Motor oil is an essential product for a healthy engine. But, for a consumer, selecting a motor oil can be a very confusing process. There are currently thousands of variations across multiple brands that have all been developed to address specific traits, and picking just any motor oil instead of picking the right motor oil continues to be a leading mistake amongst consumers.
In the absence of being educated in the category, a consumer could easily choose the wrong oil which can ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences, including complete engine failure. A consumer’s car owner manual, for example, might recommend 5W30. For a consumer thinking all 5W30 engine oils are the same, many vehicles demand a 5W30 GF-5 SN+ or 5W30 GF-6 oil – this is a vehicle that incorporates GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) technology.
Many OEM’s also have their own specs, such as Volkswagen, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Volvo, and GM’s Dexos1Gen 2 – all of which can also demand a 5W30 grade, but with a very specific formulation. “Any damage that is the direct result of using the wrong oil will not be covered by warrantee,” said Ian Hutchison, marketing manager, Wakefield Canada.
“Another common mistake is to focus on low quality oil,” added Oliver Kuhn, deputy head of the oil laboratory at LIQUI MOLY. “Compared to the value of the car and compared to all the hassle and additional cost for an engine breakdown, spending a few more dollars on high quality motor oil definitely pays off.”
Choosing the right motor oil
In an environment such as Canada, where cold, harsh winters are the norm, motor oils are subject to greater demands by the consumer. While more people are staying off the roads these days due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, many consumers fail to realize that despite a lower mileage on their vehicle, oil deterioration continues to occur.
There are currently many oil specifications in the aftermarket, which can further add to the confusion that customers face when narrowing down a motor oil selection, but this stems from the car manufacturing side, not the oil industry. For that reason, customers need to truly understand the requirements of their vehicle before making any costly decisions.
“Consumers and need to look very closely at what their vehicle requires as far as oil change frequency and be very certain that when they are getting an oil change that the garage is using a trusted brand, and the correct specification for their vehicle,” Hutchison said.
Government fuel economy, emissions regulations, and consumer demand have all forced automotive and heavy-duty manufacturers to make their engines cleaner, more powerful, and more fuel efficient with longer drain intervals. “All of these demands have forced automotive engineers to design engines differently, which demands more of their lubricants,” Hutchison said. “The challenges to achieve these targets are high, so engineers and manufacturers take different approaches to achieve those goals, which in many cases creates OEM-specific specs.”
Keeping motor oil topped up is critically important, but it is also important to be sure that the oil being used to top up is the same brand, grade, specification, and certification. If a consumer’s first choice of motor oil is currently unavailable, using another brand which mimics the original grade is a convenient solution, but a complete oil and filter change should be done to be sure one brand of fluid is used moving forward. “This is important, because different oil manufacturers use different additive formulations that may or may not be compatible when mixed,” Hutchison said. “For a consumer getting an oil change at a garage, that means they should demand a high-quality brand be put in their car, and that it is a brand that is readily available for top-up.”
Vehicles are engineered to use a specific quantity of oil for a reason. The quantity allows the oil to cool adequately in the sump after going through the engine oil passages and allows for the oil additives to not be overworked and break down. “If an oil breaks down, its protective qualities become compromised,” Hutchison explained. “This means high pressure and stress areas like main bearings and the valvetrain will not be protected and damage can occur. This often shows up as camshaft and follower damage, timing chain wear, main bearing wear, and in some cases complete catastrophic engine failure.”
What’s the worst that could happen?
Additionally, common mistakes like using a modern low-viscosity 0W-20 oil in an older, conventional engine immediately multiplies wear and tear. Using a standard motor oil in a car with particulate filter causes the filter to clog up prematurely. Using a standard motor oil in a downsized gasoline engine promotes the risk of LSPI (low-speed pre-ignition) which may cause severe engine damage.
The kind of motor oil a consumer uses should reflect the needs of their vehicle. Liqui Moly, for example, is a German brand that’s meant to support the needs of import vehicles, like BMW and Audi that require different types of oil going far beyond the well-known API specifications. “Liqui Moly motor oils carry official approvals by the European car manufacturers. Such an official approval means that the car manufacturer himself tested the oil and determined that it is meets or exceed the requirements for that specification,” Kuhn explained. “A manufacturer approval is the highest quality seal which a motor oil can get. We produce all our oils in Germany to ensure that garages in Canada get exactly the same quality as garages in Germany.”
Wakefield, on the other hand, manufactures Castrol, which is a premium motor oil designed to exceed OEM specifications by maintaining its protective qualities longer through the oil change cycle. Castrol does this through developing its own additives and partnering with many global vehicle manufacturers to co-develop oils with formulations that work best for their vehicles.
“Castrol’s highest performance product Edge has a patented liquid titanium technology formulated to provide unsurpassed protection on high pressure areas like valvetrain and main bearings, even in the highest stress situations like towing, or high-performance driving,” Hutchison said.
The future of motor oil
With electric vehicle (EV) production gaining traction in North America, many motor oil brands like Liqui Moly and Wakefield are also gearing up to support changes in the aftermarket by creating eco-friendly alternatives to their current lineup of fuels.
Liqui Moly’s motor oils currently allow for extended oil change intervals which reduces the total amount of oil used during a car’s lifetime. “Our premium quality ensures a long lifetime of the engine. We offer low viscosity motor oils which help to reduce fuel consumption,” Kuhn said.
Castrol, sold by Wakefield, offered the world’s first carbon neutral engine motor oil in 2014 – Castrol Edge Professional. Most recently, Castrol has extended its carbon neutral certification to Castrol Vecton used for heavy duty 18-wheeler applications, also offering fuel economy benefits over standard oils.
While choosing a motor oil for the first time can be confusing, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Always conduct research ahead of time to ensure the OEM’s specifications support the demands of the vehicle being serviced to avoid causing damage to the engine, and remember, when in doubt, always choose a trusted brand.