Motor oil

Understand engine oil’s role

Why it’s important for your engine
Engine oil is a real multitasker, fortified with additives that perform beyond the obvious mission of combating metal-on-metal friction and heat. It also fights "blow-by": The soot, exhaust gases and unburned fuel that inevitably enter the crankcase in small doses by sneaking past the piston rings. In any event, without engine oil, metal parts will quickly bend, bond and barbecue..
What the numbers and letters mean
Engine oil used to be a lot simpler. The local auto parts store typically carried a few varieties of a few major brands, and that was about it. As engines have become more complex, engine oil has diversified to keep up with changing needs — as evidenced from all the specs printed on bottles of engine oil. Fortunately, there are industry standards that explain it all.

The numbers
On the front of a typical engine oil container, you’ll see the oil’s specified viscosity rating. For our basic introduction to engine oil, just think of viscosity unscientifically as “thickness.” A few common viscosities include 0W-20, 5W-30, 10W-40, and 20W-50, though there are many more. These are multigrade oils, containing additives to tailor their viscosities to various engines’ requirements and ambient operating temperatures (although, on the latter point, the numbers themselves do not translate directly to thermometer readings).
Example : 5W-30 oil. The first number, 5, indicates the lowest operational cold temperature range, while the second, 30, signifies the highest operational temperature range. You may see single-grade oils with simpler viscosity numbers, like 20W, for instance. These have a limited operating range and only perform well for specific applications and conditions. Most modern vehicles are happiest with multigrade oils.        

The letters
Whatever the engine oil’s viscosity, the numbers are usually preceded by “SAE,” which stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers, the organization whose viscosity standards determine the numbers. Incidentally, the prominent “W” is somewhat redundant in that it stands for “winter,” reconfirming the first number’s representation as the coldest operating range. 
Which engine oil is right for your car
If you’re beginning to suspect that selecting the right engine oil isn’t straightforward, you’re correct. For one, synthetic engine oils are now in the mainstream, though they’ve actually been available for decades. As the name suggests, they’re derived from chemical compounds other than those present in crude oil. More expensive synthetics offer improved lubrication at all temperatures and are capable of extended service intervals. Recently, synthetic blends have become popular, combining conventional and synthetic engine oils as a mid-range compromise. Additionally, there’s oil formulated for high-mileage engines, with additives to condition engine seals.
Even two identical vehicles may benefit from different engine oil viscosities and/or formulas. It partly depends on the car’s engine (gas, diesel or hybrid), age and mileage. It also depends on how you drive, how much you drive and your climate. The easiest answer to this question? Consult your owner’s manual.
How often your engine oil should be checked and changed
For most cars, it’s ideal to check the oil with the engine cold and not running (there are a few exceptions, so consult your owner’s manual), while parked on a level surface. If you’re not sure where your engine’s dipstick resides, the manual will reveal this as well. You should see oil between the two lines or holes in the dipstick; when it’s in that range, your level is fine. If it’s at or below the lower mark, add a quart and remember to check the level again soon. Again, a cold engine will usually give the most accurate reading, but if you incorporate this habit into your fill-up routine at the gas station, so be it.
The once-standard schedule of every three months or 3,000 miles is, well, changing. Some manufacturers and engine-oil producers are recommending longer service intervals under certain circumstances. When in doubt, refer to your owner’s manual. If you’re still in doubt after that, talk to a qualified service technician. 
Oil for thought
If you think fuel is important, consider oil’s role in your engine’s well-being. There’s far more to engine oil than we’re able to cover here, but with this look at the fundamentals, you can begin to understand engine oil and make the right choices for your vehicle.

 

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