Which Oil To Use for Your Van

The Oil You Need to Use for Your Van Depends on Your Engine 

  • The most common oil type in modern vans is 5W-30. 
  • The oil fill cap on your engine most likely says what kind of oil to use. 
  • Synthetic is generally more durable than regular oil. 
  • Check your oil level occasionally 

A van is a big investment for you and your business, so selecting the right motor oil is important. Despite being chemically similar, not all motor oils are created equal. Selecting the right kind of oil can make a big difference in the performance and longevity of your van. 


The Oil Fill Cap or Van Manual Will Tell You 

Before comparing brands, it is necessary to select the correct motor oil for your van. This is extremely important, and failure to use oil that is the correct viscosity for your van’s engine can lead to permanent damage to engine components. 

Engines are precision machines, and everything is designed to operate in a particular way. 

The oil fill cap on your engine will usually indicate which oil you need to use. You can also find the correct oil to use in your van’s owner’s manual.  

The manual will also tell you the vehicle’s oil capacity, so when you change your oil, you can replace it with the correct amount, avoiding overfilling or underfilling the engine. 

Most 4-cylinder vans will take about 5 quarts of oil, while larger engines could take much more. Different manufacturers often have different ideas about how much oil the van needs. It is important to check the oil level to ensure the engine isn’t being overfilled. 

There is a stick that’s usually brightly colored that you can pull out to check the oil level. Both underfilling and overfilling the oil can damage the engine, but overfilling is more common during a DIY oil change. 

Too little oil will result in low oil pressure and lubrication problems in the engine.  

Too much oil can cause the oil to foam as the engine rotates and seriously damage it.  

It’s better to pour less oil in, wait 15 minutes and then measure the level before adding small amounts of oil as needed to reach the safe amount. 

If you overfill the oil, you’ll have to either drain it underneath the car through the oil pan or pump it out through the top of the engine. 


Check the Oil Viscosity & Temperature Eg. 5W-30 

Each engine is designed to use oil of a specific viscosity. Viscosity, generally speaking, is the thickness of a liquid and how easily it flows. 

The Society of Motor Engineers (SAE) grades the viscosity of motor oils. This organization exists, in part, to help set and maintain standards in the petroleum industry. You will usually see SAE written before the viscosity, both on the engine and in the oil bottles. 

The first figure you’ll see is the temperature rating. W oil, such as 5W-30, is intended for low temperature use.  

These “W” oils are the most common in vans in the United States in light vans. 

The second number indicates the thickness of the oil. Different engines require different oil thickness. Newer engines often run at lower temperatures and require thinner oil. 

5W-30 is the most common oil in most vans manufactured in the last 40 years. 

It is not safe to use an oil that isn’t compatible with the engine. For example, if the fill cap says 5W-30, do not substitute it with 10W-30 or 5W-20. 


Which Brand is Best? 

If you decide to buy your own oil, you will find many different brands available.  

For regular oil, they are all essentially the same – distilled crude oil with various chemical additives unique to each brand. 

Since synthetic oils are made of various chemicals, these can vary slightly by brand. 

Numerous YouTube videos exist where the creator tests various oils. These YouTube channels will run a vehicle for several thousand miles using different oils and compare them visually and chemically by testing the oil before and after. 

Another organization to familiarize yourself with is the American Petroleum Institute (API). They also create standards for oils and other petroleum products. If you’re buying name brand oil in a store, it most likely conforms to API standards and is safe for your vehicle, assuming you’re using the appropriate viscosity and temperature rating. 

The question is whether these oils last as long as they claim. There are synthetic oils that claim to last 20,000 miles between oil changes, and there are those which require more frequent changing. 

While driving 20,000 miles between oil changes is theoretically possible under ideal conditions, most mechanics would not recommend waiting so long.  This is because you likely won’t be able to maintain these conditions. 

Not all miles are created equal. 5,000 highway miles will cause less wear to the engine than 5,000 city miles. This is because city driving involves much more starting and stopping as well as more aggressive driving which has a negative effect on the van. 

The van will also idle more often in a city environment, causing extra rotation and wear not reflected by its miles driven. 


Synthetic Oil Is Superior to Regular Oil 

Originally utilized in World War II, synthetic oil has been commercially available in the United States since the 1970s. 

Most consumers are not aware of what makes synthetic oil “synthetic.” The difference has to do with the oils’ respective chemical compositions and the manufacturing process. 

Regular motor oils are distilled from crude oil. This process makes the crude oil better suited for engine lubrication, but it is not perfect and doesn’t remove all of the impurities found in crude oil, leading to degradation and poor performance over time. 

Synthetic oil, while also starting with a crude oil base, is chemically very different.  

Instead of simple distillation, scientists use a variety of chemicals to create a compound similar to regular oil but with fewer impurities and better performance over a much longer period of time. 

Since this process is much more complex than distillation, synthetic motor oil is more expensive than regular oil. 

However, synthetic oil retains its properties much longer than regular oil and doesn’t need to be changed as often and arguably increases the engine’s longevity as there are fewer impurities eating away at the metal inside. 

This is why synthetic oil is usually a better choice for your van as it’s specifically engineered to meet the operating requirements of your engine. 

Your van’s owner’s manual will likely recommend an oil change interval. Unless the manual states to only use synthetic oil, this interval is for regular oil and can be extended by using synthetics.  

It is important to determine the appropriate interval for your engine and change the oil at the appropriate time. 

You can also occasionally check the oil level and quality to see if it’s time to change it or if the engine is consuming oil. 


Vans Can Consume Some Oil as They Get Older 

As vans get older, they will being to consume oil. While some oil consumption is normal, excessive oil consumption reveals significant problems inside the engine.  

If you fill the oil to the highest level indicated on the dipstick and find that it dips below the lower level after 1000 miles, your van is consuming a very large amount of oil, and the engine’s life is limited. 

This is a normal process, but it’s important to consistently maintain your van to avoid this kind of outcome. 

If you notice a lot of white smoke coming out of the van’s exhaust, that is a good indicator that the engine is burning oil. While a little smoke when accelerating can be normal for an old van, a large cloud of smoke clearly visible in the rear-view mirror likely indicates that there is an oil consumption problem. 

However, if you notice that between oil changes the dipstick level only changes a little bit and that the vehicle behaves normally, it is probably not something to worry about as long as the appropriate oil level is maintained. 


Take Care of Your Van 

Using the correct oil is essential to keep your van in optimal mechanical shape. The oil is like the vehicle’s blood, and, like in a blood transfusion, using the wrong blood type can lead to disaster. 

If you use high quality oil and conduct timely oil changes, your van will last for decades and run smoothly. 

For more information about oil, it may be helpful to contact your van’s manufacturer or talk to your local mechanic.