What Are Engine Oil Grades, and What Do They Mean?

Every manufacturer has a specific suggestion or minimum requirement for the kind of oil that should be used in a particular engine. 

What's the difference between different weights, grades, and viscosity, you might wonder? What is the difference between a 5W-30 and 10W-30 motor oil? What exactly do all of these figures imply? Is it true that you can't use any oil in your automobile, or does it make a difference?


  1. Engine oil grades.
  2. Do You Have Any Exceptions to the Rule?
  3. What do the manufacturers have to say about it?
  4. What is the difference between straight and multi-viscosity oil?
  5. Take good care of the engine you rely on.

What Are Engine Oil Grades, and What Do They Mean?
What Are Engine Oil Grades, and What Do They Mean?

Engine oil grades

The phrases "weight," "grade," and "viscosity" are frequently interchanged and all refer to the same thing. They relate to the oil's thickness or flowability. Using a multi-grade 5W-30 oil as an example, millions of cars utilize this sort of oil

The viscosity (or thickness) for cold weather conditions is indicated by the first number followed by the "W." Winter is represented by the letter "W." In lower temperatures, the lower this first value is, the less viscous, or thinner, your oil will be. Though it may appear little, the number is crucial.

The oil pump tries to push oil from the low-lying oil pan to the top of the engine when the ignition key is turned on, to lubricate all the moving components (such as pistons, camshaft, etc.) Cold starts are when the engine is subjected to the most wear and tear. 

The heavier (or thicker) the oil, the harder the oil pump has to work, and the longer it takes for the engine to get the critical oil lubrication it needs to avoid metal-on-metal friction when it starts up. As a result, a 5W- oil will flow faster and easier than a heavier weight oil with a higher number, such as a 10W- or 15W- oil.

The viscosity in high temperatures is specified by the second number found after the "W." At the optimal temperature, the greater the number, the thicker the oil will be. It was the usual practice in earlier automobiles to swap to different weights of oil depending on the season. 

Due to manufacturers constructing lighter-weight engines and using different engine materials than in the past, this is no longer a prevalent practice. It's always a good idea to stick to the fluid parameters listed in your vehicle's owner's handbook. Using a different weight of oil than what is advised will almost certainly result in worse fuel efficiency and more engine damage.

Do You Have Any Exceptions to the Rule?

When an engine is older and the moving parts have bigger clearances between components, an exception to the "follow the manufacturer's advice" rule may apply. In certain situations, thicker oils can occasionally increase performance and protection, but most car owners should keep to the vehicle manual's requirements.

What do the manufacturers have to say about it?

Some manufacturers will specify a variety of oil-based engines according to the environment in which the vehicle would be utilized. In southern dry places like Scottsdale, Arizona, a heavier-weight oil is likely to be advised, but in colder climes like Rapid City, South Dakota, a lighter-weight oil may be preferable. During the winter months, oil in South Dakota will be subjected to cooler engine start-up conditions than oil in Arizona.

What is the difference between straight and multi-viscosity oil?

Straight oil (SAE30, SAE40, SAE50, etc.) should never be used in a system built for multi-viscosity oil. Smaller engines and older automobile engines that were built before multi-viscosity oils were developed utilize straight oils

Even though snowmobiles, ATVs, and motorcycles have smaller engines than most passenger cars and trucks, they should not be run on plain oils. Due to differences in engine types, such as two-cycle vs four-cycle engines, even standard automotive oils may not be suitable.

Take good care of the engine you rely on

Using the right oil grade and changing your car's oil at regular, recommended intervals are two of the most critical preventative maintenance jobs you can perform for your vehicle, all things considered. Failure to do so might lead to oil depletion and, eventually, a seized engine. 

The majority of repairs resulting from poor or irresponsible oil management are both avoidable and costly. Investing in proper automobile servicing procedures now is preferable to paying a hefty repair fee later. Knowing what type of oil to use in your automobile (and why) is a solid first step toward maintaining the engine you rely on.

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