Surely you have been there. You endured a sales presentation for a timeshare or a travel club, a set of living room furniture or a set of replacement windows. And what did you hear at the end of that sales pitch? Those famous words: “If you sign up today…” The goal was to give you the impression that you needed to sign on the bottom line right away if you wanted to get the best deal.
A number of years ago, some vehicle manufacturers began developing unique motor oil standards for their engines – and developing their own motor oil products for customers when it came time for oil changes. Automakers also warned that failure to use their factory-specified oils could void a vehicle’s new car warranty, giving the impression that there was no other oil change option.
But is that true? Do you have to use the manufacturer’s motor oil in your engine in order to avoid messing with the warranty? Or, while it is under warranty, do you need to take your car to the dealership for every oil change service?
Changes in motor oil
For more than half a century, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) have set the standards for motor oil. Those standards are updated regularly to meet increases in emission regulations and the ever-changing demands of today’s engines.
For many years, choosing oil for an engine was simple. All you needed to know was the oil viscosity, or grade. And there were not many to choose from. 10W-30 motor oil was pretty common for most engines. Something a bit thicker was also available. Eventually, 5W-30 oil became popular as engines began to be made smaller and lighter in weight. But that was about it. Those options were pretty consistent for decades.
Today, not only has the overall quality of motor oil improved significantly, there are far more grades of oil available, ranging from 10W-30 (or heavier) all the way down to 0W-16. That is incredibly thin oil. Some manufacturers are pushing for even lighter-weight 0W-08 oil.
But viscosity is not the only factor when it comes to choosing motor oil. The type of oil is also a consideration, whether conventional or synthetic. In short, conventional oil is what has traditionally been derived and distilled from crude oil. Synthetic oil is made artificially in a lab from highly-refined base oil stocks. Because of their engineered origins, synthetics are far more uniform at a molecular level, more stable across a wider range of temperatures, capable of containing higher-quality oil additives, and more.
Synthetic oil, which costs a good deal more than conventional products, is not required for every engine. It is, however, required for many.
Changes in engine technology
One of the reasons that synthetic motor oil is required by vehicle manufacturers in many of their models is that engines have changed over time. Increasing demands for fuel economy and emission reduction by governments and consumers all over the world have led to changes in oil technology and engine technology. Engines have become smaller, lighter, and more powerful pound for pound than their predecessors. As a result, the tolerances between the moving parts inside an engine have gotten smaller, creating a need for thinner oils to flow between those parts.
Because conventional oil is composed of molecules that are uneven in shape and size, it cannot be produced to the low viscosities needed in many motors today. Nor can it stand up to the high demands of many modern engines. For instance, the high heat produced in a turbocharged engine calls for the advanced performance of synthetic oil.
Synthetic motor oil also helps to guard better against corrosion, contamination from acids and other compounds, and the buildup of engine deposits and sludge.
Changes in manufacturer specifications
Not only have motor oils improved and engines advanced, but manufacturer’s specifications have evolved as well. But they have not all evolved along the same pathway.
API and ILSAC standards are a baseline for engine lubricant development. But vehicle manufacturers are free to choose a unique set of standards to suit a specific engine. The requirement for synthetic oil in a turbocharged vehicle is one example.
But it can get more involved than simply conventional vs. synthetic oil. In some cases, different manufacturers bring to the market their own custom set of specifications for their engines. While most American and Japanese automakers have tended to follow API guidelines, a number of years ago, General Motors moved away from the practice when they introduced their own Dexos oil specification that promised decreased piston deposits and improved fuel efficiency. A similar theme is also common among German manufacturers.
The impression that consumers are left with – and not entirely without intention – is that, in order to avoid problems with their new car warranties, they need to stick with the same oil that came in their cars from the factory. Some vehicle owner’s manuals suggest that using an oil other than the one specified will void the warranty. Of course, that would mean taking a vehicle to the dealership for every oil change or purchasing oil directly from the dealership.
What works with your warranty
It really is necessary to go to the dealer for your oil changes or get your oil from them? Do you have to stick with the oil that came with your car?
Well, yes and no.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 was created to prevent manufacturers from misleading consumers with disclaimers on their warranties. How that plays out for your engine is that, if you choose to use an aftermarket motor oil brand (like Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil), the vehicle manufacturer bears the burden of proof that the aftermarket product is the cause of engine damage that would otherwise be covered by your warranty.
That means you are free to use a different brand of motor oil, as long as it meets the minimum specifications set by the manufacturer. Aftermarket oil companies strive to provide products that meet or exceed manufacturer requirements.
So, yes, you need to follow the requirements of your vehicle manufacturer found in the owner’s manual. But no, you do not need to use their proprietary product, as long as you choose one that meets or exceeds their specs. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the oil change interval – when to change your oil. And stick with the type and weight they suggest.
If you are concerned about voiding your warranty, then go with their oil. Or have a conversation with the technicians at a trusted repair shop about your oil and oil filter options. Just don’t be pressured by what is more of a sales pitch than an imperative.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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