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What oil is best for older engines?

Best Oil for High Mileage Vehicles

Engine oil has been called the lifeblood of a car. An engine runs smoothly, almost effortlessly, when the engine oil is full and clean. Hundreds of moving parts work in perfect timing to produce raw horsepower and torque. But take away the engine oil and – well, everything stops. And when your engine starts failing you might need to sell your vehicle rather than repairing it.

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Engine oil serves several purposes in an engine. It helps carry away heat that builds up, reduces friction inside, washes deposits from internal components, prevents wear on moving parts, and protects against corrosion. In a high-mileage engine, the oil is even more important, and without the proper oil and oil changes you could be facing engine problems. Wear and tear has created space where there previously wasn’t any. Seals and bearings have some pitting and wear, and minor leaks are developing. But with the right engine oil alone, many of the symptoms of a high mileage vehicle disappear. What is high mileage oil, and what is the best motor oil for high mileage engines?

What High Mileage Oil is All About

Best Motor Oil for High Mileage Engines

For most people, high mileage oil isn’t typically a concern. They’ll use whatever the quick lube shop has on hand. But it’s proven that you’ll get better performance, reduced wear, and longer engine life when you choose the best motor oil for well-used cars. When you’re choosing the best oil for older cars or high mileage engines, there are several criteria you can look at.

Engine Age

Engines can be considered high mileage at 75,000 miles and up. Or, if your car is 7 years old or more, it’s a good idea to look for an oil with the best viscosity for high mileage before your engine starts stalling.

Viscosity and Temperature

Look for an engine oil that tolerates high temperatures and maintains its viscosity – that is, its ability to protect at high temps.


For cold-weather climates, the first part of the oil rating is important. In most temperate climates, a 10W oil will suffice, but the best motor oil for high mileage engines in cold weather will start with 5W or even 0W.


Check for additives that clearly spell out the oil’s protective qualities. Many high mileage oils contain detergents, seal conditioners, friction modifiers, and antioxidants to keep everything neat and tidy inside.

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You’ll find a wide range of high mileage oils on the market – synthetic, semi-synthetic, and conventional. Prices vary by brand and grade with synthetic being the most expensive.

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Best High Mileage Oil Options

Pennzoil High Mileage Conventional Motor Oil

Pennzoil High Mileage Conventional Motor Oil

A great solution on a budget is Pennzoil High Mileage. It’s a conventional motor oil to help keep within your budget, but with added properties to enhance protection and reduce wear. Formulated to help stop leaks in older engines, it’s probably the best conventional high-mileage motor oil for the price, which is a decent option to prevent engine failure and break down.

Castrol GTX Part-Synthetic High Mileage

A part-synthetic engine oil available in common grades, Castrol GTX High Mileage steps up protection for your old, tired engine. Detergents help fight sludge while seal swellers reduce the amount of oil that enters the combustion chamber. It’s touted as the best oil for high mileage cars to prevent catalytic converter and emissions system failure. It’s decent protection at a mid-level price.

Valvoline MaxLife High Mileage Synthetic Blend

Designed for engines with more than 75,000 miles, Valvoline MaxLife High Mileage oil is based on a semi-synthetic blend. Additives include seal conditioners to help stop and prevent leaks, friction modifiers to prevent future engine wear, and anti-oxidants to prevent oil breakdown.

Mobil1 High Mileage Engine Oil

Mobil1 High Mileage is a synthetic-based high mileage oil that they claim protects up to 500,000 miles when changed regularly. The higher viscosity helps prevent oil leaks and offers high-temperature protection and it contains seal conditioners and anti-oxidants as well. From one of the most recognized brands in engine oils, many choose it as the best motor oil for high mileage engines.

Amsoil Premium Protection Motor Oil

Selling a Car with High Mileage

Are you looking after your high-performance or classic car’s engine? If the car you’re maintaining is worth extra care and extra cost, Amsoil Premium Protection Motor Oil is pretty much the best you can get. It’s available in 10W-40 and 20W-50 and is a synthetic-based engine oil. No doubt, your oil changes will cost quite a bit extra but Amsoil will protect your engine like none other.

Selling a Car with High Mileage

Choosing the best oil for older cars boils down to just a few options including these five. If you’re driving a high-mileage vehicle, you may be able to get extra months or years of service simply by switching up to one of the best high mileage oils you can find to prevent engine lock up which can be an expensive hassle. However, engine oil can’t reverse damage once it’s happened, no matter how much you pay. If your engine is trashed and you want to get rid of your car, CarBrain can help. Request an online quote for your car in as-is condition. We buy cars of all kinds in less-than-perfect condition, even those with very high mileage! Click below to get an instant cash-value offer. Get Cash Value for My Car Now

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Best Oil for Classic Cars

In several important ways, classic car engines are different than modern car engines. They are lower revving, they have larger metal-to-metal tolerances, and often have cork or rope seals. They also require more anti-wear additives to prevent premature wear.

classic car motor oil

For these reasons, the best oil for classic cars requires a little more thought than just grabbing your favorite brand off the parts-store shelf.

Most vintage and classic automotive engines have a push rod-operated valvetrain driven by a flat-tappet camshaft. In order to prevent premature cam and lifter wear, there must be an adequate amount of anti-wear additives. This was not a problem 30 or 40 years ago, but for environmental reasons, the quantity of an additive called ZDDP has been reduced significantly in modern oils.

What Is ZDDP?

Zinc Dialkyl Dithiophosphate, or ZDDP, is a zinc-based anti-wear additive that effectively helps lubricate engines. It’s physical and functional properties make it ideal for use in oils and greases to help control oxidation and corrosion.

The ZDDP content was lowered in conventional motor oil to prevent the possible fouling of the catalytic converters. Apparently, the zinc and phosphates contained in it coats the active substrate in converters, which may contaminate it and decrease its life expectancy.

All major oil manufacturers, in order to comply with the EPA, have followed the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) guidelines and lowered their zinc content.

Triumph TR6 at classic car show

Levels for ZDDP in oils used to be 1,200 to 1,400 parts-per-million (ppm). Since the early nineties, manufacturers have been reducing this number. The latest automotive oils, rated API-SN, are around 800-900 ppm.

Late-model engines with roller camshafts have considerably less camshaft lobe friction, so they don’t require high levels of zinc.

Without the correct amount of ZDDP, older, push rod-style motors will wear prematurely. The damage may not happen overnight, but over months and years, the lack of protection will prematurely wear cams, lifters, and other internal parts.

High Zinc Oil For Classic Cars

Today, many of the well-known oil companies, as well as a few smaller companies, are offering oils formulated for vintage and classic cars. These oils offer a good balance ZDDP, detergent levels, and corrosion inhibitors.

Castrol Oil

Castrol markets a «Classic» line of retro oils which is recommended for pre-1980 cars. Their multi-grade 20W-50 is formulated with high-quality mineral oils plus selected additives for older technology and classic car engines.

Shop: Castrol GTX Classic Motor Oil

best oil for classic cars

Also in the «Castrol Classic» line is a 30W oil for pre-1950 vintage vehicles. This mono-grade oil can also be used in many types of manually-operated gearboxes.

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Lucas Oil

Lucas Hot Rod and Classic Car motor oil is designed for use in all classic cars, sports cars, and muscle cars without catalytic converters. It is also suitable for racing applications. It is not recommended for late-model passenger car use.

Shop: Lucas 10w-30 Oil For Classic Cars

best oil for classic cars

Shop: Lucas 20w-50 Oil For Classic Cars

Can I Use Diesel Oil In My Gasoline Engine?

Diesel oils generally have a high ZDDP content (around 1,000 ppm), but they also have high levels of detergents. Too much detergent in a gasoline motor could do more harm than good.

Race oils, with 1,200 ppm, offer a good balance of ZDDP and detergents, but lack anti-corrosion additives. These corrosion inhibitors protect engines from damage whether they’re running or in storage. Since most classic cars do a lot of sitting and relatively little driving, keeping internal corrosion to a minimum is crucial to engine longevity.

Valvoline VR1 Racing Oil

Because of it’s high zinc content, Valvoline VR1 racing oil is great for high performance engines with flat tappet camshafts. The silver container is conventional oil and has about 1400 ppm ZDDP. The black container is full synthetic and has about 1200 ppm ZDDP.

best oil for classic cars

Shop: Valvoline VR1 Racing Oil

Brad Penn Oils

There are a number of suitable oils for classic and vintage cars, but many enthusiasts will argue that Brad-Penn oil is the best. It is a high-end, conventional/synthetic racing oil blend with ZDDP. The current formulation is based on the original formulation of Kendall GT-1 back in the sixties, although improved with synthetic additives.

best oil for classic cars

Shop: Brad Penn Partial Synthetic Racing Oil

Three grades of Brad Penn oil are available; 10w-30, 10w-40, and 20w-50. When pouring, you will smile at the nostalgic dark green hue of the oil.

Engine Break-In

During the break-in period of a freshly rebuilt engine, lack of proper lubrication can be fatal to internal parts, especially camshaft and lifters. After rebuilding an older engine, either add a ZDDP supplement or use a racing oil, which has a higher level of phosphorous in it. After the engine break-in period you can go away from the racing oil if you like.

Lucas engine oil break-in additive

Most engine and engine component manufacturers recommend a zinc and phosphorus content of more than 1,200 PPM for break-in, and most will void warranties if this minimum is not found in the oil sample you supply when returning broken parts for warranty.

ZDDP Additives

If you are unsure about what is the best oil for your classic car, you can continue what you’ve been using and add a ZDDP additive to it. Whatever conventional oil you buy off the parts store shelf (Castrol GTX, Valvoline, Pennzoil), add the correct amount of Zinc additive to help protect your classic car’s engine.

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Dozens of companies, including Edelbrock, Lucas, Rislone, and ZDDPlus, sell ZDDP additives. Usually, a single four-ounce bottle is added to a five-quart oil change, restoring the proper amount of ZDDP needed to prevent increased wear.

Rislone claims their ZDDP engine oil supplement will boost zinc and phosphorus levels to 1600-1800 ppm. Be aware, though, more is not always better. Too much ZDDP can also cause premature wear. Always refer to the manufacturers specs and measure well.

ZDDP additive for older cars

Shop: Rislone 4405 Engine Oil Supplement Concentrate with Zinc

What Weight Oil Is Best?

When choosing the best oil for classic cars, the question of viscosity (thickness) always comes up. Since engine start-up is where most wear occurs, the obvious answer is to use the lightest weight oil available. If you live in a very hot climate, use the second lightest weight oil.

Are Synthetic Oils Worth the Extra Money?

Some people sleep easier knowing they’ve bought the «best» and «most expensive». Amsoil 10W-40 AMO gives all the benefits of synthetic oils and contains ZDDP anti-wear agents. However, it is significantly higher in price of the conventional motor oils. Whether it’s worth it is up to you, but first consider the blow-by and loose tolerances of older engines. It’s probably more cost-effective to use conventional oil and change it regularly.

best oil for classic car

What Is The Best Oil for Classic Cars?

The best choice for giving your engine the correct amount of phosphorous and zinc anti-wear additives it needs are motor oils with high ZDDP content already in them (between 1,200-1,400 ppm).

Can I Use Classic Car Oil In My Daily Driver?

Oils such as Lucas Hot Rod Oil are made for vintage and classic cars with flat-tappet push rod engines and no catalytic converter. Because of it’s high zinc phosphate content, if added to a modern engine that consumes oil, it will likely damage the converter.

Read: Best Oil For Daily Driver

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Which Engine Oil Should I Use in My Old Car?

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QUESTION: Hi John, I highly respect your opinion on anything relating to cars. A fellow who has an original owner’s manual for a 1964 EH Holden says it recommends to use an SAE 20 or a 10W30 engine oil. My local auto accessories store owner who has a number of classic and vintage vehicles says 10W30 oils weren’t around then so I don’t know who to believe. He has suggested I go with Penrite’s HPR30 (20W60).

Penrite’s lube guide recommend the 20W60 oil, Valvoline recommend a 10W30, Castrol recommend a 15W40 or a 20W50, Nulon recommend a 15W40 and Chief Oil recommend a 10W30.

Penrite seem to be at odds with the others, it’s a very thick oil but it is full zinc. I’d be interested to know your opinion and what way you’d go. Thanks, Chris

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Part of this answer really depends on what condition the engine is in. Obviously as engines wear, the clearances between the close-fitting mechanical parts increases, and — up to a point — this can be compensated for by using a thicker engine oil.

How Oil Grades Work

The numbers work like this: For 15W30, you need to separate them into ’15W’ and ’30’. The 15W relates to when the oil is cold (think: winter) and the 30 relates to the oil at about 100 degrees C.

But let’s back up a second. Obviously, most liquids get thinner as they get hotter — like honey, or maple syrup, for example. Oil manufacturers use chemical engineering tricks to make oil thinner as it gets colder (or at least, to make it thicken up less as it cools). Obviously the thinner the oil is when it is cold, the quicker it gets pumped around the engine upon start-up. This is good because it reduces engine wear.

What this means is that a 5W30 oil and a 15W30 oil perform exactly the same at 100 degrees C, but the 5W is thinner when it’s cold.

Back in the ’60s

Back in 1964, engine oils were mineral-based. As in, derived from crude oil. There were limits on the amount of chemical engineering possible, and the engines were designed to work with — probably — a 40-grade oil. As in a [number]W40 oil. The clearances in the bearings were designed just so — so that a very thin film remained between the rotating parts once they had expanded to their normal operating temperature.

As the engine wears, you might elect to go up to a thicker [number]W50 oil so that a thicker film remains in the increased space between the more worn bearings.

Since the advent of synthetic oils, more chemical engineering tweaks have been possible. Thinner oils are routinely used — today 0W20 oils are used on some cars. The advantage is they get pumped around very quickly, and they reduce internal frictional losses in the engine — but they require much tighter operating tolerances between the bits that count.

Depending on the condition of the engine I think it would happily receive 20W50 mineral oil for the rest of its days if it is a bit worn, or 15W40 if it has been rebuilt in the past 10-15 years and not used much. Part of the confusion here is that the numbers I am talking about are SAE oil grades. The Penrite 20W60 is an API SG/CD grade oil. This is a different oil rating system — you’ll note in the fine print that it’s claimed to be compatible with SAE grades 20W40 or 20W50. (API is American Petroleum Institute; SAE stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers.)

Valvoline does both SAE grades today (see below). 15W40 is API SL/CF, and 20W50 is API SJ/CF.

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