How do I know the correct oil to put in my car?

Updated February 21, 2017

When it comes time for your first oil change in a new car, you may wonder what oil to use. You've seen motor oil in stores before, but you may not know what all the numbers and letters mean. Maybe you haven't read your owner's manual to see what kind of oil is recommended. A combination of this information and the climate in which you live will tell you what oil to put in your car.

Learn the basics of oil viscosity, or weight. Viscosity ratings tell you how well the oil will lubricate your engine parts at specific high and low temperatures set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Oils that meet low temperature requirements are tested at -17.8 degrees Celsius and have a “W” after them--10W, for example. Those that meet high temperature standards have no letter and are measured at 100 degrees Celsius--SAE30, for example. Oil thins when heated and thickens in cold. Because engines require oil to be thick enough to lubricate a hot engine and thin enough for the cold, most oils are multigrade or multiviscosity, meaning that they cover a range of temperatures. A common multigrade oil is 10W-30, which is good for both hot and cold climates.

Read your owner's manual. Automakers usually specify what oil is best for your car’s engine. If you do not have your manual handy, go to your manufacturer’s website.

Consider the weather conditions in which you will be driving. Assuming the temperature doesn't dip to -6.11 degrees Celsius, you probably won't need an oil starting with “0W.” Unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise, you will probably be fine going with a multigrade or all-season oil such as 10W-30.

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About the Author

Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker and writer who has written for several online publications, including Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.