SAE Oil Definition: What Does SAE Stand for in Motor Oil?

SAE Oil Definition: What Does SAE Stand for in Motor Oil?

Aug 22nd 2023

Many of us have been there—you’re looking through the motor oil and fluids aisle, inundated by all the types, grades, and acronyms. You find the one you’re looking for, and you see the acronym SAE printed in big, bold letters on the front. We can promise that it’s not another bunch of letters meant to confuse you. In fact, it can help ensure you’re getting quality motor oil. Let’s take a look at the definition of SAE oil and what it stands for in terms of motor oil to help clear the air around this seemingly alien acronym.

What Does SAE Stand For?

SAE simply stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers. In 1905, Henry Ford, along with other engineers and scientific minds such as Andrew L. Riker, Thomas Edison, and Orville Wright, founded the SAE. During this time, patents for “horseless carriages”—early cars—were coming out of the woodwork. Needless to say, these were relatively new and often dangerous inventions, so these great minds created an automotive society in the US to set certain standards.

When you see SAE stamped on your motor oil bottle, it means that the oil meets the strict SAE oil standards. No matter where you buy your oil, if it has SAE on it, you can guarantee it meets a certain quality.

What Is Viscosity?

We know the definition of SAE oil and what it stands for, but what exactly do all those numbers and letters on your motor oil mean? Simply put, it is the SAE viscosity grade rating. The SAE has run that oil under specific tests to ensure it flows at the specific temperatures indicated on the rating. Before we can learn to read these ratings, we have to understand viscosity.

Viscosity is the measurement of a fluid’s resistance to flow and can change depending on the temperature. In terms of your motor oil, the colder it is, the thicker the oil will become, thus flowing slower through the engine. The hotter it is, the thinner it will become, flowing faster through your engine. The viscosity of your engine oil is critical. If it does not properly flow through the engine, it can’t lubricate moving parts. A lack of engine oil can lead to engine damage.

How To Read SAE Ratings

SAE ratings for multi-grade oils are set up as follows: XX W-Y. XX refers to the viscosity at cold temperatures, which is why it’s next to the W, which stands for winter. The second number, or the Y, refers to the viscosity at hotter temperatures. 5W-30 is one of the most popular oil grades, so let’s look at that as an example.

“5” indicates the oil’s flow rate at 0°F. This low number means that it won’t thicken as much in colder environments. The lower this number, the better. “30” represents the oil’s flow rate at 100°F, indicating its resistance to thinning out at higher temperatures. The higher this number, the better. If you wanted a quick and dirty way of looking at it, the farther these numbers are apart, the better your oil will protect your engine at varying temperatures.

Ultimately, you want to look for motor oils with the SAE seal of approval to ensure you’re using quality oil. At Santie Oil Company, we’re a Castrol oil distributor that sells tried and true, SAE-approved oil and lubricants through one easy-to-shop website.