Best Motor Oil: Ensure Smooth and Reliable Performance
Oil is one of the most important fluids your vehicle's engine needs. Keep it running smoothly and reliably with one of these top-shelf options.
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BY Peter Nelson / LAST UPDATED ON October 28, 2021
Best OverallMobil 1 Advanced Full Synthetic 5W-20 Motor OilCheck Latest Price
Best ValueValvoline Advanced Full Synthetic SAE 5W-20 Motor OilCheck Latest Price
Best PremiumLiqui Moly Premium 5W-40 Synthetic Motor OilCheck Latest Price
Best ConventionalCastrol 03095 GTX 20W-50 Conventional Motor OilCheck Latest Price
Best High-MileageValvoline High-Mileage With MaxLife Technology 5W-30 Synthetic Blend Motor OilCheck Latest Price
Whether you're a road warrior who stacks up the mileage every year or you only use your vehicle for A-to-B-type stuff, having a quality motor oil coursing through your vehicle's engine is an excellent way to keep it running in peak condition and ensure proper maintenance. And while you can just go down to your local auto-lube spot, the oil they use is generally low quality and you’ll see them again sooner than you might have hoped. Why not get the best? Whether you are looking for great value, reliability, durability, or versatility, we've assembled a list of some of the best motor oils currently available on the market. Let’s get started.
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Our Test Methodology
Surprisingly, it's not terribly easy selecting a solid list of the top motor oils on the market, even for old automotive hands like the author. There are so many to choose from and so many different brands, all of whom use the same lingo to boast about how their oil is better than the others. We came to our choices by looking over more than 20 oils, taking current oil technology into consideration, and weighing out a well-rounded list that will benefit a wide range of consumers. Value came into play quite a bit as well, but the links we've included have the best prices online.
Best Motor Oil Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Motor Oils
For high-quality motor oil, consider Mobil 1 Advanced Full Synthetic 5W-20 Motor Oil, which is designed to reduce engine wear and make critical engine components run a lot smoother. Valvoline Advanced Full Synthetic SAE 5W-20 Motor Oil is a budget-friendly option, specifically formulated to protect against extreme engine stress due to stop-and-go driving, extreme temperatures, track driving, hauling, and towing. Liqui Moly Premium 5W-40 Synthetic Motor Oil is a premium oil that stands up to the high power output and heat of high-performance engines. It's an excellent choice for modified engines with more-than-stock power.
What to Consider When Buying Motor Oil
Types of Motor Oil
Conventional motor oil is generally considered inferior compared to synthetic and blended oils, but it is still found in some new cars. Conventional motor oil contains detergent elements as well as friction modifiers, corrosion inhibitors, viscosity modifiers, extreme-pressure agents, anti-foaming additives, and dispersants. Most brands allow you to go 3,000-5,000 miles between oil changes with conventional oil, and it’s often the choice of drivers with high-mileage, older vehicles with less efficient engines. It's less prone to leaking through older seals, and because of many conventional oils' high amount of detergents, can help prevent sludge from forming.
Pretty much all modern vehicles, especially those of the high-performance variety, operate optimally with full synthetic oil. Synthetic means it’s a manmade lubricant with a base usually of distilled crude oil. When deciding on the best synthetic motor oil, remember that it is intended for engines with higher rpm limits, higher temperatures, and those that carry large loads. One brand of the best performance motor oil may be better at engine protection, while another may excel at keeping your engine clean. Some do all of the above, but costs can certainly go up.
A synthetic blend combines conventional motor oil with a synthetic base. Essentially, it's conventional oil with a boost. A synthetic blend increases performance and protects your engine more than conventional oil. One major benefit of a synthetic blend is that it is much less expensive than fully synthetic options, yet includes some of the same benefits.
This type of motor oil is exactly what you'd expect it to be as it’s intended for vehicles that have more than 75,000 miles on the engine. Parts of the motor on vehicles with this type of mileage are more likely to have operating problems, as well as sludge buildup, camshaft scoring, and other signs of a tough life. Motor oil that's designed specifically for vehicles with high mileage takes this into account and contains additives to address common types of issues. Another additive that's commonly found in high-mileage oil is a form of seal reconditioner, which helps prevent seals from becoming leaky in their older age.
Motor Oil Key Features
Vehicles are given a viscosity (thickness or consistency) rating based on several factors, including external temperatures, operating temperatures, and engine load. Most gasoline engines have a viscosity grade of 5W-30, 5W-20, and 0W-20, while diesel engines are commonly rated 15W-40 and 5W-40. The numbers refer to how resistant the motor oil is to thickening at low temperatures and thinning at high temperatures. The number before the W is the thickness when the oil is cold, while the number afterward is its thickness when the oil is at normal operating temperatures.
These anti-wear additives minimize wear on any metallic surface inside the engine that slides or rolls against another metallic surface. Think camshafts, piston rings, and valve movement. Ultimately, the more friction modifiers the better, as these will help prolong the life of your engine the most.
These are more for engines with higher mileage, typically 75,000 miles or more. As engines get older, their seals begin to harden and wear out, increasing their chance of leaking. These additives help replenish the seals' surfaces inside the engine, keeping them more supple and able to keep oil from leaking out.
Brands to Know
Unlike other industries, there are some key players that everyone knows and trusts. Here are a few of our favorites.
Founded 155 years ago, Valvoline is one of the most well-known motor oil brands in the world. The company supplies countless race series and is on every auto parts shelf around the country.
A German company that started in 1957, Liqui-Moly might not have the history of Valvoline, but it’s quickly made a name for itself producing high-quality motor oils for a variety of different vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket wrenches.
The newest motor oil kid on the block, Royal Purple began in 1986 in Texas and has quickly become the go-to source for high-performance motor oils for racing and enthusiast machines.
A subsidiary of the Mobil/Exxon Mobil corporation, Mobil 1 is the motor oil division of the company and produces a variety of conventional, blended synthetic, and fully synthetic motor oils for the aftermarket and a host of vehicle manufacturers.
With its roots in the late 1800s, Castrol is now a subsidiary of British Petroleum (BP) and produces high-quality motor oils. It also has one of the most famous racing liveries on the planet, sponsoring Castrol Toyota Supra throughout the late 1990s.
Motor Oil Pricing
Motor oil pricing will depend on a few key factors, including the type of oil, the weight of oil, and the size of the oil container. For most consumers, quarts are what you’ll be purchasing and those range between $7-$20 per quart, and an average vehicle will take anywhere between 4-8 quarts of oil.
Motor Oil Tips and Tricks
As with anything you do for decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way. That’s the case with us and motor oil. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Before you choose a motor oil, read your owner's manual. It will contain specific information from the manufacturer about your vehicle's engine and the recommended motor oil specific to the model, including the same SAE viscosity and possibly even brand that the factory recommends.
- While you may be tempted to use the best oil brand, it's more important that you use the best oil type for your vehicle. This is based on the make, model, year, mileage, and other requirements.
- Less expensive, generic oils may meet SAE ratings, but they may not be as high quality as other brands. Generic products may not be as resistant to heat or have the same lubricating and cleaning qualities.
- If your vehicle leaks oil on your garage floor, it could possibly be due to the front or rear (or both) crankshaft main seals, which can harden, lose flexibility, and crack. High-mileage oil has to seal conditioners that aid in restoring the strength and flexibility of this engine part.
- When changing your oil, you will also need to replace the oil filter. Be sure to check with your vehicle's manufacturer to make sure you use the proper filter. Also, it's a good idea to become familiar with the style of oil filter your vehicle uses, such as a cartridge or conventional.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: What does the label on a motor oil container mean?
The API label lets you know if the oil meets the current service rating as determined by laboratory and engine tests. There is also the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) star logo with the viscosity number and information on whether the oil has passed the energy-conserving test.
Q: What’s the difference between oil brands?
There actually isn't a lot of difference between motor oil brands. As long as you consistently use a top-rated, name-brand oil that's well matched for your vehicle's engine and stay on top of maintenance, your vehicle should perform efficiently.
Q: How often should I change the oil in my car?
Check your owner's manual to determine the best maintenance schedule. Most newer cars can go 5,000 to 10,000 miles between oil changes. However, if you tow heavy items, do a lot of stop-and-go driving, drive your car on a racetrack, or go off-roading frequently, it's a good idea to change your oil more often, as the engine is working harder than usual.
Q: Is it worth it to use a specialty oil?
Some motor oils have an extended-life feature, which purports users can wait for 15,000 miles between oil changes. However, it's crucial to check your owner's manual to determine how often you need to change your oil instead of relying on the recommendation of an oil brand.
Q: Is it OK to change my car oil from conventional to synthetic?
Be sure to check with your vehicle's manufacturer before you make the switch from conventional to synthetic oil. A trusted mechanic will also advise you about the best motor oil for your car or truck.
Q: What is a motor oil’s shelf life?
It depends on how the motor oil is stored. If the product is unopened and kept in a temperature-controlled environment, it should last for several years. If the oil is left in an open container in a garage that experiences drastic shifts in temperature, it could have a much shorter lifespan