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Does the Use of 5w 30 Oil Instead of 5w 20 Oil Damage Your Engine?

  • Car Care Tips
  • Sara Sam
  • 4 minutes

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It is very common to mix up the two most used engine oils, especially if you are distant from the automobile world and its many parts. You are in trouble, or rather, your engine is in trouble, if you think the two oils are interchangeable. What are the differences between 5w 30 and 5w 20 oils? What happens if you mix up these two? Is it harmful to the engine? Which one is better? Our blog gives answers to all your queries regarding 5w 30 and 5w 20 engine oils.

What is the difference between 5w 30 and 5w 20 oils?

Motor oils are graded based on their viscosity. 5w 20 and 5w 30 engine oils are commonly used in colder temperatures. However, they are recommended for older engines and light-duty use. This is because an oil with a higher rating indicates that it is thicker and suits well those engines which run hot easily.

In the case of multi-grade oil, the grading happens in the XW-XX format. Here, the first number in the sequence (5, in this case) is the winter viscosity of the oil. As you’d have guessed by now, W stands for winter. So, this is the oil viscosity for your motor oil when the temperature is 104°F (40°C). The second set of numbers in the sequence (20 and 30 here) denotes the viscosity of the oil when it heats up to  212°F (100°C).

Here, both 5w 20 and 5w 30 engine oils might have the same viscosity ratings, but their behavior at 104°F varies, and that makes all the difference. Thus, when the engine reaches its operating temperature 5w, 30 becomes thicker than 5w 20.

Read Here: Why Do Cars Need Oil? All You Need to Know

Which among the two is better?

The behavior and benefits don’t really pick a winner. However, both come with a set of their own perks and setbacks.

With 5w 30 oil, your engine shows a lower horsepower output and fuel economy. This is mainly because a thicker consistency means an increased resistance as well. However, since 5w 30 oil offers better protection in warmer climates, and its versatility to be functional in different engines makes it more popular.

Nevertheless, 5w 20 oil comes with its own set of advantages. Its thinner viscosity creates lesser friction, thereby offering smoother protection to the engine parts. It also offers improved fuel economy at colder temperatures.


Can you use 5w 30 oil instead of 5w 20 oil?

It is always advisable to use the engine oil recommended for your car to ensure a longer life for the engine parts. The oil change can destroy the powertrain warranty on your automobile, lower engine performance, and ultimately may potentially harm your engine.

What is worse is the mixing up of different oils. This will never lead to faster performance. But instead, it may speed up the wear and tear of the engine. So there won’t be much performance improvement even if your engine allows the mixing of oils.

To prevent problems, always use one viscosity rating at a time.

However, the selection of oils also depends on the driving conditions your car is exposed to. 5w 30 oil is ideal for drivers in warmer areas. It has a higher viscosity index and a warmer temperature range than 5w 20 oil. 5w 30 oil is preferable in cold and hot weather. 5w 20 is suitable for chilly areas. It’s for light-duty engines that don’t get hot. Also, 5w 20 oil has good cold-start performance.

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What happens if you use 5w 30 oil instead of 5w 20 oil?

There may not arise sudden problems if your engine allows the use of different oils. If it doesn’t, then the longevity of your engine is definitely at risk.

Exposing your engine to somewhat thicker oil than it’s used to leads to additional friction. Your engine needs to work harder to complete its tasks with the increased resistance of the thicker oil. The additional friction due to a thicker oil can slow down your internal combustion engine and produce problems like oil leaks, engine deposits, and sludge buildup.

Read Here: Why and How You Should Change Your Engine Oil

What should be done in case of an accidental oil mix-up?

Your engine might not be immediately affected when a mix-up happens. However, considering the longevity of the engine, it is better to immediately drain out the oil and get it changed. If replacing it with the recommended oil takes longer, you can do the following.

  • Drive slow.
  • Keep the engine temperature to a minimum level.
  • If the temperature reaches the red zone, stop your car, cool the engine for a bit, and start again.
  • If the heating continues, always opt for roadside assistance.


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