Engines are enormously complex machines that have a ton of moving parts, but really at its core it needs two things to work, gas to make it combust and create energy, and oil to keep the parts in the engine moving, cool and collecting debris until it can be placed in the oil filter. In this blog we will be talking about oil, the different ratings it comes in and what can happen if you don’t use the right kind.

Oil lubricates, cools moving parts, collects debris and helps to seal the pistons in the cylinders, otherwise the engine would run for a few seconds and seize, knocking this lesson into your head if you didn’t really feel that oil was that important for your engine.

The brand of oil isn’t important, pick whoever you trust; it’s the viscosity that really matters. Merriam-Webster defines viscosity as “the property of resistance to flow in a fluid or semi-fluid.” A good example of this is pushing a spoon with a small force moves it easily through a bowl of water, but when you use the same force in a bowl of say mashed potatoes, the spoon moves slowly, and in a bowl of molasses, the spoon moves even slower. To learn what the oil’s viscosity is we need only look at the bottle and see the number on the front, for example 10W30.

So What does it Mean When I See 10W30 on the Oil Bottle?

First off, this number represents a multi-viscosity oil that was created after the changing from light oils in the winter and heavy oils in the summer became too inconvenient. These oils act like light oils at cooler temperatures and heavier oils at high temperatures which allows you to keep the vehicle going longer in-between oil changes.

To understand the 10W30 number we have to look at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) ratings system. The first chuck, “10W”, refers to the SAE rating after testing the oil in Winter (W) conditions, more specifically at 0°F or -17.7°C. The second chunk, “30”, is tested at 212°F or 100°C, which is the normal operating temperature a liquid-cooled engine runs at.

To put these ratings in perspective let’s compare 10W30 with 20W50 those numbers will tell you that the 10W30 oil has less viscosity when cold and hot than 20W50 does. One thing to keep in mind is motor oil thins as it heats and thickens when it cools. Oil additives are added to change this resistance to thickening or thinning for colder and warmer climates.

For ATVs and UTVs specifically, you should look for motor oil that has added heat dissipater additives. These kinds of vehicles are covered in plastic, which generally keeps them at a warmer temperature than normal when running, requiring them to have adjusted oil. Some people still do use conventional oil in their ATVs and UTVs, though it’s definitely not suggested.

Obviously there’s also a difference between synthetic and conventional oil, a topic we’ve talked about before in a prior blog post, but it essentially breaks down to synthetic having less impurities because it’s artificially produced, which tends to be better for your engine and synthetic holds together longer, extending the period between oil changes, but it’s also a lot more expensive than the conventional kind, sometimes up to 3x as much.

What Happens If I Use the Wrong Oil?

Unfortunately, people learn from their mistakes and these same people will come to the sobering reality that using the wrong oil can cause a bunch of different problems to their vehicle. The wet clutch can wear prematurely, there could be all sorts of bearing failure, the engine can overheat, cylinder walls can get scuffed more easily and there are tons of other problems that could potentially happen not listed here. Basically, the lesson we should learn from this is to use the oil the manufacturer suggests.

Keep your engine healthy and give it the oil it requires. It’s easy to underestimate oil’s importance, but when you do underestimate it, it leads to issues you otherwise could avoid, costing you more in the long run.

Have any questions about the different kinds of oil or some stories about using the wrong kinds? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Beginner’s Guide to How Oil Works: http://www.motorcyclecruiser.com/tips-tech/beginne...
  2. How to Pick the Right Motor Oil for Your Car: http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/a53/12...
  3. 5 Things Every Driver Should Know About Engine Oil: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/5-things-every-drive...

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