What Oil Does My Car Take?

Find out how to choose the right oil for your car right here with Savvy’s handy guide.

Written by 
Savvy Editorial Team
Savvy's content writing team are professionals with a wide and diverse range of industry experience and topic knowledge. We write across a broad spectrum of finance-related topics to provide our readers with informative resources to help them learn more about a certain area or enable them to decide on which product is best for their needs with careful comparison. Meet the team behind the operation here. Visit our authors page to meet Savvy's expert writing team, committed to delivering informative and engaging content to help you make informed financial decisions.
Our authors
, updated on August 9th, 2023       

Fact checked

At Savvy, we are committed to providing accurate information. Our content undergoes a rigorous process of fact-checking before it is published. Learn more about our editorial policy.

Car Loans Banner - Man checking under the bonnet of his car to change its oil

Choosing the right oil for your car is crucial for maintaining its performance and longevity. With so many options available, finding the perfect match can be overwhelming. In Savvy’s comprehensive guide, we help demystify the process of selecting the right oil for your car. From understanding viscosity to considering the manufacturer's recommendations, we'll cover everything you need to know to ensure your car's engine runs smoothly and efficiently.

How do I work out what oil my car takes?

Check the owner's manual

The first and most important step in determining the right oil for your car is to check the owner's manual. The manufacturer provides specific recommendations for the type and grade of oil suitable for your vehicle. Look for the section on “Engine Oil” or “Fluid Specifications,” where you'll find valuable information about viscosity, API (American Petroleum Institute) ratings and other essential details.

In addition to the owner's manual, you can also find specific oil recommendations on the manufacturer's website or official sources. Sticking to the manufacturer's recommendations ensures that you use oil that meets the required standards and maintains your car's warranty.

Understand viscosity

Viscosity is a critical factor when choosing engine oil. It refers to the oil's thickness or flow rate at different temperatures. In Australia, you'll often encounter two numbers in the oil specification, such as 5W-30 or 10W-40. The first number, followed by a “W” (winter), represents the oil's viscosity in cold temperatures, while the second number indicates its viscosity at operating temperatures.

For most Australian climates, multi-grade oils, such as 5W-30 or 10W-40, are suitable as they offer good performance in both cold and hot conditions. However, because our winters aren’t as cold as those in Europe or parts of America, it isn’t necessarily as vital to aim for a high-winter-performance oil.

Consider the oil rating

The API rating is another essential aspect of engine oil. It reflects the oil's quality and its ability to protect your car's engine. An API rating is usually structured in an “API SN” format, where the first letter is either S (petrol engine oil) or C (diesel engine oil) and the second is a rating from A-Z, which progresses in quality as the alphabet goes on. Ratings such as API SN or API SM are generally suitable for most modern cars, but always check before you use it.

There are other classifications which are in use in Australia, however, with some European and Japanese cars instead coming with ACEA (Association des Constructeurs Europeens d’Automobiles), ILSAC (International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee) and JASO (Japanese Automotive Standards Organisation) ratings.

Choose between conventional, synthetic or semi-synthetic

You'll find three main types of engine oil in Australia: mineral, synthetic and semi-synthetic.

  • Mineral oil is the most affordable option and is suitable for older or vintage vehicles with lower performance requirements.
  • Synthetic oil is more refined to offer superior performance, especially in extreme temperatures, and is typically more suitable for modern vehicles.
  • Semi-synthetic oil combines the benefits of both conventional and synthetic oils, providing better protection than conventional oil at a more affordable price than full synthetic. This type of oil is sometimes used in high-performance and turbo-diesel cars.

Consider the driving conditions

Your driving habits and the environment in which you operate your car can impact your choice of engine oil. If you frequently drive in severe conditions, such as extreme temperatures, heavy traffic, or towing heavy loads, you may wish to use a higher-quality synthetic oil which provides better protection under challenging circumstances.

Pay attention to oil change intervals

Oil change intervals vary based on the type of oil you use and your driving conditions. Follow the recommended oil change schedule in your owner's manual to keep your engine running smoothly and to avoid potential damage caused by old or degraded oil.

What happens if I use the wrong oil in my car?

If you accidentally have the wrong oil put in your car’s engine, either by you or your car service provider, it can potentially cause damage. However, this will depend on the nature of the incorrect oil. For instance, if it’s a similar viscosity oil to what you usually have and is semi-synthetic instead of mineral, the issue may not be as great as if the oil viscosities were vastly different. This may also be the case if mineral is used instead of synthetic.

If the oil is sufficiently different from the recommended type, many experts recommend draining the oil and replacing it. This is because using oil with the wrong viscosity can lead to insufficient lubrication, causing increased friction and wear on engine components. This can result in reduced performance and premature engine failure, with repairs often being costly if you have a particularly valuable or heavy-duty vehicle.

It's also important to consider whether the incorrect oil was used in a full oil change or simply as a top-up, with the former being potentially more serious than the latter. If you’re unsure, it may be worth seeking out the advice of a professional.

More helpful guides on cars and car loans

Men vs women: who are the better drivers?

The numbers don’t lie Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a report based on gender specific traffic deaths and they found that “many more men than women...

What type of commuter are you?

400 hrs are spent commuting in your car How long it takes for you to commute from one point to another influence various factors. Not only does it take time,...

What is road rage costing you?

Could road rage lead to an early grave? According to a joint study on road rage conducted by insurer RACQ and the University of the Sunshine Coast, aggressive drivers had...

Best ways to negotiate with a car dealer

Do your research First things first: you don’t just walk into a showroom – you do your research beforehand. Walking into the first showroom, with the intention to buy is...

Top 5 cars for tradies

1. Ford Ranger A dual cab ute carrying the spirit of the big US ‘pick-up truck’ is a capable 3.2L Diesel Turbo 5 4WD that’s pushed along by 147kw and...

Easily compare car loan quotes through Savvy today 

Our car loans take your money further. See how you can compare and save with us.