Is 0W-20 Oil Synthetic or Conventional? (Answered)

Written by

Charles Bolte


Vernon Hoppe 

is 0w 20 oil synthetic

0W-20 is a motor oil viscosity grade with either fully synthetic or synthetic blend motor oils.

As vehicle engines are experiencing technical advancements such as turbochargers, GDI engines, and cylinder deactivation to boost power, there is more demand for thinner oils, hence the rising popularity of 0W-20 oils.

But why is 0W-20 oil synthetic? Because its formula includes thin additives that enable the oil’s viscosity to stay low so it can flow easily, lubricate and protect such engines.

Let’s dive deeper and learn more about the 0W-20 oil.

Overview of Synthetic Oil


Synthetic oil is factory-made motor oil. It contains chemically modified additives on top of the base material (usually distilled crude oil) to work more efficiently and offer better engine protection, even in extreme temperatures.

Synthetic oil has been used as a substitute for petroleum-based oils since its discovery in 1929. In World War II, the Nazis used it to fuel their jets when Allied Forces tried to cut off their access to oil.

During the American energy crisis in the 1970s, the need to adopt synthetic oil commercially was created.

Since then, it has been used in more engines to offer better fuel economy – from jet engines to high-performance cars – and today is being applied in almost all engines.

1. Definition and characteristics of 0W-20 oil


SAE 0W-20 oil is a low-viscosity oil grade that is excellent for winter and low-temperature cold start.

Due to its thin nature, it flows smoothly throughout the engine parts, offering adequate lubrication and maximum engine protection, and does not thicken in extreme cold.

0W-20 oil also performs decently and protects the engine in moderately high-temperature conditions.

2. Composition of 0W-20 oil

0W-20 motor oils are manufactured with high-quality synthetic base oils and high-technology additives that enable them to flow smoothly at low temperatures and provide the best engine protection and performance.

The additives ensure the oil stays thin enough to flow well even in extremely low temperatures.

Now, what does 0W-20 mean?

What oil type is 0W-20


In oil grading, the ‘W’ stands for winter. The number before W (in this case, 0) refers to the oil’s viscosity in cold temperatures, and the number after W (20) refers to its viscosity in high temperatures.

0W-20 oils are always synthetic – either full synthetic oil 0W-20 or synthetic blends – but not conventional motor oils.

3. Benefits of Using Synthetic 0W-20 Oil


Synthetic 0W-20 oil offers many advantages for your car, such as:

  • Excellent Cold Start and Performance

0W-20 oil is designed to perform well in winter and extremely low weather conditions, offering great protection in the cold start-up.

  • Greater Engine Protection

The special formula used to make 0W-20 oil has properties like anti-foam and anti-corrosion to ensure the best engine protection, thus extending the engine’s life.

Being a low-viscosity oil, it flows smoothly and provides more lubrication to the movable parts to minimize friction and reduce wear and tear.

  • Reduced Emissions

0W-20 oil’s thinness means the engine uses less energy to push it throughout the engine parts, hence helping to reduce the emissions the car releases.

  • Better Fuel Economy

0W-20 oil can improve how your vehicle utilizes fuel and save you some gas money.

The oil’s efficiency, low friction properties, and low viscosity ensure the engine is well-lubricated and performs optimally. Consequently, when the engine performs well, it will provide better fuel economy than at other times.

  • Extended Oil Drain Intervals (ODI)

0W-20 oil has excellent oxidation and thermal stability, which slows down its aging process, usually sped up by exposure to oxygen, temperatures, and other catalysts. This extends the duration required before the car needs an oil change.

  • Cleans the Engine

The additives in the oil contain cleaning agents that help reduce deposits left by dirt and other metallic particles and sludge buildup.

These deposits and sludge dirty the engine and can cause problems with the radiator or eventually harm the engine.

Comparison Between 0W-20 and Conventional Oil


1. Vehicle compatibility


Today, most vehicle manufacturers want to increase engine power and make the engine smaller and lighter, especially in small cars and hybrids.

Additionally, engine advancements, like stop-start engines, direct injection (GDI), hybrid vehicles, and turbochargers, cause more stress on the engine and motor oil.

  • For these newer cars, the manufacturers recommended low-viscosity oils such as 0W-20 that are thin enough to flow fast throughout the engine for better protection, cleaning, and optimum performance.

However, 0W-20 oil is not well suited for higher mileage vehicles and engines designed for higher viscosity oils.

  • Meanwhile, conventional oil performs better on conventional, older pre-90s engines and engines without turbochargers.

It is also suitable for higher mileage vehicles with more wear that need thicker oil for lubrication to reduce the probability of grinding gears and metal-to-metal contact.

For vehicles with 75,000+ mileage, you can use high-mileage oils.

You should avoid using conventional oils on engines where manufacturers recommend fully synthetic oils, such as premium grade 0W-20 detergent oil. This usually is because such engines need oil that operates well under extreme temperatures.

Primarily, conventional oils are designed for specific temperature ranges, while synthetic oils can operate at extreme temperatures without breaking down easily.

2. Price difference


0W-20 motor oil is expensive when compared to conventional motor oils. For example, 0W-20 synthetic oil 1-quart costs around $8, while the conventional equivalent costs around $5.

3. Is 0W-20 Synthetic Oil Good?

0W-20 synthetic oil is excellent motor oil enhanced with additives that enable it to perform well in cold and hot weather conditions.

Tips for Choosing the Right Oil for Your Vehicle


Between conventional vs synthetic blend vs full synthetic, which one should you choose? Here are some tips:

  • Recommended oil for specific car models

Many vehicle manufacturers, e.g., Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, and BMW, specify the motor oil specifications for their engines’ best performance and long life.

Refer to your car’s owner’s handbook for the recommended oil, then look for those specifications on motor oil containers. Alternatively, you can enquire about the right oil at your vehicle manufacturer’s spare parts dealer.

  • Engine oil standards

The standards displayed on the oil container will aid you in finding the right oil for your car:

    • The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standard indicates the oil’s viscosity, e.g. 0W-20
    • The ACEA standard (European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association) determines the engine type by letters: A for petrol engines, B for small cars diesel engines, C for light engines with particulate filters or catalytic converters, E for trucks and heavy commercial vehicles.
    • The API (American Petroleum Institute) standard classifies the oil according to its performance.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I use 0W-20 oil instead of 5W-20?

You can safely use 5W-20 vs 0W-20 without compromising engine protection because both are identical at operating temperatures.

Even though 0W-20 motor oil has a slightly lower pour point than 5W20, in the practical sense, there isn’t much difference between 0W-20 and 5W-20 as both offer superb cold-flow protection in the -60℉ range.

Therefore, it is common to put 5W-20 in a 0W-20 engine and vice-versa. However, if your car is still under warranty, use the recommended motor oil viscosity so that this may not be the reason for being denied coverage.

Is synthetic oil more expensive than conventional oil?

Synthetic oil is quite expensive when you compare it to conventional oil. For instance, 5 quarts conventional costs around $28, while the SAE 0W-20 oil equivalent costs around $45.

How often should I change my 0W-20 synthetic oil?

For most cars, the average recommended interval for changing 0W-20 is between 5,000 and 10,000 miles depending on the brand and make of the car.

Nonetheless, the best practice is to refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual and follow the recommended duration or distance between oil changes.

Can I switch from conventional to synthetic 0W-20 oil?

It is perfectly ok to switch from conventional to synthetic oil.

As long as you use the recommended viscosity grade, your car will benefit more as synthetic oil is much more refined than conventional oil and contains additives that offer better engine protection.

The only exceptions might be for old engines designed to operate on conventional oil. Also, avoid synthetic oil on high mileage engines with much wear as it might do more harm than good, like worsening the gaskets.


With recent vehicle engine advancements, 0W-20 motor oil is becoming a popular oil grade choice recommended by more car manufacturers.

Since knowing the right oil for your car is crucial, this article captures more about the oil grade – the 0W-20 meaning, is 0W-20 oil synthetic? And why use 0W-20 oil?

0W-20 is synthetic oil designed for superior engine protection. However, refer to your car’s owner’s manual to see if this is among the recommended viscosity grades.

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