Car Doctor Q&A: Does Motor Oil Have a Shelf Life?

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Unlike the chicken salad in your refrigerator, motor oil doesn’t go bad. But there’s a reason not to use motor oil that has been hanging around since Nixon was in office.

Q. My wife and I bought a house and the previous owner left behind a case of oil (Shell oil – in unopened plastic containers) and a “can” of oil (Havoline) in an unopened can that needs a spout to open.

My question is, is it safe to use this oil? Does oil go “bad” or have an expiration date? I don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish here. I’d be using it in my 2007 Toyota Camry that has 175,000 miles and has been meticulously maintained over the years and doesn’t burn a drop of oil.

A. I had a shell representative on my radio program at one time and asked this very question. He told me that although unopened oil doesn’t have an expiration date it may not be something you want to use.

The oil required for your 2007 Camry is actually quite complex. The grade is SAE 5W-30 and it needs to be API (American Petroleum Institute) SL Energy Conserving or ILSAC (International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee) multi-grade. If the oil doesn’t meet these grades it may not be robust enough for your Toyota’s engine.

My suggestion would be to sell the Havoline can of oil (EBay has them listed for $17-$30)

and buy five quarts of fresh oil of the proper grade for your Camry. The Shell oil might be a good choice for someone who has a vehicle that burns oil and is looking to get a little more time out of a worn out engine.

John Paul is senior manager of public affairs for AAA Northeast. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950