It’s interesting being a car guy – or at least we like to think so. Most car guys do, and they’ll talk a good game, but you find when they get into specifics, they’re at a loss for even the most basic terminology. Most car guys can raise their hands and claim guilt here.
The best thing to do to combat auto illiteracy is to learn, read around on the internet, and purchase a book. You don’t need to turn yourself into a complete grease monkey, but knowing more beyond how to fix a flat will save you a lot of time, money and embarrassment.
One of the first things you’ll learn is just how much it matters what kind of motor oil you put in your car. Different cars react differently, however there are some brands to avoid like the plague when making your selection. Here’s some oil you won’t want to use, plus some alternatives that actually get the job done right.
List of the worst motor oil brands and their alternatives
Liberty Motor Oil
The minute the oil arrived, I knew there was a serious problem. It looked very dark and discoloured. Oil is supposed to be dark, but the texture looked all wrong. It was dirty.
The color and the distinctly sick smell of a low-rent auto garage was enough to raise concern. I also started reading online and learned that many users were similarly nervous. One user swore putting it in their car made a brand new engine wear down in a year.
I finally tried it once, and after a week I could hear it was a mistake. There was a faint knocking in the engine that just grew until I got it changed.
I know some people cringe at the concept of synthetic oil, however it actually doesn’t make much of a difference. They’re rated just as highly as traditional motor oil, and they work just as well.
Castrol is a brand I trust because time has proven it to be not just great at keeping the engine running smoothly, but aiding it. My mechanic told me that using Castrol probably gave my last car an extra 240,000 miles on it.
It’s also reliable for just about anything that needs oil – from yard equipment to grandfather clocks. Liberty makes an oil that’s specifically for the latter, and it’s fairly well-received, but it does not make sense to use two different oils when Castrol can be all-purpose.
The most important aspect of Castrol, though, is that it keeps the engine running smoothly. The only time my engine made any noise was when the oil needed changing. That’s another nice feature: you’ll find you won’t have to change your oil as often. I never had to get it changed until I’d driven at least 10,000 miles.
Petrola Motor Oil
It’s always a little concerning when you can’t find much information about a company online. Petrola mostly yields questions about whether or not you’ve made a typo. The colour on the product was equally disheartening. It was downright filthy.
I poured a little in a glass, just to get a sense of its viscosity. You want a decent viscosity level, something around 10W-30, which should allow the oil to flow through your engine easily. There was no way to imagine Petrola moving any faster through the engine than molasses.
Worse, it looked as if it would plug up the engine like gum. I simply did not trust it enough to sample it, and wouldn’t recommend it. Just as well, as I soon learned through research that Petrola is banned in some states.
I had heard that Valvoline is often recommended by top mechanics in America, but I never understood why until my daughter started using it in her vehicle. Not only does Valvoline keep your engine running smoothly for at least 5,000 miles – one of the few downsides is the more frequent changes necessary – it has other benefits as well.
For one, it stops any leaks better than any oil I’ve seen on the market. My daughter has never once had a leak or any sort of engine trouble that stemmed from her oil. The last time she had to visit a repair garage, it was for an emergency flat. Beyond that, her car likely has another fifteen years left on the road.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the packaging. Valvoline’s cap and bottle is one of the most convenient, easiest-to-handle oils I’ve ever put my hands on. It’s as simple as a tea kettle, just as it should be.
Xpress Lube Pro
I did not personally use or buy Xpress Lube Pro, but I know a few people who’ve had experiences with it. It was my mechanic who first showed me a bottle that a customer had brought in and firmly warned me against it.
Just as well, as this is another brand that does not meet the basic safety requirements oils have to meet, and as a result is not allowed to be sold in parts of the country. The Petroleum Quality Institute of America keeps a record of viscosities of all the oils sold in America. XPress Lube is 26 percent lower than what it should be.
This makes it incredibly likely to do irreparable damage to your engine. Using oils that don’t meet the required safety standards is hazardous. There are occasions, however, where it’s unavoidable. If you’re going on a trip or you’re stranded without a large budget, any oil will do.
But I’d recommend choosing one slightly less negatively received if you absolutely have to put oil in your car for a quick fix. Then, upon returning home, get your oil changed immediately. It’s just not worth the risk.
Alternative: Amazon Basics
I didn’t expect much from a brand like Amazon, an online retailer that may be good at getting packages sent quickly, but might not know the first thing about motor oil. Outside of a very basic bottle that doesn’t inspire much confidence, it turns out it’s an excellent product in a quick fix.
It can be difficult to judge an oil without driving with it for a few thousand miles, but if I were to opt for affordable, emergency oil, I don’t think you’re going to find much better.
Yet another product that gets a consumer alert from the PQIA. With so many on the list, you’d think they’d ban them outright or make them highly illicit. There are enough hazards on the road without worrying that the oil you trust to keep your car running in an orderly fashion suddenly sends it out-of-whack and, before you know it, you’re careening into a ravine.
The deceiving thing about Questron is that, on its face, it appears to be a legitimate brand. It’s viscosity is well within what it should be. I may know a few things about cars, but I’m at loss when it comes to hard numbers. What the data from PQIA indicates, however, is that the fine print reveals the truth.
The stated viscosity is a bald lie, and when tested turned out to be significantly lower than what the label states. It’s bad enough that the product has a consumer alert, but when the specifics about their deceit becomes apparent, why on earth would anyone trust their car with it?
Alternative: Liqui Moly
Throughout the late 80s, German automobiles became material for stand ups to work during five minute sets at redbrick wall clubs. They were hacky jokes, usually related to some unfair allusions to troubled history, and they don’t stand the test of time. Especially when Germans are producing materials for your automobile like Liqui Moly.
A friend uses it in a sports car fairly notorious for burning through oil, and claims it has outlasted all the others.
Just one small complaint: the directions can be a little confusing. I’d recommend watching a video on youtube before applying it yourself.
Quaker State Q
Quaker State is a pretty familiar brand name, but you usually hear it on things such as oatmeal, not car products. I looked into it, and Quaker State was actually one of the leading producers of motor oil in the 50s, but they used a different base for their oil, leading many to think it was inferior.
What changed was the kind of gas we were using. When unleaded was first introduced, Quaker State’s oil could not handle the new temperatures at which the gas burned. As a result, the gas turned to sludge.
It may have been inferior then, and it certainly is now. It matters where the company gets its oil from, and Quaker State’s wells are not in the best locations. They’re apparently hard to access, and their pipeline distribution system does not operate smoothly.
So they compensate for a lesser product with a lesser price. It’s partly unfortunate, given that some of the bad press the company gets is based on data that’s decades old. Some of it, like the oil base being weaker, is not factual. Nevertheless, some of that reputation is unfortunately well-earned.
You surely know the name, and there’s a reason why. My wife has trusted Pennzoil since she’s been driving, and that kind of trust isn’t earned without years of reliable service. You want a good oil to do more than just lubricate your car’s engine. That’s a basic function of oil.
Pennzoil offers premium service, using technologically advanced products that help your engine withstand even the worst weather conditions and running cleanly.
There are countless brands of motor oil out there, but it’s worth looking into each before making your selection. As you’ve just learned, some on the market are even banned in some states, so you might well be using an oil that’s effectively killing your engine slowly.
Does It Matter What Brand of Oil I Use?
Absolutely. As you’ve read, many products available for purchase online may not be showing up in stores near you precisely because they aren’t allowed to be sold there. Putting an oil in your car that’s not recommended, or has a viscosity that doesn’t allow for smooth flow, can mean that you are causing irreparable harm to your engine.
For more information on specific brands that may have a consumer alert or worse, visit the PQIA’s website, which catalogues and tests every brand on the market.