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What is 0w-16 motor oil, and can I use 0w-20 instead? In this article we go through what 0w-16 motor oil is, why it is recommended, and what the best available 0w-16 motor oil is!

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0W-16 Motor Oil

0w-16 motor oil is specifically called for in some vehicles due to the increased fuel economy it provides. Legislative requirements mandating increased fuel economy and decreased CO2 emissions has been a major factor in the push for lower viscosity motor oils in consumer-grade vehicles (ref). 

But that is not the only reason, in fact, low viscosity oils including 0w-16 have been in use in Japan since the 1990’s (ref). So, though it may seem unusual, it is only likely to become more common in North America and elsewhere as well, as is seen in the use of 0w-16 oil already in many North American Toyota and Honda vehicles.

Lower viscosity oil means less resistance for the moving parts within the car. The other side of the coin here is that lower viscosity can also mean increased engine wear. For engines that call for 0w-16 engine oil, the designing engineers have approved this oil based on the tighter tolerances used in the engine design and determined that it is safe for the vehicle. The other benefit of using a ‘thinner’ oil is reduced engine warm-up time, though this effect may be minimal. All 0w-16 motor oil is synthetic.

This probably goes without saying, but for purposes of clarity and directness, if your vehicle does not call for 0w-16 weight engine oil, do not use it! An engine must be precisely designed for the use of this oil in order for it to be used.

Engine Oil Viscosity Grades

SAE (the Society of Automotive Engineers) has developed a grading system for the viscosity of engine oil. Essentially there are two numbers that describe the oil viscosity characteristics at ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ operating regimes. This ability to have two viscosity performance values was enabled by the introduction of oil additive technology.

The kinematic viscosity is determined by measuring the amount of time it takes for the oil to pass through an orifice of a given size at a given temperature. The more time it takes, the more viscous the oil is, and the higher the number assigned. (Note that the grading scale is different for transmission or transaxle oil, so should not be used as a direct comparison.)

The cold temperature performance is indicated by a “w” (for ‘winter’) and consists of the first number in the grading scale. There are 5 values associated with the ‘winter’ performance (0W, 5W, 10W, 15W and 20W). The second number refers to the high temperature (100C) performance, and there are 7 values associated with it (8, 12, 16, 20, 30, 40, 50). 

It is interesting to note that as the viscosity of the high temperature performance continues to decrease, SAE decided to go down in intervals of 4 rather than 5, to reduce confusion since the high temperature number is now within the same range as the cold (‘W’) performance number (I, for one, thought this was clever)! Anyway, the result is that the lower end of the high temperature performance goes from 20, to 16, then to 8, and finally to 4.

What is the Best 0w-16 Oil?

The best 0w-16 motor oil available is the genuine Toyota oil (which is made by Mobil 1 to the Toyota specifications) (ref and ref). The oil should state API SN and “Resource Conserving.” Both of these designations will be visible in the SAE “donut” symbol on the bottle that has the oil certifications in it.

Genuine Toyota 0w-16 Motor Oil (Case)

Where can I get 0w-16 Oil?

0w-16 motor oil is becoming more and more common as new efficiency standards roll out. That being said, it is still not available everywhere. For this reason, I recommend ordering from a reliable retailer such as Amazon or Walmart.

Can I use 0w-20 instead of 0w-16 oil?

This is a very common question, and in general, the answer is “Yes.” Especially if it is not done regularly, this is very unlikely to have adverse effects on the engine performance. But, that being said, it is a good idea to check your owner’s manual to verify this. Most vehicles that require 0w-16 oil will also state in the manual that if 0w-16 is unavailable, that 0w-20 oil may be used (but to replace it with 0w-16 at the next oil change).