Hybrid-Specific Engine Oil Sure Smells Like a Marketing Gimmick

Companies like Valvoline and Pennzoil claim that hybrid cars have specific needs, but do they really?

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Valvoline released a hybrid-specific oil last week that they claim is suited to the special needs of hybrid drivetrains, according to Green Car Reports. This is the second company to do so after Pennzoil released an oil formulated for hybrid cars—but do you really need it? A quick look at the evidence simply doesn't seem to back up these claims.

Valvoline's new Hybrid Vehicle Full Synthetic Oil comes in 0W20 and 5W30 formulations and is expected to launch in early 2020, should you decide to try it anyway. The company claims that the frequent starts and stops made by hybrid engines will not sufficiently warm up the engine enough to reach its peak performance. Water vapor then dissolves into the oil at these lower operating temperatures, Valvoline says, which can create sludge and corrosion in the engine that hurts fuel economy and shortens the life of the engine. 

Pennzoil also claims its 0W16-weight Hybrid Full Synthetic Motor Oil will increases fuel economy and improves cold starts by flowing faster through the engine at lower temperatures. 

However, with some 5 million hybrid cars on the road today in the United States alone, there is plenty of evidence that doesn't really back up these claims of reduced fuel economy and eventual engine sludge. 

Green Car Reports—a site dedicated to that electrified and hypermilin' life—hasn't heard of any engine sludge issues in hybrid cars. The outlet pointed to Consumer Reports' findings that while coolant service may be more complicated, oil change needs for hybrid cars aren't any different than those for an internal combustion engine. 

The oil industry is obviously in the business of selling oil, and having fresh oil definitely helps with gas mileage, but changing your oil more frequently than you have doesn't really fit into a green lifestyle. As such, the Chevrolet Volt was designed to have longer oil change intervals than an internal combustion-powered car, Green Car Reports notes. If anything, hybrid drivetrains may be even easier on their oil than gas- or diesel-powered ones. 

If someone is really concerned about low-temperature performance in their hybrid car, there are already a number of thinner-weight oils on the market that fit such needs.

That being said, the number of hybrid cars on the road is expected to grow annually by 9% through 2023, according to Green Car Reports. Hybrid-specific oil sure sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it looks to be a profitable gimmick for the likes of Pennzoil and Valvoline.