CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Motor oil brands

I have heard that all motor oils are about the same.I had a guy that was changing my oil in a auto repair shop that oil is oil is it true oil is oil and brand does not matter.Is this true or false.

What really matters is the API rating on the back of the container and the viscosity. As long as you buy the right viscosity and an oil that meets or exceeds the API rating in your owner’s manual, your vehicle will be fine.

In general it’s true. Brand doesn’t really matter. As Whitey said, the API ratings on the back of the bottle are what matters. As long as you use the correct viscosity and an API rating that meets or exceeds your car’s requirements, you can safely use any brand.

I’ve been using store-brand or discount motor oils for 30 years with no problems. I buy whatever is least expensive, as long as it meets my car’s requirements. I’ve even used oil with a grocery store name on the bottle.

There are only so many oil refineries. All oil, regardless of brand, comes from these same refineries. None of the discount retailers or parts stores (Walmart, Kmart, AutoZone, PepBoys, etc) owns and operates an oil refinery. They just have the oil put into bottles with their name on it. The oil inside the name-brand bottles is the same as the oil in the store-brand bottles.

Save money; buy store-brand oil.

As long as the oil containers have the API (American Petroleum Institute) and the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) symbols on it, they’re pretty much the same oil.

Tester

The great brands of motor oil have all but disappeared just as the corner filling station that did oil changes and other minor servicing is gone. I remember the following:

 Tropartic marketed by Phillips 66
 Fire and Ice marketed by Shell oil
 Singe G marketed by Gulf oil (Single G was a race horse)
 GulfPride marketed by Gulf oil
 Super Permalube marketed by Standard oil

There were also some motor oils on the market not connected with a major oil company–MacMillan ring-free motor oil, Wolf’s Head (run with the wolf) Royal Triton, etc. A couple of years ago, I did find Wolf’s Head on sale at Minard’s. It came from a Quaker State refinery. I haven’t seen the oil since then.

The oils probably originate at a few refineries. However, the market seems to be dominated by just a few brands–Valvoline, Quaker State, Pennzoil (sound your Z), just as the beer market is dominated by BudWeiser, Miller and Coors. I miss the old brands of motor oil just like I miss the old beers like Carling’s Black Label, Falls City, Sterling, Oertel’s 92, etc. I wonder if there is a Billy Beer of motor oils.

Does anyone else remember a TV commercial from about 20 years ago with an old codger driving a jalopy laying down a smoke screen and his passenger asks what motor oil he uses. The driver growls “motor oil is motor oil”.

What about the claims such as of Pennzoil who claims their oil actively cleans out sludge and makes an engine cleaner than other oil? If oil is oil then wouldn’t the other distributors/manufacturers sue them by now?

I’ve the results in a garage of a car using only Castrol since day one and it not have a bit of sludge in it and have seen the inside of other 3000k constant oil changed motors using another brand and have a ton of sludge in it.

I’ve seen oil come out of my car using a cheaper brand and at 3k it will be very dark, while Castrol at 3k oil change will be darker than new but noticeably lighter than the cheaper brand.

I’m confused.

Well, if you buy in to the “actively cleans out sludge” bit, dark oil would be a GOOD thing.

Think about it: sludge is nasty, dirty stuff. If the oil “cleans out” the sludge, it’ll do it by dissolving the sludge and keeping it in suspension. Thus, the drained oil will look dark if it’s doing what it advertises.

(I’ve heard it said–certianly pre-dates me–that straight mineral oil drains cleaner than “dispersant/detergant” oil.)

The color of the oil is insignificant. Only a used oil analysis will tell you the condition of the oil.

The reason you have seen some oil sludge with only 3,000 miles on it is that some engines are prone to sludging (I think the late 1990s or early 2000s Toyota Camry V-6 was one). In the past, Castrol had sludging issues, but that was a long time ago.

Oil can sludge for many reasons. The most common reason is neglect. Today’s oils are of such a high quality (with API ratings of SG or better) that they won’t sludge on their own.

Penzoil isn’t the only oil company to use that “cleans your engine” marketing line. Mobil does too, and so does Valvoline. None of the oil companies are going to waste money on suing another company over its marketing claims when they can just steal the slogans and use them for themselves. If you notice, Penzoil and Mobil don’t name the oil they are comparing to their own. They compare it to something they call “the leading motor oil.” If they don’t tell you who makes “the leading motor oil,” why would they get sued?

My car is 11 years old with 186,500 miles on it. Over the years, I have used Valvoline, Pensoil, Mobil oil, or whatever was cheapest or on sale. I have never seen a bit of sludge.

Any oil that meets or exceeds the specifications listed in your owner’s manual is good enough.

Yea, oil is very important for your engine and you don’t want your engine to die because of bad oil. Oil is a lot cheaper than an engine. However it is a matter that using the cheapest and the most expensive oil that meets the specifications will only give you maybe an additional five miles of engine life.

If you look at all the problems people have had due to oil, you would be unlikely to see any that resulted in a damaged engine, other than someone who failed to follow the instructions in the owner’s manual. Most result from thing like not refilling the oil, not tightening the drain plug, not changing the oil or not using the specified oil.

As With Food, OTC Medicine, And Other Products, Extensive Advertising And Marketing By The Leading Brands Runs Up Their Cost.

Also, because people are enticed to buy these brands over generics, they can charge a little more.

CSA