0W-20 vs 5W-20 Oil: Which Should You Use for Your Vehicle?

0W-20 vs 5W-20 Oil

When it’s time to change your vehicle’s motor oil, one of the first questions you likely ask yourself is: 0W-20 or 5W-20 oil? What’s the diff, and which one should I use in my ride? Excellent queries, dear reader! Selecting the optimal viscosity oil for your whip can impact performance, fuel economy, and engine wear. Make the right choice, and your motor will hum like Lionel Ritchie. Choose poorly, though, and you’ll face repairs pricier than courtside seats at a Lakers game.

So let’s examine the nitty-gritty differences between 0W-20 and 5W-20 motor oil weights. We’ll compare the pros and cons of each, when to use specific grades, and factors like cost and availability. Equipped with this intel, you’ll drive away prepared to pick the ideal oil for your set of wheels.

The quick skinny: For most vehicles, 0W-20 oil offers advantages like improved fuel economy. But 5W-20 can be a better choice for extreme conditions or specific engine requirements. Consult your owner’s manual to see what weight your manufacturer recommends.

Now let’s get into the greasy details on 0W-20 and 5W-20 motor oils:

Understanding Oil Weights

Before we dive under the hood, let’s cover what those letters and numbers mean on an oil bottle. The “W” refers to the oil’s winter grade or flow at low temperatures. The number following it is the viscosity rating at 212°F.

  • 0W = Thinnest viscosity when cold
  • 5W = Slightly thicker than 0W when cold
  • 20 = Viscosity rating when hot

So a 0W-20 oil will flow better at cold temps than a 5W-20, but they will have the same viscosity when the engine warms up. Most modern oils use multigrade ratings like this.

Fuel Economy Differences

One of the biggest factors when choosing between 0W-20 and 5W-20 is fuel economy. The thinner 0W-20 weight will usually increase your miles per gallon by 1-2% compared to 5W-20 oil. Here’s why:

  • The 0W element allows faster oil flow when an engine is first started. This reduces friction during cold starts before the oil warms up and spreads evenly.
  • Since 0W-20 maintains a thinner consistency even when hot, it flows with less resistance – putting less drag on engine components.
  • The end result is less fuel needed to overcome that friction and pump the oil. So you’ll typically get 1-2% better gas mileage with 0W-20.

Pretty much any vehicle can benefit from the fuel economy advantage of 0W-20 oil. However, certain turbocharged engines may see even greater gains from 5W-20 due to their high performance design. Your owner’s manual will specify if one of these exceptions applies.

When gas prices are through the roof like my college buddy Dave after a bong hit, every mile per gallon counts. So for most drivers, 0W-20 offers a real wallet saver at the pump. I’ll drink to that bro!

Engine Performance Differences

Setting fuel economy aside, how do these two oil weights stack up in terms of hardcore engine performance? Here the advantage swings slightly toward 5W-20:

  • 5W-20 flows a little better at extremely high and low temperatures. So it offers added protection during cold starts and extreme heat.
  • The slightly thicker 5W-20 also stands up better to shearing forces under heavy loads. So it’s a good choice for towing, hauling, aggressive driving, and extreme climates.
  • 0W-20 provides perfectly adequate lubrication for normal commuting and driving conditions. It just can’t hang with 5W-20 during hardcore use and temperature extremes.

To summarize, if you frequently push your vehicle to the limit, 5W-20 is your buddy. It’s got your back like a heavily tattooed UFC fighter during the gnarliest operating conditions. For most average drivers though, 0W-20 will keep your ride happy.

Oil Change Intervals

Here’s another area where 0W-20 pulls ahead for typical driving: oil change intervals. The lighter 0W-20 weight allows many manufacturers to extend the time between oil changes without harming engine protection.

For example:

  • Toyota went from a 5,000-mile interval for most vehicles with 5W-20 to 10,000-miles using 0W-20 oil.
  • Ford extended some of their recommended intervals from 7,500 miles to 10,000 miles when switching to 0W-20 weights.

So if you drive a relatively new vehicle and follow a conventional maintenance schedule, 0W-20 can potentially allow longer oil change intervals. That means fewer trips to the mechanic and more money in your wallet. Score!

However, always follow the oil change frequency recommended in your owner’s manual. Some automakers still call for shorter 5,000 mile intervals even with 0W-20. And if you regularly tow or haul with your vehicle, stick with the manufacturer’s severe service interval.

Availability Concerns

Oil availability is another consideration when choosing between 0W-20 and 5W-20 grades. Until recently, 5W-20 was much more widely available than 0W-20 at auto parts stores and oil change shops. But as newer vehicles increasingly call for 0W-20, it’s now readily available at most retailers.

Still, there may be some older makes and models that specifically require 5W-20 oil. So it’s smart to check availability for your vehicle’s recommended weight before that oil change light pops on:

  • Call a few local auto parts stores and shops to see if they carry your desired weight in stock.
  • Look online to find retailers that allow you to ship your preferred oil to a store for pickup.
  • As a backup, keep a spare quart on hand in your garage so you’re never caught empty.

With a bit of planning, you should be able to find either 0W-20 or 5W-20 when needed. Don’t get caught oil-less and have to use a suboptimal viscosity in a pinch.

The Cost Comparison

When it comes to price, 0W-20 oil usually costs $1 to $3 more per quart than 5W-20 oil. This accounts for the increased refining and additives required to produce the thinner 0W-20 weight.

With a typical 5 quart oil change, you’ll spend $5 to $15 extra using 0W-20 vs 5W-20 oil. While not a huge difference, the cost adds up for frequent oil changers.

There are ways to mitigate the price premium on 0W-20 oil:

  • Shop sales and specials either online or at local auto parts stores. Oil goes on sale frequently.
  • Buy in bulk if your vehicle requires 0W-20. Many online sellers offer free shipping on large orders.
  • Use rebates and loyalty programs to lower the price.
  • Ask your mechanic for a discount if you supply your own oil.

While 0W-20 costs a tad more, the fuel savings usually offsets the difference. So you wind up ahead in the long run. Plus you get the other benefits like extended oil change intervals.

Consult Your Vehicle Manufacturer

This brings up a critical point – always consult your vehicle owner’s manual or dealership for the recommended oil weight. The manufacturer has extensively tested which viscosity provides optimal lubrication, protection, and efficiency in their engine design.

For many newer models, the specified oil is 0W-20 weight:

  • Most Ford and GM vehicles after model year 2012
  • Recent Toyota and Honda engines
  • Many other Asian and European imports after 2015

But some makes and models still specifically require 5W-20 oil. This includes:

  • Certain Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz performance engines
  • Specific turbocharged Subaru boxer engines
  • The Ford Mustang 5.0L V8 (pre-2018)
  • Earlier Toyota and Lexus V6 and V8 engines

So don’t assume – check for your ride’s required viscosity. Using the wrong weight oil can negatively impact engine life and void your warranty. The manufacturer recommendation trumps general factors like fuel economy and price.

Bottom Line Recommendation

Given all the factors we’ve discussed, what’s the final verdict on choosing between 0W-20 and 5W-20 oil?

For most modern vehicles driven under normal conditions, 0W-20 is the best choice for its fuel economy and extended interval benefits. But confirm this with your owner’s manual, as some engines still need 5W-20.

To recap the key differences:

  • 0W-20 flows better cold for less friction and 1-2% better fuel economy.
  • 5W-20 offers slightly better protection during extreme temps and heavy loads.
  • Always follow your manufacturer’s recommended viscosity grade.
  • Check availability if choosing an uncommon weight like 5W-20.
  • 0W-20 costs a few dollars more per oil change but can extend intervals.

Equipped with this knowledge pool, you can dive in and pick the right motor oil for your vehicle. Consult your mechanic if you have any doubts. And whatever you do, don’t use 10W-40 just because your uncle Vinny said so. His Camaro needed it back in ’78, but your whip deserves better!

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