in a small town. That’s because all that braking and accelerating in the city thins out the oil faster than for somebody who is mostly cruising down country roads.
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