0W20 vs 5W20 Oil: Which One Should You Choose?

When selecting the right motor oil for your vehicle, two common choices are 0W20 oil and 5W20. These numbers refer to the oil’s viscosity grade – how well it flows at certain temperatures. 0W20 oil has a thinner viscosity than 5W20 oil when cold, allowing for easier flow and protection during cold starts. However, when hot, 0W20 and 5W20 oil have roughly the same viscosity grade of 20.

These synthetic motor oils are designed to keep engines running smoothly, but the question remains: are they different or the same?

The debate between 0w20 vs 5w20 oil is about their viscosity grades and performance in different temperatures. Both offer synthetic formulations. However, their slight differences could impact your car’s performance. This is especially true in extreme weather. Deciding between them doesn’t have to be complex, as both aim to protect your engine, albeit in slightly different ways.

The numbers before the ‘W’ represent the oil’s flow at zero degrees Fahrenheit. 0w20 is thinner at cold temperatures than 5w20. This difference influences how each oil behaves. It is especially noticeable during cold starts or in frosty conditions. It’s all about finding which one syncs better with your vehicle’s needs and your driving habits.

0w20 vs 5w20 Oil: What’s the Difference?

At a glance, 0W20 and 5W20 oils may seem very similar. After all, they are both advanced full synthetic motor oils. However, the different viscosity grades indicated by 0W and 5W make these two oils better suited for different purposes. 0W20 oil has a lower cold viscosity, allowing it to flow more easily in frigid temperatures. This makes it the choice for many newer engines requiring maximum fuel economy.

In contrast, 5W20 oil provides more cushion at high temperatures while still flowing well when cold. So, while 0W20 prioritizes cold-weather flow, 5W20 strikes a balance suitable for many modern engines.

Regarding pricing and additive packages, 0W20 and 5W20 are comparable. But OEM recommendations matter – use the viscosity grade specified for your vehicle. While close in performance, 0W20 and 5W20 oils are tailored to optimize different factors. Checking your owner’s manual is the best way to pick between them.

What’s the difference between 0w20 and 5w20?

At a glance, The difference between 0w-20 vs 5w-20 may appear similar. But when you look closer, there are some key differences between these two popular synthetic engine oils. Let us explore them.

A. Cold Viscosity

The W in the oil viscosity grade refers to the oil’s behavior in cold temperatures. 0W20 oil has a lower cold viscosity than 5W20 oil. This means 0W20 flows easier when cold compared to 5W20 oil.

Why does this matter? A lower cold viscosity enables the oil to circulate faster through the engine when starting your vehicle on a cold winter morning. It reaches all the critical components like bearings and valves sooner to provide vital lubrication protection.

0w20 oil has a lower viscosity in the cold, which means it’s thinner and flows more easily at lower temperatures. It’s like a figure skater gliding effortlessly on ice, reaching every corner of the engine quickly during a cold start.

Conversely, 5w20 is slightly thicker when cold, akin to a cross-country skier who takes a bit more time to get going. It still performs admirably in cold weather, but those initial moments after ignition might see 5w20 taking a tad longer to reach optimal flow. For those living in colder regions, 0w20 could be the go-to, offering that quick start needed on frosty mornings. The difference is small but significant, impacting how your car gets up and moves when the temperature drops.

B. Hot Viscosity

When hot, 0W20 and 5W20 oil have very similar viscosity grades. The second number in the viscosity rating refers to the oil’s thickness at high operating temperatures. Both 0W20 and 5W20 oil share a viscosity grade of 20 when hot.

Once the engine warms up and reaches normal operating temperature, the oils will have the same flowing characteristics. The hot viscosity grade of 20 provides an optimum balance. It offers protection and flow for most modern engines. At high temperatures, 0W20 and 5W20 oil maintain a thick viscosity. This helps to separate metal surfaces and minimize friction and wear. Regarding high-temperature viscosity, there is little difference between 0W20 and 5W20 synthetic motor oils.

Also Read: Best Oil Filters for Synthetic Oil

C. Performance

In the world of engines, performance is king. When debating the difference between 0w-20 vs 5w-20, it’s like choosing between two high-performing athletes. Both oils are designed to protect your engine and ensure it runs at peak efficiency. Yet, there are nuances.

0w20 oil is recommended for newer, high-performance engines. It is designed to take advantage of its lower viscosity at cold temperatures. This can translate to a quicker start-up. It can also result in more efficiency under the hood. This means your engine is ready to perform without hesitation. It remains true even when it’s cold outside.

Meanwhile, 5w20 oil is a robust contender. It offers a touch more protection when the engine is already warm. This makes it suitable for many vehicles, especially in moderate climates. The steady hand ensures your engine performs consistently. It provides a balance between protection and efficiency.

D. Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is a major concern for most drivers, and oil plays a surprisingly big role in this. Between 0w20 vs 5w20, there’s a subtle duel for supremacy. 0w20 oil is often associated with a slight edge in fuel efficiency. The lower cold viscosity means the engine doesn’t have to work as hard to circulate the oil, especially during startup. It’s like wearing lightweight running shoes instead of hiking boots; it takes less energy to move.

In contrast, 5w20 oil may not provide the same level of fuel economy as 0w20 due to its slightly thicker consistency when cold. However, the difference is minimal, and for many drivers, it may go unnoticed. It’s akin to having a slightly heavier running shoe that offers a bit more cushion – you might not run as fast, but you’re well-supported.

E. Pricing

When it comes down to the cash you’ll part with, difference between 0w-20 vs 5w-20 oils can have a noticeable difference. Generally, 0w20 is often priced a tad higher. This is because it’s typically formulated with high-quality base oils and additives that are designed for optimal performance in both extreme cold and standard operating temperatures.

On the other hand, 5w20 oil is a little more common and often comes with a friendlier price tag. It’s like choosing between premium and regular gas. Both will fuel your journey, but one is designed for high-performance engines that need that extra bit of care. While the price difference isn’t astronomical, it’s worth considering if you’re watching your budget closely.

Can I use 5w20 instead of 0w20?

Can I use 5w20 instead of 0w20

Switching between 0w20 vs 5w20 oils might feel like a small change, but it deserves a thoughtful decision. If your car’s manufacturer recommends 0w20 oil, they’ve tuned the engine to take advantage of the lower viscosity at colder temperatures, aiming for that perfect blend of performance and efficiency.

Using 5w20 oil instead might not seem like a big shift, but it could affect the engine’s performance, especially when starting up in cold weather. Imagine wearing a winter coat that’s a bit too thick – it’s not quite as comfortable when you’re trying to move quickly. Similarly, 5w20 may not flow as smoothly as 0w20 in freezing conditions, potentially impacting fuel economy and start-up times.

However, if you’re in a pinch, using 5w20 when 0w20 is recommended won’t bring the gears of your engine to a grinding halt. It’s more about long-term care. For best results, stick to the manufacturer’s recommendation to ensure your car runs just as smoothly as it was designed to. Always check your owner’s manual or consult with a trusted mechanic before making a switch; they’re like the trusted guides on your automotive journey.

FAQs About 0w20 vs 5w20 Oil

Is it OK to use 0w20 instead of 5w20?

It’s generally not recommended to use 0W20 oil in an engine designed for 5W20. While 0W20 flows better in cold temperatures, it may lack the cushion and protection at higher temperatures that 5W20 would provide. Stick to the oil viscosity specified by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

What happens if you put 0W20 in car that uses 5W 20?

Putting 0w20 in a car designed for 5w20 won’t cause immediate harm. The engine will still run, and you might even notice improved fuel efficiency in cold weather. But over time, it’s possible that the thinner 0w20 might not provide the same level of protection at operating temperature as 5w20, especially in hot climates or under heavy engine loads. It’s wise to use the oil grade specified by the car manufacturer for optimal performance and protection.

Can I top off 0W-20 with 5W 30?

It’s best not to mix viscosity grades. Topping off 0W20 oil with a thicker 5W30 oil will alter the overall viscosity balance and may impact flow characteristics. Only top off with the same viscosity grade.

Is 0W-20 oil more expensive than 5W-20?

Typically, 0w20 oil is more expensive than 5w20. The price difference reflects the advanced formulation of 0w20. It is often fully synthetic and designed to provide better performance. This is especially true in extreme temperatures. Prices can vary by brand and location. It’s a good idea to shop around for the best deal. Make sure you’re getting the right oil for your vehicle.


In the debate of 0w20 vs 5w20, it’s clear that while these oils share some traits, they’re designed for different conditions. 0w20 oil is your go-to for colder climates, ensuring your engine starts quickly and runs smoothly when Jack Frost is in town. 5w20, on the other hand, offers a touch more resistance in the cold but is versatile enough for varying temperatures. It’s like choosing between two winter jackets; one is for the brisk autumn mornings, while the other is for those deep winter days.

Both oils ensure your engine runs efficiently, but for optimal performance, sticking to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation is key. Whether it’s 0w20 or 5w20, using the right oil can mean the difference between a car that ages gracefully and one that protests with every turn of the key. Trust the numbers; they’re more than just digits—they’re a guide to keeping your engine at its best.

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