Close-up of a bottle of motor oil

A Little Viscosity Goes a Long Way

If you’ve ever gotten an oil change, you may have heard the terms “full synthetic” or “synthetic blend” thrown around. Despite how familiar these terms may sound, many drivers aren’t always so sure about the viscosity of their oil.

Whether you drive an SUV, sports car, a hybrid, or a pickup truck, your engine is designed to run on specific viscous oil. The viscosity itself simply refers to the thickness of your oil. Oil viscosity plays a prominent role in how your vehicle performs. Additionally, using a different viscosity oil during your next oil change can either positively or negatively affect not just your engine performance and fuel economy but also your vehicle’s lubricating and cooling abilities.

At Reliable Automotive, we understand the importance of getting your oil’s viscosity right. Let’s explore the impact of oil viscosity and engine performance, and discover how a minor difference in your oil can significantly impact your engine. For all of your vehicle’s oil change needs, be sure to schedule an appointment at Reliable Automotive for trustworthy service in Hays County, TX.

What is Oil Viscosity and Why it Matters

When you hear the word viscosity, it is referring to the thickness of your oil and how easily it can flow at a specified temperature. Oils with lower viscosities, such as 0W-20, can flow easier at lower temperatures, but may struggle to protect your engine in hot conditions. In contrast, oil with a high viscosity, such as 10W-40, struggles to flow at cold temperatures, but provides enhanced protection in hot conditions.

Understanding the viscosity of oil that your engine is engineered to use is vital to your engine’s reliable operation. Your oil viscosity also plays a large role in aspects of your engine that you’ll notice, such as its fuel economy and performance.

How to Interpret Oil Viscosity

Your oil viscosity is measured by a set of two numbers. The first set of numbers is representative of how well an oil performs at cold temperatures (followed by a ‘W’ that stands for ‘Winter’), and the second set of numbers is representative of how well an oil holds up at higher temperatures. For example, 0W-20 oil would be a low-viscosity oil, and 10W-40 would be a high-viscosity oil.

When You Might Use Low Viscosity Oil

In cold weather, especially in below-freezing temperatures, your motor oil can thicken, making it more difficult to travel through your engine and coat your engine parts. However, when oil gets warm, it tends to thin out. Because your engine operates in varying temperatures and through varying seasons, it’s important to use an oil viscosity that offers the protection your engine needs for the temperatures and environments that it operates in.

When your vehicle has been sitting overnight, gravity causes its oil to fall to the oil pan at the bottom of your engine. However, when you go to start your engine, your engine can sometimes begin to run before oil can coat these vital engine parts. For this reason, it’s important to use an oil with a viscosity low enough for the cold temperatures that your engine operates in.

When to use low-viscosity oil:

  • When operating in cold weather
  • When you’re looking to improve fuel economy

When You Might Use Higher Viscosity Oil

On the other end of the spectrum, when oil gets hot, it has the tendency to thin, and then oil can’t cool and lubricate your engine parts, as well as thicker oil. For this reason, it’s important to use the oil viscosity that can best protect your engine for the situation in which your engine operates. However, thicker oil can’t travel as quickly as thin oil, thicker viscosity oil does a better job at coating your engine parts when your vehicle is not running. This offers enhanced cold start protection at warmer ambient temperatures.

When to use high-viscosity oil: 

  • When operating in hot temperatures
  • During heavy-duty use
  • During high-performance driving

How Viscosity Affects Fuel Economy

Your oil’s viscosity can have a direct impact not only on your vehicle’s performance but also on its fuel economy. Thicker oil takes more energy to move, just like it takes more energy to drink a milkshake through a straw than it does to drink water through the same size straw. For this reason, using oil with a higher viscosity can reduce your fuel economy slightly. However, the trade-off may offer better protection for your engine at high temperatures.

Understanding Your Car’s Needs

We’ve been talking about oil viscosity so much that you may be wondering what viscosity your vehicle will need on its next oil change. We recommend referring to your owner’s manual to determine your engine’s preferred viscosity. Each vehicle manufacturer has different recommendations when it comes to the viscosity of oil that should be used in your engine.

Most vehicles operate happily using 5W-30 oil. This type of oil can withstand temperatures between -30ºF to 100ºF+, which covers the climate across the continental United States throughout the year. However, if your owner’s manual specifies otherwise, we recommend sticking to your manufacturer’s recommendations.

Schedule an Appointment at Reliable Automotive Today

At Reliable Automotive, your oil change services are always paired with assurance. Each of our technicians is ASE-Certified and qualified to perform maintenance services on your vehicle.

We use high-quality parts and fluids, including Mobil 1® oil, for optimal protection for your engine. You’ll even enjoy added savings thanks to our monthly service coupons. Schedule an appointment at Reliable Automotive today and see for yourself my driver’s trust in our service center for a quality oil change in Hays County, TX.

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