Reflections: On motor oil

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By Thomas W. Ivines

Engine oil, also called, motor oil, is used to produce a lubricating film on the moving parts of an engine. But what is the best oil to use for your particular engine?

You might say Castrol, Valvoline, or maybe even Quaker State is the best oil for your `old Nelly. And true, it is wise to select a name brand oil. But what's really important here is whether the specifications of that oil are right for your car or not.

Full attention should be given to the oil usage specifications recommended by the engine's manufacturer, and then matched to that of the particular oil you are considering. Just because a popular brand of oil is highly praised, does not mean it is best for your engine. You cannot expect maximum protection and endurance without first checking the oil's specifications, regardless of the brand name.

Engines are different from one another as much as oils are different from one another. Engines require individual lubricants to satisfy individual engine needs. That's why car manufacturers specify what oils should be used in their specifically designed engines. Brand names are just that - brands. It is the specifications of the oil that makes the difference.

There are several things to look for when buying oil for your car. First of all, you need to know what the manufacturer suggests for your particular engine. This is especially important because it is often the difference between voiding your new car warranty or not. Oil specification information for your engine can usually be found within the car owner's manual or a shop manual. So, if a manufacturer wants SAE 10-W-30 in the crankcase, then that's what you should have.

There are usually two specifications recommended by automobile manufacturers. The SAE rating is only one of them and indicates viscosity or thickness of the oil under different temperatures. API is the second, designating service rating for quality, and denotes how well the oil performs under certain operating conditions. Both SAE and API ratings are equally important.

API ratings come two ways. The "S" rating indicates service and is usually meant for normal passenger vehicles. The "C" rating indicates commercial and is meant for rough, extended-use vehicles like taxicabs and trucks. Each API rating comes with another letter to indicate how well it performs. SA represents the lowest service rating for passenger vehicles, and CA represents the lowest rating for commercial vehicles. At present, the API rating for the highest rated oil is SG and CE. But remember, you have to consider what conditions you are running your vehicle under. For example, if you are racing your engine, or running under high demands, like off-road driving, you might want to consider the "C" rating instead of the "S."

SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers and they are the pioneers in the development of viscosity (flow) ratings under variable temperatures for oil demanded by new car manufacturers. API, on the other hand, stands for American Petroleum Institute. These guys came about because of the need for quality standards in the development of modern lubricating oils. They test oil for merit and endurance under the most extreme conditions.

So what does this all mean? Well, look at that bottle or can of oil for the donut-shaped API/SAE symbol. The SAE specification of oil you are using must meet exactly the specifications recommended by your car's manufacturer. API ratings must be equal to, or exceed the manufacturer's recommendations.

If Kendall Oil is your favorite, then make sure it has the specifications needed to suit the needs of your car. Incidentally, most all oil companies make different grades of oil. It's up to you to choose the right one. You see oil is not just simply oil anymore. API and SAE ratings take into consideration, temperature, flow rate, paraffin content (wax), cleaning ability (detergent), foaming, oxidation, sludging and much more such as lubricating enhancing additives.

So, do your car a favor and read the labels for specifications of oils and not just the brand name. A good policy to abide by is one where your car will treat you as well as you treat it. Sometimes this means more than just buying the most popular, expensive oil, which might not even be the right grade for your car to begin with.