As winter approaches, the performance of your vehicle should be top of mind — especially when it comes to engine maintenance. Motor oil plays a central role in how well your car runs, particularly during colder months when engine wear occurs during cold starts.
Whether you’re considering a drive-thru oil change or wondering what happens if you don’t get your oil changed in winter, this guide offers insights into oil viscosity, the benefits of certain engine oils like 5W-30 motor oil, and why choosing oil with different weight options may be best for your car. Read on to find answers to all your pressing questions about motor oil and prepare your vehicle for the season ahead.
What is Motor Oil?
Motor oil, also known as engine oil or engine lubricant, is used to lubricate internal combustion engines. It typically consists of base oils enhanced with various additives, including anti-wear additives, detergents, dispersants, and viscosity index improvers for multi-grade oils.
The primary function of motor oil is to reduce friction and wear on moving parts, clean the engine from sludge and varnish, neutralize acids originating from fuel and oxidation of the lubricant, improve the sealing of piston rings, and cool the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.
Motor oils are blended using base oils composed of petroleum-based hydrocarbons, polyalphaolefins (PAO), or their mixtures in various proportions, sometimes with up to 20% by weight of esters for better dissolution of additive. Modern synthetic motor oils are a complex mixture of base oils and additive components designed to perform a variety of tasks, including:
- Separating and lubricating moving parts.
- Reducing engine wear.
- Preventing deposits from forming on internal engine components.
- Removing and suspending dirt and contaminants in the oil until these contaminants can be removed at the next oil change.
- Cooling engine parts.
- Enhancing engine fuel efficiency.
What is the Best Oil Weight for the Winter Season?
Motor oil weight, indicated by its viscosity, affects how well your engine is protected in different temperatures. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) provides a rating that describes the oil’s flow characteristics at approximately 210 degrees Fahrenheit, the usual operating temperature for many engines. A higher SAE number signifies thicker oil that flows more slowly. Let’s explore this a little more closely.
Motor Oil Weight Explained
Viscosity is a liquid’s resistance to flow. In the case of motor oil, it’s how well the oil flows at a specific temperature. The higher the number on the bottle, the thicker the oil, and the slower it’ll flow. The lower the number, the thinner the oil, and the faster it’ll flow. This is motor oil weight in a nutshell.
Motor oil needs to work well in different temperatures, from cold winter mornings to hot summer days. That’s why we have multi-grade oils, which are designed to offer two weights. To identify motor oil weight, the SAE uses a two-part system.
- The first number, followed by a W (for winter), describes the oil’s startup viscosity in cold conditions.
- The second number indicates its viscosity at hot or operating temperatures.
Common examples include 5W-30, 10W-40, and 0W-30. These multigrade oils function differently depending on the temperature. For instance, a 5W-30 oil will act like a 5-weight oil in cold starts but operate like a 30-weight oil at higher temperatures, thanks to specific additives.
- 5-weight oil: A 5-weight oil is a thin oil that flows easily, even in cold temperatures. It’s like water, which has a low viscosity. The “5” in 5W-20 means that on a cold start-up, even at subzero temperatures, the oil flows like a 5-weight oil.
- 30-weight oil: A 30-weight oil is a thicker oil that doesn’t flow as easily, especially in cold temperatures. It’s more like syrup, which has a high viscosity. The “30” in 5W-30 means that at its operating temperature, which is roughly 210 degrees Fahrenheit, the oil behaves like a 30-weight oil.
- Additives: Some multi-grade oils are a lower grade when cold and contain additives that make them resist thinning out as they get hot. This allows them to work like a higher-viscosity oil when warm, providing better protection for your engine.
Importance of Oil Weight During Winter
Selecting the right oil weight is important during winter. Lower winter weights are beneficial because they improve oil flow and lubrication when the engine is cold. Using a lighter oil like 0W-20 in colder weather provides better protection and performance, particularly during cold starts when most wear occurs. This helps to manage oil consumption and keeps your engine clean.
Generally, you want a low-viscosity oil for the following reasons:
- Improved fuel economy: By helping reduce friction in engines, low-viscosity oil allows them to start quickly during cold weather and flow more easily through the engine. This can lead to improved fuel economy, which can benefit vehicle owners. Some might ask, do oil changes help gas mileage when we opt for winter-worthy motor oil? Here, it’s good to remember that fuel economy and gas mileage are related but different. Gas, or fuel consumption, measures how much fuel is used to travel a certain distance and is best when lower, while fuel economy indicates how far a vehicle can go on a set amount of fuel and is better when higher.
- Better engine performance: Low-viscosity oils contribute to better engine performance, as they reduce energy loss, decrease viscous drag, and increase overall engine efficiency. This can result in smoother and more responsive engine operation.
- Meeting OEM recommendations and future emissions standards: Many vehicle manufacturers recommend low-viscosity oils for their newer vehicles with modern engine technology. Additionally, low-viscosity oils can help meet future emissions standards, such as the EPA’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy.
- Extended drain intervals: By using low-viscosity oils, you may be able to extend oil change intervals, potentially saving time and money.
- Protecting advanced engine technology: As engine technology advances, using low-viscosity oils becomes more important to protect the smaller and thinner pathways in the engine. Using the recommended low-viscosity oil can help ensure the longevity and proper functioning of these advanced engines.
It’s also necessary to follow your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations in the owner’s manual when choosing an oil weight, as it could lead to issues. The manual usually offers a range of suitable oil weights, accounting for various winter conditions and driving demands. Failing to change to a suitable winter oil could answer the question of what happens if you don’t get your oil changed for winter weather: your engine might not receive the optimal operating temperature and lubrication it needs, resulting in possible issues down the line.
Conventional Oil for Cold Weather
Conventional oil, often referred to as mineral oil, comes from refined crude oil. It’s the most basic type of motor oil and is widely available, making it the go-to choice for many car owners. In the context of colder months, here are the pros and cons you should consider:
Pros of Conventional Oil for Winter:
- Affordable: If you’re watching your budget, conventional oil is generally less expensive than its synthetic counterpart.
- Easily Found: Because it’s the most common type of oil, you will be able to find it when you need a refill.
- Good for Older Engines: Its less smooth flow can benefit older, worn-out engines, giving more time for parts to be adequately lubricated.
- Initial Engine Break-in: Some car manufacturers use conventional oil in new cars. Sticking with it for a bit post-purchase can be beneficial since the engine is already accustomed to it.
Cons of Conventional Oil for Winter:
- Variable Viscosity in Cold: The presence of waxes in conventional oil can cause it to thicken quickly in cold conditions, hampering flow and engine protection.
- Short Lifespan: It doesn’t last as long as synthetic oil, necessitating more frequent oil changes—especially in fluctuating temperatures.
- Increased Oil Consumption: It degrades more quickly than synthetic oil, which may require you to get an oil change sooner than you’d like.
- Limited Extreme Temperature Performance: Whether it’s very hot or very cold, conventional oil won’t perform as well as synthetic oil, potentially compromising engine lubrication and durability.
Synthetic Oil for Cold Weather
Synthetic oil is a created product designed to provide enhanced engine protection and performance, especially in extreme conditions. Unlike conventional oils made from crude oil, fully synthetic motor oil includes specialized additives for resilience in both hot and cold temperatures. Here’s what you need to know about using synthetic oil during winter:
Pros of Synthetic Oil for Cold Weather:
- Consistent Low Viscosity: The 5W-30 synthetic oil, for example, maintains a low viscosity even in cold conditions, allowing for better flow during winter starts.
- Immediate Engine Protection: Because of its consistent flow, synthetic motor oil keeps your engine protected right from the moment you turn the key.
- Cold Weather Resilience: Special additives help full synthetic oil protect against the effects of extremely cold weather.
- Less Thickening: Unlike conventional oils, synthetic oil does not thicken significantly in cold weather, aiding in engine protection.
- Enhanced Performance and Protection: Overall, synthetic oil protects and performs better than conventional oil, particularly in extreme temperatures.
Cons of Synthetic Oil for Cold Weather:
- Cost: Full synthetic oils are generally more expensive than conventional oils, sometimes costing twice as much.
- Not Always Necessary: If your car stays in a garage most of the time, conventional oil may suffice as it doesn’t get too cold in such conditions.
- More Factors to Consider: While the synthetic vs. conventional debate is important, it’s not the only factor in choosing the right oil for your vehicle — other things, like specific engine requirements, must also be considered.
Synthetic Blend Oil for Cold Weather
Synthetic blend oil is a middle-of-the-road option that combines synthetic base oil with conventional oil. This blend offers some of the cold-weather benefits of synthetic oil while being more budget-friendly. If you’re unsure about making the full jump to synthetic oil in winter, a synthetic blend might be a good starting point.
Pros of Synthetic Blend Oil for Cold Weather:
- Improved Cold Starts: The synthetic component ensures that the oil will flow better in cold weather, offering more reliable engine protection when you start the engine.
- Budget-Friendly: Compared to full synthetic, synthetic blend oil is generally less expensive, which could be a deciding factor if you need to change your oil frequently.
- Versatility: Suitable for a wide range of vehicles — whether your car is older or has high mileage, syn blend oil offers a balance of performance and protection for your vehicle’s engine.
Cons of Synthetic Blend Oil for Cold Weather:
- Limited Protection: While better than conventional oil in cold temperatures, a synthetic blend doesn’t offer as much protection as full synthetic oil. For extreme cold, full synthetic might be a better option.
- Not for Extreme Conditions: If your vehicle operates in particularly harsh or high-performance conditions, synthetic blend oil may not provide the level of protection and performance you need.
What Type of Oil is Best for Extreme Temperature Conditions?
When winter hits, and temperatures plummet, the motor oil you use can make a significant difference in your engine’s performance and longevity. In extreme cold, wear occurs during cold starts, putting stress on your engine. How motor oil is formulated, and its viscosity are key factors in how it performs in such conditions. Below are some points to consider in selecting the best motor oil for your specific situation:
Consider Your Situation
- Vehicle Type and Age: Older engines might have different needs than newer ones. Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the recommended oil types and viscosities.
- Driving Habits: Frequent short trips in extreme cold can be harder on your engine than long drives, affecting the kind of oil you should use.
- Location: How cold does it get where you live? If it’s cold but not extreme, your oil doesn’t need to be as specialized as in a region that regularly sees temperatures below zero.
What to Look for in Motor Oil for Extreme Cold
- Low Viscosity: When motor oil thickens in cold weather, it doesn’t flow as well, reducing its effectiveness in lubricating your engine. Look for oils labeled with a lower first number (like 0W-30), as these are formulated to be thinner oils that perform better in the cold.
- Synthetic Over Conventional: Synthetic oil generally has a lower pour point and flows better in extreme cold compared to conventional oil. A particular oil with a pour point of -58°F would be superior in extremely cold weather.
- Additives: An oil contains certain additives like anti-wear agents that are beneficial in extreme conditions. However, too many additives can affect the oil’s ability to maintain a stable viscosity.
Why the Right Oil Matters
- Protection Against Wear: The right oil will flow quickly during cold starts, minimizing the time your engine operates without lubrication, thus reducing wear.
- Consistent Performance: The best motor oil will maintain its performance features even in extreme temperatures, ensuring your engine is adequately protected at all times.
- Compliance With Manufacturer Guidelines: Always ensure the oil you choose aligns with the specifications in your owner’s manual. Using an oil that’s not recommended can void your vehicle’s warranty and cause long-term issues.
Can I Get an Oil Change in the Winter?
Yes, you can get an oil change in the winter. Doing so is just as essential as getting one in warmer seasons. By following these tips and the manufacturer’s guidelines, you can ensure that your engine remains protected throughout winter. But why do you need an oil change, even in winter? Keeping your oil fresh and appropriate for the conditions is a must for the long-term health of your engine.
Here’s what you need to consider when looking for an oil change near me during the cold months:
Choose the Right Oil
- In winter, conventional oil can freeze and cause issues. Consider switching to synthetic oil, which performs better in cold weather.
- Synthetic oils have a lower pour point, allowing them to flow more easily in cold temperatures and offer better protection for your engine.
- Your vehicle owner’s manual usually recommends the type and viscosity of oil best suited for winter conditions.
- Change the oil when it’s warm, close to its operating temperature.
- This makes it viscous enough to remove contaminants that could harm your engine.
- DIY oil changes are a hassle and even tougher in cold conditions. Consider professional service.
- Skip missing other essential maintenance and ensure you’re never changing the oil without changing the filter.
- Many people opt for a drive-thru oil change near me service for quick and efficient service in winter.
Final Thoughts: The Importance of Winter Oil Changes
Choosing the right motor oil for winter is necessary for your engine’s performance and longevity. From understanding the viscosity of the oil to evaluating different oil brands, there are multiple factors to consider. When temperatures drop, synthetic motor oils are likely your best bet — although conventional motor oil and syn blends have their own advantages and limitations.
If you’re wondering where to go for a quick and reliable oil change, consider searching for a 10-minute oil change near me and visiting a Strickland Brothers location. There, you’ll find our professionals who can guide you through the best choices for your vehicle, ensuring you’re not only winter-ready but road-ready for any season.