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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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BYPeter Nelson/ LAST UPDATED ON October 28, 2021

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.

Best Overall

Mobil 1 Advanced Full Synthetic 5W-20 Motor Oil

Summary

Designed to reduce engine wear and make critical engine components run a lot smoother, Mobil 1 adheres to important engine components and provides a layer of protection when you warm up your vehicle.

Pros
  • Longer mileage rating means it's still in good condition when changed at a shorter interval
  • Rated to protect against low-speed pre-ignition and timing chain wear
  • Grade above other oil products
  • Superior cleaning power that prevents sludge buildup
Cons
  • Bottles may dent and leak during shipping 
  • Might not be the best choice for high-mileage engines with brittle and/or worn seals
Best Value

Valvoline Advanced Full Synthetic 5W-20 Motor Oil

Summary

Specially designed to provide the best protection for your car, truck, or SUV, Valvoline’s synthetic oil is specifically formulated to protect against extreme engine stress due to stop-and-go driving, extreme temperatures, hauling and towing.

Pros
  • Includes anti-wear additives, which provide 50 percent more wear protection than industry standards 
  • Built to withstand both high and low temperatures
  • Extra detergents to fight sludge and other deposits
Cons
  • Reach out to the company for a replacement if you notice any damage upon delivery
  • The five-gallon jug version can be annoying to pour
Honorable Mention

Liqui Moly Premium 5W-40 Synthetic Motor Oil

Summary

Your engine will run smoother and quieter with this Liqui Moly lubricant, which is one of the best synthetic oils on the market.

Pros
  • Keeps the engine quite clean and provides extra protection against premature wear
  • Fosters rapid oil delivery at low temperatures, as well as high lubrication reliability at high and low temperatures.
  • Helps prevent oil consumption
Cons
  • Pricier than its competitors
  • Cap is designed for easy filling but can be hard to operate
Best Motor Oil: Ensure Smooth and Reliable Performance

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.

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.

Learn more

Best Motor Oil Reviews & Recommendations

Why We Picked It:

Mobil's 5W-20 full-synthetic motor oil is designed to reduce engine wear and make critical engine components run a lot smoother. It’s designed to adhere to important engine components when the oil drains down and provides a layer of protection when you warm up your vehicle. The oil works great if you frequently drive in heavy traffic or take several short trips during the week and it can make your engine quieter, smoother, and create a noticeable improvement on high-mileage vehicles compared to standard oil blends. 


This oil is a quality above run-of-the-mill crude oils and has great cleaning power,. That said, bottles of Mobil 1 have been known to arrive with dents and small leaks. Also, vehicles with old, brittle seals may not take to the stuff as well as others. 

Specs:

  • Five-quart jug
  • Different viscosities for different vehicles
  • Full synthetic

Pros:

  • Longer mileage rating means it's still in good condition when changed at a shorter interval
  • Rated to protect against low-speed pre-ignition and timing chain wear
  • A grade above normal, conventional oil products 
  • Superior cleaning power that prevents sludge buildup

Cons:

  • Bottles may dent and leak during shipping 
  • May not be the best choice for high mileage engines with worn and/or brittle seals

Why We Picked It:

As far as high bang-for-your-buck motor oil goes, it's tough to beat Valvoline's Advanced Full Synthetic SAE 5W-20 Motor Oil. This oil is specially designed to provide excellent protection for your car, truck, or SUV, yet for a noticeably lower price than others. It's specifically formulated to protect against extreme engine stress due to stop-and-go driving, extreme temperatures, hauling, and towing, too. 


This motor oil includes anti-wear additives, which provide 50-percent more wear protection than industry standards and this full synthetic formula is designed to withstand both high and low temperatures. Extra detergents can be found in this motor oil to assist with fighting against sludge and other deposits. High-quality antioxidants help to resist motor oil breakdown in extreme weather conditions. It isn’t without its issues, though, as the 5-quart jug can be a pain to pour, leaks during shipping are known to occur, and dents to the bottles are common. None are deal-breakers, but you should have all the facts.

Specs:

  • Five-quart bottle
  • Comes in multiple viscosities
  • Full synthetic

Pros:

  • Includes anti-wear additives, which provide 50 percent more wear protection than industry standards
  • Built to withstand both high and low temperatures
  • Extra detergents assist with fighting against sludge and other deposits

Cons:

  • Leaks or damage to their motor oil containers can occur
  • Check for damage upon delivery
  • The five-quart jug version can be annoying to pour, causing spills

Why We Picked It:

This oil offers a high level of protection against wear that really helps prolong the life of the engine. It fosters rapid oil delivery at low temperatures as well as high lubrication reliability in high and low temperatures. It also keeps your engine clean. Liqui Moly is used by many mechanics who work on German vehicles, and it has a rather strange-yet-interesting grayish color due to its robust additives. 


This oil is rated to go further than most oil-change intervals, looking almost unused at the 5,000-mile mark, but you should still follow your manufacturer's recommended interval. It also cuts down on oil consumption, which is especially crucial in modern turbocharged direct-injection engines and has a conveniently designed spout that makes filling easy.

Specs:

  • Five-liter jug
  • Full synthetic
  • Comes in multiple viscosities

Pros:

  • Keeps the engine clean and provides extra protection against premature wear
  • Fosters rapid oil delivery at low temperatures, as well as high lubrication reliability at high and low temperatures.
  • Liqui Moly also states that its product helps prevent oil consumption

Cons:

  • This oil can be pricier than its competitors
  • Cap may be a little tricky to open, despite being designed to make fills easier and cleaner
  • Containers can leak

Why We Picked It:

While synthetic is great for new cars, sometimes conventional motor oil is the ticket for older engines. Older rides might run best on conventional motor oil due to their tolerances, the design and age of their seals, and their resistance to burn. And Castrol's 03095 GTX 20W-50 Conventional Motor Oil is a high-quality motor oil from one of the industry's most reputable manufacturers. 


This motor oil provides better protection against volatility burn than its competitors and is specifically designed to prevent the harmful buildup of sludge. It also performs above industry standards when it comes to protection against new oil splatter formation. Castrol's offering has proven to extend the life of your engine through the inclusion of anti-wear additives. It's also filled with additives that provide advanced protection against viscosity and thermal breakdown. The five-quart size is ideal for most vehicles, especially older trucks and SUVs. Be sure to check your user’s manual for your vehicle's specific oil capacity.

Specs:

  • Conventional oil
  • Five-quart container
  • Comes in multiple viscosities

Pros:

  • High-quality motor oil from a reputable manufacturer
  • Proven to provide better protection against volatility burn off 
  • Specifically designed to prevent the build-up of sludge within your engine 
  • Advanced protection against viscosity and thermal breakdown 

Cons:

  • Dents and leaks can occur during shipping
  • Make sure to inspect the motor oil upon delivery, and reach out to Castrol regarding any issues with damage

Why We Picked It:

This synthetic blend oil from Valvoline contains seal conditioners that restore aging engine seals to help stop and prevent oil leaks. Extra protection prevents engine wear, and extra detergents remove sludge and deposits to keep high-mileage engines cleaner. In addition, antioxidants help prevent the oil from breaking down and clogging the engine with sludge and deposits. The quality of this motor oil is excellent for the price, and it has some of the benefits of full-synthetic oil at a much cheaper price. 


It does a great job at stopping and reducing leaks thanks to its various seal-renewing additives. It holds up well over time and makes the engine run quiet, smooth, and happy. Valvoline says it does a great job at suspending debris and engine deposits, allowing them to be flushed out at its next change interval. But this motor oil won’t improve performance on severely worn engines, nor does it meet General Motors' Dexos standard, and it features a slightly higher price than some of its competitors.

Specs:

  • Five-quart jug
  • Comes in multiple oil viscosities
  • Synthetic blend

Pros:

  • Provides more than enough protection for any vehicle's factory oil-change interval
  • Extra detergents for removing sludge and deposits to keep older engines running cleaner
  • Contains added seal conditioners that restore aging engine seals to help prevent oil leaks

Cons:

  • Does not meet GM's Dexos oil standard
  • Leaky caps
  • Higher in price than some competitors

Why We Picked It:

Enthusiasts and tuners the world over know the Royal Purple brand. It’s synonymous with high-quality motor oil designed and engineered to keep your high-performance engine running on all cylinders and increasing its longevity and horsepower. That’s why we recommend the brand’s High Performance 5W-30 motor oil for those high-tolerance, high-horsepower vehicles we all love so much. 


Royal Purple’s High Performance motor oil is fully synthetic and comes in a number of motor oil weights. It’s available in multiple sizes for easier application selection, and offers increased thermal performance, better fuel economy and emissions, corrosion resistance, and increased compatibility with those engines that use differing fuels. It is, however, one of the most expensive motor oils on this list, though it’s also one of the best. 

Specs:

  • 5W-30
  • 5-quart container
  • Fully synthetic

Pros:

  • Excellent for high-performance vehicles
  • Increased longevity
  • Excellent thermal protection

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Isn’t necessary for normal vehicles
  • Jug design could be bettered

Why We Picked It:

Hybrid vehicles are not the same as normal combustion-only ones. These vehicles feature different engine tolerances, operating cycles and conditions, and require different maintenance intervals. Valvoline understands that and is the reasoning behind its full synthetic motor oil designed specifically for hybrid vehicles.


Aimed at reducing the time between cold start and at operating temperature, the fully synthetic oil is meant to keep your ride humming along and happy even when the gasoline-driven engine turns off, then on, then off again. And it shields your engine from heat, friction, and other issues that can plague hybrid cars, trucks, and SUVs. This specific oil is 0W-20 but comes in a variety of different oil weights to satisfy your vehicle’s predetermined weight requirements. 

Specs: 

  • One-quart container
  • Comes in multiple viscosities
  • Fully synthetic

Pros:

  • As good or better than factory supplied oil
  • Protects against sludge and deposits
  • Excellent temperature protection

Cons:

  • You may be ok using regular synthetic
  • Damaged quart containers are common

Why We Picked It:

Another pick from the Mobil 1 brand shouldn’t be surprising as the brand is one of the top manufacturers of motor oil, and a leader in its continued development. This specific motor oil is designed for those who wish to push the boundaries of when the dealership says it’s time for an oil change.


A fully synthetic oil, the Mobil 1 Extended Performance motor oil is said to be good for up to 20,000 miles, or 1-year, between changes, and it’s one of the longest-lasting oils around. Now, this won’t work for every engine around and you’ll have to ensure your vehicle is compatible with this specific weight and whether or not the manufacturer even allows for higher mileage oil changes. So check your manufacturer’s specifications before you hit Buy It Now. 

Specs:

  • 5W-30
  • Fully synthetic
  • 5-quart container

Pros:

  • 20,000 miles or 1-year between services
  • 5-quart container more than enough for most
  • Reasonably priced

Cons:

  • May not work for every vehicle application
  • Ordering the 5-quart container might actually arrive as 5 single quarts.

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

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.

Full Synthetic

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.

Synthetic blend

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.

High-mileage

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 FeaturesViscosity

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. 

Friction modifiers

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.

Seal-replenishing additives

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.

Valvoline

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. 

Liqui-Moly

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.

Royal Purple

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. 

Mobil 1

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.

Castrol

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.

FAQs 

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

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