Broadly speaking, all products can be divided into hedonic and utilitarian categories. The former accounts for the fun stuff, like PlayStations, jet skis, and Stratocaster guitars, while the latter could include wall grout, fungal foot powder, and motor oil.
Motor oil is one of those utilitarian products that often goes unthought of until something goes wrong or a professional tells us that we need it. Yet by checking your motor oil as part of your regular maintenance schedule, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and expense further down the line, as proper lubrication prevents overheating and engine damage from excessive friction while improving your vehicle’s performance and longevity. It’s also worth noting that statistically, those who maintain their motor oil spend less time freezing on the side of highways in inclement weather while wearing impractical clothing.
A wide variety of motor oils are available for different applications, but not all products are equal. Whether you require conventional motor oil, EV motor oil, high mileage motor oil, synthetic or synthetic blend motor oil, or high-performance motor oil, it pays not to compromise on quality. Some of the best motor oil brands have been refining their products since the internal combustion engine was first created and have had long and illustrious histories in motorsports, flight, and even space travel. Here we rank the top motor oil producers according to their products’ quality, range, and components while considering the performance and mileage they provide.
While it may not be as popular as other brands in this ranking outside of the U.S., Amsoil deserves a spot as a progressive and visionary company with a scientific approach to motor oil development. It specializes in synthetic motor oil products that cater to the automotive, power sports, industrial, and racing sectors, and it is a trailblazer, with its 10W-40 product becoming the first synthetic motor oil to meet American Petroleum Institute standards in 1972.
You could be forgiven for thinking that synthetic oils, like synthetic fabrics, are not as high in quality as their natural counterpart. However, the opposite is true. Synthetic oils perform much better, and this is because they contain none of the impurities of carbon-based products and don’t have the molecular irregularities that can be found in natural oil.
Even if you run a station wagon on a short commute year-round, Amsoil is a motor oil that will serve you well in extremes of temperature, especially in the cold, as it is less likely to thicken than conventional oils. As a result, you will have easier cold starts and are more likely to make it to the office on time, meaning you can hit your alarm’s snooze button a few more times with confidence. While Amsoil certainly produces excellent motor oil, it makes the lowest rung on this ranking due to its limited product line.
Anyone who is a fan of motor racing and NASCAR, in particular, will be familiar with the STP No. 43 car initially piloted by Richard Petty, the seven-time Daytona 500 champion this sport-focused motor oil brand sponsored. Headquartered in Danbury, Connecticut, STP provides outstanding products that are rooted in racing legend, and it continues to be the main sponsor of the Richard Petty Motorsports car, with Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, Jr. in the seat.
Founded in 1954 as a producer of oil and fuel additives to help your car run more smoothly, STP had a shrewd marketing strategy, and ever since 1960, its logo could be seen adorning race car livery and hoardings advertising its line of products. It didn’t hurt that its sponsored teams were wildly successful, thanks in no small part to drivers like Petty, Mario Andretti, and Bobby Hamilton. By now a household name, STP has been making motor oil for decades. Yet, its motor oil products are limited to just two lines, namely its Pro Performance conventional oil and its SYN Full Synthetic oil, each available in grades of 5W-20, 5W-30, and 10W-30.
While STP does make excellent products that represent good value for money, its performance-based motor oils may be considered a little niche for the casual consumer, while its limited choice of motor oils leaves this brand further down our ranking. With that said, few brands have made as significant an impact on American motor racing as STP has.
Pennzoil is another brand that prides itself on its U.S. roots, as evidenced by the cracked Liberty Bell on its logo. Yet, unlike Pennsylvania’s cheesesteaks and Hershey bars, this is one native product that will keep your system running smoothly when used regularly. In fact, "Long May We Drive" is the brand’s mantra that pledges to keep pushing for better results to keep drivers happier for longer. Pennzoil is a company that appears to put its customers first, so hats off to them.
Recognizable for its bright yellow cartons, Pennzoil has been around for over a century and goes from strength to strength. It offers customers exclusive service products that guarantee users protection for 15 years or 500,000 miles. While it does produce synthetic blends and conventional motor oils, it has an extensive range of full-synthetic oils, including Platinum (high-quality synthetic), Ultra Platinum (made from natural gas), High Mileage (for older vehicles), and Platinum Euro (formulated for European cars).
The brand is also a regular sponsor on the NASCAR and IndyCar circuits, with each vehicle sporting the bright yellow Pennzoil livery and logo. Its leading partner is Team Penske, and this relationship has produced excellent results over the years, with current drivers that include Scott McLaughlin and Joey Logano in IndyCar and NASCAR, respectively. While its sporting achievements inspire confidence in the Pennzoil product at large, the company is less famous globally than the higher-placed brands on this list.
Havoline is another motor oil company with a long history of experimentation and innovation. Most notable of these is its development of a filtration process that was introduced in 1904, which meant that you could start your Ford Model B in midwinter with just a few turns of the engine crank, as its oil would not have been reduced to a waxy, gloopy mass by the cold. Havoline later introduced corrosion-inhibiting additives, which reduced wear on the piston rings and continued to develop formulas that reduce harmful deposits within the engine.
Havoline was previously owned by the Texaco oil company and has now been purchased by Chevron Lubricants, which is the seventh-largest oil company in the world. It has a broad range of products, including the usual conventional, synthetic blend and 100% synthetic motor oils, but one, in particular, makes Havoline stand out from the crowd, and that is its Pro RS Renewable. It comprises one-quarter of sustainably-sourced plant-based oil in a fully synthetic motor oil, which is better in terms of emissions, and by extension, better for the environment. It also boosts your vehicle’s fuel economy and comes in recycled cardboard packaging. This leaves us with the impression that Havoline is trying to make improvements in one of the worst industries as far as environmental preservation is concerned, and for this reason, it scores cool points on our ranking.
Established in 1866, Valvoline harks back to the days of the Old West, when prospectors thrived as "black gold" was struck across the nation. It produced the world’s first branded motor oil, became the first company to supply motor oil for the mass-produced Ford Model T exclusively, and, to this day, markets itself as "The Original Motor Oil." Serving over 140 countries worldwide, Valvoline is a significant producer of synthetic, synthetic blend, high mileage, heavy duty, small engine, and performance motor oils.
Valvoline, like many of its competitors, has been a great innovator in the world of mechanical engineering and has helped overcome some real-world hurdles that faced the motoring public in years gone by. For example, imagine requiring up to 18 different lubricants for specific purposes around your car. Well before 1939, this was indeed the case until Valvoline invented the all-purpose X-18 single-grade oil. Now imagine needing to switch to a different type of motor oil with each changing season. Again, this was necessary until Valvoline came up with all-climate motor oil.
While its products’ qualities largely equal those of its peers in terms of quality and performance, Valvoline gets extra points in this ranking for being a pioneer in what is now a thriving industry and for not resting on its laurels, having continued to make significant progress in terms of innovation and quality.
On its website, Motul brazenly claims to understand "the subtle art of lubrication." However, bragging aside, this company takes itself very seriously and prides itself on its artisan approach to motor oil production. It is heavily invested in its research and development department and has been at the forefront of motor oil production, especially in heavy industries, with its MotulTech department providing tailored industrial solutions with expertise that is carried over to its consumer products.
This was the very same R&D department that produced the world’s first semi-synthetic motor oil, Motul Century 2100, back in 1966, and in 1971 created the original fully-synthetic oil, paving the way for the full-synthetic motor oils that followed in the same decade. Motul’s 300V performance product is behind over 300 racing victories, and the brand has an extensive line of consumer motor oils for various applications. These include classic cars, four-stroke engines, hybrids, and EVs, as well as its 4100, 6100, and 8100 product lines for regular engines, each with a choice of full-synthetic and mineral blends to suit various purposes.
While it may be a midfielder in this ranking, there is no doubt that Motul is a quality brand with a storied history and roots going to the industrial revolution. It built Pennsylvania’s first oil rig in 1966, has strong values as a company that promotes inclusivity, ingenuity, and the sharing of expertise, and has considerable heritage, having been founded in 1853.
To say that Shell is one of the big hitters would be an understatement. The Anglo-Dutch company is ubiquitous, and its roots go as far back as the mid-19th century when founder Marcus Samuel expanded his London antique business to include oriental seashell sales. The Shell Oil we know today was formed in 1907, and it had an income of over $42 billion in 2022. As you might expect, its product range is extensive, with over $1 billion spent annually on its research and development facility, and its motor oils reflect this commitment to quality.
Most Shell motor oil falls under the umbrella of the Helix product line, which is the chosen oil of the Ferrari Formula One team. This includes full synthetic, semi-synthetic, mineral engine oil, and oil for diesel engines. There is also Shell Advance, specifically for motorcycles, so the range is undoubtedly comprehensive. Shell also produces Helix Ultra, the first engine oil made from natural gas, which, though reassuringly expensive, provides protection for many extra miles.
Shell realizes that unless change is brought about from within the petrochemical industry, then its days are numbered. To that end, it strives for cleaner energy and invests in economically, environmentally, and socially responsible solutions. It will be interesting to see where this leaves Shell Oil in the coming years and decades, although lubricants will always be required as long as vehicles have moving parts.
Like its compatriot Michelin, TotalEnergies S.A. is a hugely-successful French company serving the automotive industry with a dominant presence in motorsports. These include Formula One, Moto GP, Superbike, World Rally Championship, and Dakar Rally, among other high-profile sporting events.
Total is aptly named, as it boasts one of the most extensive product lines in this ranking, and its numbers speak for themselves. With 42 production plants and 5,800 employees serving 160 countries, it is the fourth largest producer of lubricants globally. Its range encompasses products for 17 market segments, including the automotive, marine, metalworking, mining, food processing, and chemical industries. Its product line caters to downsized, thermal, and hybrid engines, diesel engines, older engines, performance engines, and regular gasoline engines, to name a few.
Lately, TotalEnergies has been accused of downplaying the effects of fossil fuels on the environment, having known for at least 50 years of the devastating outcome of melting ice caps and rising CO2 in the atmosphere. Yet like all major oil companies, it has been forced to consider renewable energy in the face of public concern, is taking steps to address its past failings, and still ranks highly in terms of product quality, range, and overall influence.
Castrol’s name is a contraction of "castor oil," as its founders found that adding a measure of the popular laxative to regular motor oil assisted engines in cold starts and when operating at high temperatures. With roots in the fledgling aviation and motor industries that date back to 1899, Castrol has since provided oil for NASA and has many corporate partnerships in motor racing. Its products span several categories, including marine, industrial, EV, car, and RV applications.
Most drivers will be aware of the ubiquitous Castrol GTX conventional oil, but Castrol’s range spans every type of full synthetic and synthetic blend motor oil, as well as its High Mileage and UltraClean categories. Even a special monograde oil is recommended for use in hot climates, so no stone is left unturned when it comes to Castrol’s comprehensive product line.
Castrol is a trailblazer as far as innovation and marketing are concerned. They were quick to capitalize on the public’s growing interest in flight and would use the Castrol logo to advertise on banners at aviation shows. It was the first in a long tradition of oil company advertising at sporting events that exists to this day. Castrol is also a groundbreaking company, in the past and present, by providing its lubricant for the first-ever transatlantic flight and the Mars Space Rover program. Such impressive credentials cannot be overlooked, and it’s no surprise that Castrol makes the second place in this ranking.
As the official motor oil of NASCAR and Chevrolet Performance, Mobil’s reputation precedes it. The U.S.-based company is the chosen oil for many top auto manufacturers, with a robust research and development department that constantly strives for innovation in its product line. Like many major motor oil companies in this ranking, Mobil can trace its roots back to the mid-19th century, having been established as the Vacuum Oil Company in 1866.
By the early 1960s, various industries required synthetic oil technologies for use in extreme temperatures, and Mobil was quick to react, having first produced bearing grease for sub-zero flight operators. By 1971, Mobil had created Mobil 1, which remains the world’s leading synthetic motor oil, and the first to be made available globally. Fast-forward to today, and the brand’s ultimate Mobil 1 – Annual Protection product is considered a breakthrough for extending oil life and providing engine protection for 20,000 miles.
Mobil 1 is the motor oil of choice for some highly-lauded marques, including Bentley, Corvette, Cadillac, Mercedes-AMG, and Porsche, with over 70 of their high-performance vehicles receiving Mobil treatment on the production line. The company is also very much in tune with the modern demands of various motor oils. It provides tailored solutions for cars with stop-start technology, turbochargers, hybrid engines, catalytic converters, or diesel particulate filters. By combining innovation and variety, Mobil 1 is the choice of many top industrial, sporting, and auto manufacturing bodies, thanks to its consistent quality across its extensive range. It’s called Mobil 1 for a reason, and it makes number one on this ranking.