Motor oil: It’s something we rarely think about until we need it. Then, most of us just pay to have someone else take care of it. But choosing the right oil for your car is more complex than the tech at your local quick lube punching your make and model into the shop computer. There are lots of factors to consider: viscosity, synthetic or conventional, high mileage or standard.
Luckily, you have a few things going for you to navigate this minefield. Your biggest ally is the owner’s manual in your glove box. In there, along with recommended tire PSI and towing capacity, you should be able to find your manufacturer’s recommended motor oil, usually right down to a recommended brand. On top of that, strict industry regulations mean about 95% of motor oils are created equal. As long as you see certification and classification from the American Petroleum Institute on your oil carton (they’re usually prominently displayed), then there isn’t a lot that can go wrong.
So here’s what you need to know: the difference between synthetic and conventional oils and how to read viscosity. Synthetic oils are formulated from petrochemicals to be more adaptable than conventional oil. While both contain additives and detergents, synthetics generally last longer and maintain their viscosity at extreme temperatures.
With synthetics, there are two big factors: price (some can cost up to twice as much as conventional oil) and the condition of your engine. Most newer performance and luxury cars recommend synthetic oils. But if you have an older, high-mileage car, some drivers have complained of leaks once they’ve made the jump to synthetic. If your car is newer, we can’t recommend synthetic enough. If you’re not sure whether it’s right for your car, ask your mechanic.
As for viscosity, you’ll notice a grade on the bottle, such as 5W30. That first number is temperature compared to zero degrees Fahrenheit, the W is for winter, and the second number is viscosity index, or how thick and resistant to flow the oil is. So 5W30 means the oil maintains at temperatures as low as 5 degrees and is less viscus than something, such as 10W40. Check your owners manual first, but some people use different viscosities depending on time of year or mileage. When in doubt, go with what the manufacturer recommends.
This might all seem like a lot. But once you know these basics, you’re ready to make an informed decision on one of the most important fluids in your car. And now that you know the ins and outs of motor oil, here are 10 of the best options on the market.
1. Mobil 1
When it comes to oil, Mobil 1 is the biggest standout. The recommended oil of Mercedes, Porsche, Lexus, McLaren, and the Corvette, Mobil 1 offers a number of conventional, synthetic blend, and synthetic oils for cars, trucks, diesel engines, motorcycles, and heavy-duty haulers. Thanks to its ubiquity, Mobil 1 is generally considered to be the industry standard — which means every other competitor claims it can do it better. This keeps things plenty interesting.
Next: This brand invented synthetic oils.