Blog Car Care Advice The 5W20 Oil Guide: What It Is + Uses + 6 FAQs
Car Care Advice

The 5W20 Oil Guide: What It Is + Uses + 6 FAQs

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5W20 oil is a popular multi-grade oil known for its excellent start-up performance in cold temperatures and engine protection properties.

But should you be using 5W-20 oil

In this article, we’ll examine 5W-20 oil in detail
We’ll also answer some faqs — including how it differs from other viscosity grade oils, if it’s suitable for high mileage cars, or whether you can use it instead of 5W30 oil.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started.

What Does 5W-20 Mean in Oil?

5W20 oil is primarily a winter viscosity grade oil.   

The number before the ‘W’ represents the oil viscosity at 0°F. The lower this number, the better it will perform at cold temperatures. 5W is a low viscosity rating, providing better engine performance and lubrication during winter.

The numbers after the ‘W’ (i.e., ‘20’) denote the oil viscosity at a high temperature of 212°F. The higher these digits are, the thicker your oil is — indicating how well the lubricant can successfully adhere to engine components at high temperatures. 

5W-20 oil is a relatively thin oil at very high temperatures, but it still provides decent protection and lubrication at a normal operating temperature in moderate climates. 

However, you may want to switch to a higher oil viscosity grade if you drive a lot in significantly higher temperature settings and hotter climates. 

So what is 5W-20 motor oil good for? Let’s take a look.

What is 5W-20 Oil Good For?

As 5W-20 is a low viscosity oil, it’s best suited for cars that frequently drive in low temperature environments and colder climates. It’s ideally recommended for light-duty petrol and gasoline engines and can help with engine deposits and wear and tear problems. 

For a higher-temperature climate, use 10W-30 as an alternative. 

Apart from its fantastic low temperature performance, 5W-20 oil helps with the following:

Note: Despite these benefits, you should only use 5W-20 oil when recommended by your car manufacturer and mechanic. Using the wrong motor oil can cause serious harm to your engine and affect engine performance. 

Now, let’s look at some other frequently asked questions about 5W-20 oil and their answers.

6 FAQs on 5W20 Oil and Other Oil-related Queries

Here’s what you need to know about 5W-20 oil. 

1. How Is 5W-20 Different Than Other Oils?

There’s not much difference when you compare 5W-20 to another winter viscosity grade oil like the 5W30 oil. 5W30 oil may perform slightly better than 5W-20 in hotter climates due to its higher ‘30’ hot viscosity rating.

However, when compared to a higher temperature grade motor oil, like 10W-40, you may notice clear distinctions: 

5W-20 and 10W-40 are also very different viscosity grades and oil flows. 

2. Is 5W20 Oil a Synthetic Oil? 

5W-20 oil is available as conventional, synthetic, and synthetic blend engine oil. 

5W-20 conventional oil consists of refined crude oil and several additives. It provides adequate performance at normal operating temperature and is suitable for engine protection and lubrication. 

5W-20 synthetic motor oil comprises synthetic base oil (refined and modified hydrocarbon atoms) and additives. The base oil and various additives make it comparatively more stable in hotter climates.

With a synthetic base oil, it can handle extreme temperatures better, help with engine cleanliness, protect against engine wear and tear, and reduce the risk of thermal breakdown. Synthetic motor oil will also last longer when compared to conventional oil. 

5W-20 oil is also available as synthetic blend oil. Synthetic blend 5W-20 tends to be cheaper than synthetic motor oil, but it protects better and lasts longer than conventional oil. 

3. Can I Use 5W-20 Instead of 5W30 Motor Oil?

5W-20 is a lightweight engine oil. 
Even though it’s very similar to 5W30 motor oil, you shouldn’t switch between them.  

Using the wrong lubricant can be detrimental to your car’s engine parts. It can cause problems like sludge formation, engine deposits, and even reduced engine life. 

If your vehicle manufacturer’s manual recommends using 5W-20 oil, you should probably stick to it. While some vehicles are more versatile with their oil needs, most run on particular oil viscosity. Remember to check your oil’s product description to determine if it suits your car. 

If you accidentally add 5W-30 oil to your engine, you can simply contact your mechanic and get an oil change. It won’t lead to any immediate damage to your engine, but constant exposure may affect engine performance. 

4. Is 5W-20 Oil Good for High Mileage?

With high-mileage cars, you need to consider two factors before choosing a high mileage motor oil. They are:

While 5W-20 oil claims to help fuel efficiency and reduce oil consumption, its performance depends on your engine. An older engine will have a higher oil consumption rate but will also be more vulnerable to engine wear due to grinding gears. 

Ideally, 5W-20 should work as a high mileage motor oil as long as it suits your engine
If not, you can use a comparatively thicker oil like 5W-30 or a high mileage oil as an alternative. These protect your critical engine parts without causing too much strain on the engine parts.

5. SAE, API, and ILSAC: What Do They  Mean? 

SAE in motor oil stands for “Society of Automotive Engineers.” They designed the viscosity coding system, and “SAE” refers to the oil viscosity specification. You’ll find SAE covering conventional motor oil, synthetic and synthetic blend motor oil. A motor oil without “SAE” stated before the viscosity rating might not comply to SAE standards. As such, a non-SAE synthetic oil could be quite different from synthetic SAE oil, even with the same viscosity rating. 

API refers to the American Petroleum Institute. Conventional motor oil with an API rating means that the lubricant meets the performance standard of auto manufacturers. American Petroleum Institute ratings are denoted by either an S or C, where S is for gasoline engines, and C is for diesel. 

API-rated oils include API SN, API SP, API CK-4, etc. 

International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) is an organization that Ford motor company, Chrysler, and others created. It aims to develop minimum performance standards for passenger car engine oils used in gasoline fuelled engines. They introduced ILSAC GF 6A to provide new engine oil performance levels for spark-ignited internal combustion engines.

ILSAC GF 6A is a thicker oil and protects engines from wear and failures related to turbocharger depositing.

6. What is Oil Breakdown?

Oil breakdown is when a car’s internal heat causes a chemical reaction in motor oil, causing a change in the oil’s viscosity. The high heat level causes the oil to degrade or thermal breakdown. 

When this happens, the viscosity change caused by thermal breakdown causes a decrease in oil flow, eventually leading to increased oil consumption, deposit buildup, and damage to the engine’s metal surfaces.

Closing Thoughts

5W-20 engine oil can be a great choice for your car. It offers a decent operating temperature range, improves fuel efficiency and engine protection in colder climates, and boosts fuel economy. 

The important thing to remember is to get a routine oil change and perform regular maintenance. This will help prolong your car’s engine life and prevent the failure of critical engine parts.

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