What type of oil should I use in my antique car

What type of oil should I use in my antique car? The engine has just been completely rebuilt.

What make, model and year of car and what engine?

Generally, old cars take the same oil as new cars, but new car oil specifications are much better.

It is important to NOT use synthetic oil in a newly rebuilt engine; use the regular “dino” oil to allow for proper break-in and get the rings seated.

After 2 oil chnges, you can go to synthetic if you wish.

On a recent visit to Advance Auto I noticed they were selling oil with API specs only up to letter E. It was marked as “suitable for older cars.” Use this oil if you are so inclined. Personally, I’d use any modern product. A weight of 10W-30 ought to be perfectly acceptable.

Older car, but with a newly rebuilt engine.

Wayne, I would suggest a 5W30 oil (Dino) for the break in period.

Agree; 5w30 in an SJ rating superseeds all the previous ratings. It has all the modern additives and stabilizers in it. I’m puzzled why someone is pushing an obsolete spec oil.

I have a 25 year old 2 cycle lawnmower; I could not even find the old spec 2 cycle oil if I tries!

You don’t want to use a modern oil in an antique car. Depending on your term for antique, but most definitions would include cars that primarily have flat tappet lifters. The new oils SM rated in particular do not have the additives that can stand up to the type of wear these old engines have. You can use any oil up to the designation SJ or any diesel oil. I would go with the diesel 15w40 oil if I were you. That would include brands like Rotella (Shell), Delo (Chevron) and there is a Castrol diesel oil but I can’t remember the name of it.

I suspect that was a WARNING to prevent their customers from thinking it was OK for current cars. It would be OK for the older ones only.

Depends on the rebuild specs. I remember from many,many years ago it was a no-no to use detergent oil in older cars because of the seal and gasket materials being eaten/rotting away. Sorry i don’t have definite answer,but check it out further.

I agree 100% with keith. Newer engines have roller lifters, not flat end lifters and can and must get by with less ZDDP in the oil due to that ZDDP (metallic anti-wear compounds) will eventually poison a catalytic converter. I’d go with a diesel oil if your older car does not have a catalytic converter or at least use mostly diesel oil. Yes, you can mix diesel oil with regular oil if you want to thin down the 15W-40 for cold weather starting although this may not be an issue with an antique. 10W-30 diesel oil is available. If you use the latest gasoline engine oil in your older vehicle there is a risk of scoring the cam and flat lifter interfaces, especially at high speed.

Most diesel oils have a “mixed fleet” rating; they are good for both diesel and gasoline. Shell Rotella T Multigrade, for instance, has an SL rating for gas engines and CG-4, CH-4, CF-4 diesel rating. It comes in 10W30 and 15W40 grades. I would pick the 10W30, and keep the car inside in cold weather. Once you have broken in the engine, Shell Rotella T SB, a synthetic blend will work well. It also has an SJ gasoline rating and the usual diesel designations.

The 0W30 version has a pour point of -45F and a Viscosity Index of 182, compared to 145 for the regular Rotella 10W30 and will be more than adequate even if your engine is turbocharged.

You’ll go farther down the road with Shell Rotella, the multigrade that’s made the grade, from Shell.

(Sorry, my granddad was a truck driver, he had music cassettes he’d get from buying Shell oil and they had that little jingle at the beginning…)

Well now, that’s some eye opening info I didn’t think about.
I wonder how old this engine is? Maybe we’ll find out from Wayne tomorrow.

The make and year of your antique car would be helpful. I remember that the 1963 Studebaker Lark V-8 that my Dad owned stated in the owner’s manual to use only non-detergent oil. However, one was to add a pint of STP at every oil change (this may have been due to the fact that Studebaker owned STP). On the other hand, the owner’s manual of my 1954 Buick said to use detergent oil. The requirements may have been different because the Studebaker did not have hydraulic valve lifters and the Buick did. It seems to me that in 1958 Oldsmobile had problems with camshaft failures that was traced to certain brands of multiweight oils, so Oldsmobile specified a straight weight oil for its engines. My dad had a 1949 Dodge and when he switched to detergent oil, the oil cosumption shot up to about a quart every 300 miles. He blamed the detergent oil for this problem.

In his book “What You Should Know About Cars”, which was published in the early 1960’s, Tom McCahill, who also wrote for Mechanix Illustated, stated that he did not like detergent oils. He said, “I prefer soap in my bathtub, but not in my crankcase”. He also advised against multiweight oils. He said, “10W-30 is a lousy number 10 and a lousy number 30”. Now I’m certain that oils have greatly improved since Tom McCahill’s days. However, it would be useful to know what kind of antique car you are talking about.

Tom McCahill was highly entertaining but he was neither an automotive engineer or a tribiogist (lubrication engineer). I would agree that the early multi-viscosity oils had a problem with “staying in grade”, and a summer drive across Arizona could cook your engine. The detergents were introduced to keep the sludge down in stop & go driving. Oil without any additives needed to be changed every 1000 miles at least. The manual of my 1965 Dodge Dart said that if you only do stop & go short trips in the winter and park outside, the oil should be changed every 500 miles!! That was with the MS category oils at that time, which had some detergent in them.

Modern high quality oils allow 4000 mile oil cnahes and 300,000 miles between overhauls.

Here’s a Hudson Club. Ask the owners.


I’m glad that someone else is old enough to admit to reading Tom McCahill. Uncle Tom’s objection to high detergent oil was that the particles held in suspension were continuously being forced through the engine bearings and causing the bearings to wear out more quickly. He thought it was better for the particles to settle out in the oil pan and build up a crust just like what happens in a good old briar pipe. Now I was never certain about this theory. I had a 1954 Buick that I had purchased from my dad. This car had 160,000 miles when I sold it and it was still on the street 2 years later. The head and pan had never been off the engine and it had always been fed detergent oil. My dad was convinced by a mechanic that he should use MacMillan Ring Free oil in the car which he did until the mechanic closed his shop. I think he then used Quaker State, and contrary to what his original mechanic thought, the engine kept right on performing perfectly. Fortunately, the Buick couldn’t read.

Tom McCahill wrote that the real reason for multi-viscosity oils was so that service stations didn’t have to stock so many oil weights. Service stations didn’t have to carry everything from 10 weight to 40 weight. As I remember, in warm months I used 30 weight in the Buick, but in cold weather I probably used 10W-30.

Even my 3 horsepower Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine calls for high detergent oil. However, it does specify straight 30 weight oil in the summer. Apparently, multi-viscosity oils aren’t good for this application.

At any rate, Tom McCahill, in my opinion, really wrote well.

There is some rationale for many of these opinions. Straight 30 oil in a lawnmower makes sense; by the time the frost sets in you don’t need the machine. A major railroad specifies oil for their locomotives to be a straight 40, since the locomotive is started up inside and runs for several hundred thousand miles before being shut off!!

Ocean liners put straight 40 in their diesels since they are prewarmed before starting up.

A few years ago EXXON published a tape called “The Cold War”, showing the results of starting a Ford Escort up at -20F with straight 40, 30, and their new 0W30 semi-synthetic. The straight 40 took 4 minutes to get the oil to the camshaft, by which time considerable wear had taken place. The 0W30, on the other hand, only took 15 seconds to get camshaft and valve gear lubed!

Multi- viscosity oil cuts down on the cold start wear, and allows enough viscosity at high temeratures to save the bearings and cylinder walls. These fine points were lost on Tom McCahill, since few people kept their cars more than 3 years in those days.

However, Tom gave out some good advice; one reader had a car with electrical gremlins; he wore a hat, and every time he pushed in the cigaret lighter, his electric seat would go up and crush his hat! Tom’s brief, but useful advice was: “Buy a zippo and wear a beanie”!