SAE 30 vs 10W30 [Which Oil is Best?]

10W30 is a superior oil to SAE 30 because it is rated for engines used in both hot and cold weather. 10W30 remains thin enough in cold temperatures that it allows for easy engine starts and proper engine lubrication. SAE 30 is not rated for winter use. Cold temperatures cause SAE 30 to thicken, which makes starting an engine and keeping it properly lubricated difficult. However, both oils have the same viscosity when used in warm weather, and SAE is typically cheaper than 10W30. So, if you will only run your lawn mower or other tools in warm weather, you can save money by using SAE 30 instead of 10W30.

A bottle of Pennzoil SAE 30 next to a bottle of Pennzoil SAE 10W-30.

What are SAE 30 and 10W30 Motor Oil Used For?

An arrow pointing to the oil cap where you can put wither SAE 30 or SAE 10W-30 oil.
SAE 30 and SAE 10W-30 can be used in motors like those on a lawn mower.

Both SAE 30 and 10W30 motor oil are used for small motors. Typically, you will use these types of oil in lawn mowers, chainsaws, gas-powered generators, and small tractors. These oil grades are versatile and are recommended for several tools. However, it’s best to check the manufacturer’s guidelines before choosing a motor oil for your tools. Manufacturers often recommend a specific oil grade to get the best results and longest life from an engine.

What Does the “30” Mean for Motor Oil?

Two arrows pointing to the 30 on bottles of SAE 30 and SAE 10W-30 motor oil.
The 30 represents the viscosity of the oil when heated.

The “30” included in the labeling of both SAE 30 and 10W30 refers to the viscosity of the oil when it is heated to 212℉ (100℃). Oil viscosity is ranked from 0 to 60. The lower the rating, the thinner the oil is at a given temperature. A rating of 30 represents a medium-viscosity oil that performs well in warm weather. Motors are engineered to use oil of a specific viscosity, so you cannot simply replace SAE 30 with SAE 40 without risking poor motor operation, or damage to the motor itself.

What Does SAE Mean on Oil?

Two arrows pointing to the SAE on SAE 30 and SAE 10W-30 motor oil bottles, which stands for Society of Automotive Engineers.
The Society of Automotive Engineers is represented by the acronym SAE on motor oils.

The acronym “SAE” found on some motor oil packaging stands for “Society of Automotive Engineers.” The SAE is responsible for creating the oil viscosity standards for all types of motor oil. If you choose SAE 30 motor oil, you know that your oil will have a viscosity rating of 30 at 212℉ (100℃).

What Does “10W” Mean on 10W30 Oil?

An arrow pointing to the 10W on a bottle of SAE 10W-30 motor oil.
10W means the motor oil has a viscosity rating of 10 at temperatures of 0℉ (-18℃).

The “10W” portion of the “10W30” oil classification stands for “10 Winter.” This refers to the oil’s viscosity in low temperatures. A rating of 10W means that at a temperature of 0℉ (-18℃), the oil has a viscosity rating of 10. This means that 10W30 oil remains very viscous (thin) at low temperatures. This allows it to lubricate engine parts even in cold weather. Oils that do not have a winter rating can become extremely thick in cold weather, which can make starting an engine and providing proper lubrication very difficult in cold weather.

SAE 30 Vs. 10W30 Oil: Best Uses for Both Oil Types

If you’re unsure whether you should use SAE 30 or 10W30 motor oil in your lawn mower and other tools, we’ll walk you through exactly how to make a decision that will get the best from your tools and save you money.

When Should You Use SAE 30 Oil?

A bottle of SAE 30 on a driveway during a warm day.
Only use SAE 30 motor oil in warmer temperatures. Never use it below 40°F (4°C).

SAE 30 is best used in warmer temperatures, since it is rated for use in warm weather only. If you won’t be using your lawn mower or other oil-lubricated tools in temperatures below 40℉ (4℃), then SAE 30 is a good choice. If you live in a warm region or don’t plan to do outdoor work during winter, SAE 30 will work for your tools.

High-Quality SAE 30 Motor Oil
Pennzoil | SAE 30 Motor Oil
  • High Versatility: SAE 30 grade oil is perfect for hydraulic systems, air compressors, and industrial circulating systems requiring detergent type single grade motor oils.
  • Superior Cleaning: Efficiently removes up to 40% of engine sludge in the first oil change, and continues the cleansing process in subsequent oil changes.
  • Temperature Control and Deposit Reduction: Effectively controls high-temperature oxidation while dissolving sludge deposits safely into the oil, reducing harmful engine deposits.
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  • SAE 30 is a great choice for small motors that won’t be operated in temperatures below 40℉ (4℃).
  • You can replace 10W30 with SAE 30 if you will only run the engine in warm weather.
  • Use SAE 30 when your equipment manual calls for it—this is common for older tools.
  • Because SAE 30 is cheaper than 10W30, you can save money by using SAE 30 when possible.

You should also use SAE 30 whenever your tools call for it. Many older mowers specify SAE 30 as the recommended oil type, which means it’s a good choice for these motors. Finally, SAE 30 is a good choice when you’re looking to save money on engine maintenance. Usually, SAE 30 is less expensive than 10W30. So, you can save money by using SAE 30 instead of 10W30, if you won’t be running the engine in colder temperatures.

When Should You Avoid SAE 30 Oil?

Do not use SAE 30 in any motor you plan to run in temperatures below 40℉ (4℃). SAE 30 will thicken as temperatures approach freezing, which will make the motor very hard to start. The thickened oil may also not lubricate your engine parts properly, which could lead to premature wear on the engine. SAE 30 is not suited to colder climates.

  • Never use SAE 30 oil in engines that you wish to use in colder temperatures [below 40℉ (4℃)].
  • SAE 30 can cause difficult starts and engine damage in cold weather.
  • It’s always best to avoid using SAE 30 if the manufacturer specifies a different oil should be used.

It’s a good idea to avoid using SAE 30 in tools that call for 10W30. Although SAE 30 can sometimes be a perfectly fine replacement in warm weather, a modern engine may be designed with 10W30 in mind. Although the risk of engine damage is very small in this case, it may still be present. It’s up to you whether you want to risk additional wear and tear on your tools in order to save money on oil.

When Should You Use 10W30 Oil?

A bottle of Pennzoil SAE 10W-30 motor oil in front of a Toro lawn mower.
SAE 10W-30 motor oil can be used in colder temperatures.

10W30 is a multi-grade oil, which is essential when you plan to run an engine at lower operating temperatures. So, if you plan to run your chainsaw, mower, or other tools in temperatures below 40℉ (4℃), 10W30 is a must. The guaranteed viscosity at low temperatures means your engines will start easily in cold weather and resist wear and tear when the ambient temperature is near freezing. Even if your mower calls for SAE 30, use 10W30 if you want to mow while it’s cold outside.

High-Quality SAE 10W-30 Motor Oil
Pennzoil | SAE 10W-30 Motor Oil
  • Engine Responsiveness: Conventional 10W-30 engine oil formula that enhances engine response and cleanliness.
  • Superior Wear Protection: Outperforms all conventional oils in wear protection, based on the Sequence IVA wear test using SAE 5W-30.
  • Advanced Active Cleansing: Pennzoil's innovative technology actively prevents dirt and contaminants from forming performance-robbing deposits, exceeding the highest industry standards (ILSAC GF-6A, API SP).
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  • Use 10W30 in any tools that you want to use in temperatures below 40℉ (4℃).
  • You can replace SAE 30 with 10W30 to make your tools easier to start in cold weather.
  • 10W30 is better than SAE 30 for generator motors, since it works in all weather.
  • If your tool’s manual calls for 10W30 oil, it’s best to follow these instructions.

It is always best to use 10W30 instead of SAE 30 in emergency equipment, such as generators. Natural disasters that bring down power lines can also deliver cold temperatures. To make sure your generator starts in all weather, use a multi-grade oil like 10W30. Additionally, if your mower or other tool calls for 10W30, it’s best to follow these guidelines.

When Should You Avoid 10W30 Oil?

Because 10W30 is such a versatile type of oil, it can be used to replace SAE 30 in most circumstances. At warm temperatures, 10W30 engine oil performs almost identically to SAE 30. As an added benefit, starting a cold engine is easier with 10W30. However, some older engines can be somewhat temperamental. If your mower or other tool runs poorly when you try switching to 10W30, use SAE 30 instead.

  • 10W30 is more versatile than SAE 30, so there are very few reasons to avoid using it.
  • Some older tools may run poorly on 10W30. If this is the case, switch to SAE 30.
  • To save money, you can use SAE 30 in warm weather tools, when possible.

If you are looking to cut costs on tool maintenance, consider switching from 10W30 to SAE 30 when possible. Tools that will only be used during warm weather, such as lawn mowers, can often be switched from 10W30 to less expensive SAE 30. If you’re on a budget, using 10W30 can add to your expenses.

Which Should You Use: SAE 30 or 10W30 Motor Oil?

SAE 30 and 10W30 motor oil are similar, but not interchangeable. When deciding which motor oil to choose, consider these facts:

  • SAE 30 is safe for use in warm weather but performs poorly in cold weather.
  • 10W30 remains usable in both hot and cold weather.
  • If you plan to run an engine only in temperatures above 40℉ (4℃), SAE 30 is a good choice.
  • If you may run the engine in temperatures below 40℉ (4℃), use 10W30.
  • Use 10W30 in emergency tools, such as generators, to ensure proper operation in all temperatures.
  • SAE 30 cannot always be used to replace 10W30.
  • You can almost always replace SAE 30 with 10W30.
  • SAE 30 is usually less expensive than 10W30, so you can save money by choosing SAE 30.
  • When in doubt, it is always best to use the oil type recommended by the manufacturer.

A single-grade oil, such as SAE 30, is not versatile enough for all-weather use, but it does work great for properly lubricating warm weather tools. 10W30 will perform very well in all conditions. So, when you are choosing the oil type you wish to use, consider what conditions you need to use the tool in. This will help you pick the right motor oil for the job.

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