Many, many years ago, it was easy – you did not have to worry about the right motor oil because the same oil was suitable for almost all cars. This is totally different today.
In the past, it was almost irrelevant which oil you poured into the engine. There were hardly any differing sorts of oil and the car tolerated almost everything.
Later, there were more oil types, but the various viscosities such as 10W-40 or 15W-40 still offered some orientation. This describes how thick or thin the oil is in cold and hot conditions. Today, the viscosity is just one of many important properties and offers little help in the search for the right oil.
Industry standards are decisive for the motor oil today, such as those by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) or the American Petroleum Institute (API). Furthermore, several European car manufacturers have developed their own oil specifications. Overall, there are currently more than 50 specifications for motor oil.
But what caused the jungle of oil types to keep growing like this?
In their efforts to reduce fuel consumption and therefore also emissions, car manufacturers, especially those in Europe, discovered motor oil to be one of many “adjustment screws”. When they develop a new engine, the properties that the oil should have are set out early on. It is then up to the oil manufacturers to develop such an oil. Because each car manufacturer follows a different technological approach, the required oil properties deviate from one another. Sometimes, numerous properties can be combined in a single oil, but sometimes not.
This means that the general lubricant from previous decades has become a highly specialised liquid. And what’s why there cannot be a universal oil today that fits all vehicles.
The question of the “best oil” can therefore not really be answered in general terms. Instead, it is a question of using the right oil for each car. Today, motor oil is like a liquid replacement part. Putting in the wrong oil is like fitting the wrong replacement part.
This threatens the vehicle with dangers that go beyond a little oil sludge. There are actually oil-engine combinations that destroy the engine after just a few hundred kilometres. Which oil is right for a vehicle can be found in the handbook or at online international oil guides such as www.liqui-moly.com.
A change towards fewer oil types is not on the horizon. Quite the opposite – in future, the variety of oils will grow even further and the trend towards ever more specialised oils will continue. This trend makes life more complicated for motorists and mechanics alike, but it’s being driven by car manufacturers and not the oil manufacturers.