So what’s the right oil for your side-by-side?
I’m sure you’ve googled it, searched the forums, and maybe even asked the question again despite the inevitable onslaught of people telling you to “just use the search function.” At the end of your quest for knowledge you likely ended up with 100 different answers from 100 different people, leaving you about where you started.
If your search took you to Bob is the Oil Guy, you’re probably even more confused than that. Just don’t do it.
Alright, so here’s the answer. It’s pretty simple. Are you ready for it?
Just follow the recommendation of the OEM…
“My truck has 200k with Pennzoil”
“My cousin runs Royal Purple in his race car!!!”
“It all comes from the same place.”
Yeah, okay… Everybody has something they’ve “always had good luck with,” but here’s why you need to pay attention to what your manufacturer suggests.
In short, side-by-sides and their requirements are NOT the same as your car. Market share research indicates that an alarming number of people, specifically those with SXSs over three years old or those who are second owners, don’t believe that and simply run whatever they’ve got on the shelf because “it’s good enough for my Chevy.” We’re not here to tell you that you need to run a specific brand, we’re just here to tell you that there are differences in the oils and applications, and that one size does not fit all.
For those not familiar, let’s start with some basic terminology that will be helpful.
Viscosity – A measure of the oil’s resistance to flow. Let’s just think of it as the oil’s thickness.
Viscosity grade – These are the numbers on the bottle. 5w-30, 10w-30, etc. This is the SAE designation for a multi-grade oil. Taking 5w-30 as a common example, there are two viscosity grades given, 5 & 30. 5 is the grade at low temperature and 30 is the grade at high temperature. Oils are designed this way because you want them to act “thin” (low viscosity grade) at low temperatures so they maintain their ability to flow, but still act “thick” (higher viscosity grade) at high temperatures in order to protect the engine during operation.
Base stock – this is the back bone of your oil and what provides the majority of the lubrication. Additives are then required to achieve all the needed properties.
Synthetic – this refers to a base stock that is “built” from chemical reactions, as opposed to a basic mineral oil. This allows manufacturers to better control the composition of the base stock.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way…
- Side-by-sides are hard on oil. Operation in high temperatures, at sustained high rpm, with relatively small oil capacities (3 quarts or less) means that oil temperatures can reach higher levels than typically seen in an automobile. While the oil in your car will stay below 250°F, the oil in your SXS can get well above that, even above 300°F. To combat this, we need an oil with a wide viscosity range, meaning the ability to lubricate the engine during cold starts, as well as maintain excellent wear protection at high oil temperatures. You will likely find it difficult to find an appropriate viscosity range in whatever brand Walmart has on sale compared to a high performance oil that was designed for this type of a beating. Take the Polaris PS-4 for example, which is available in 5w-50. This means it can protect your engine at high oil temps, while still maintaining the ability to flow during cold starts and operation in cold temperatures. This is achieved through custom viscosity modifiers that are added specifically for handling tough conditions. Sorry, Super Tech doesn’t make $2.50 per quart 5w-50.
- Side-by-sides aren’t subject to government fuel economy standards, which can result in oils that don’t protect as well. Automotive oils are often designed with viscosity modifiers that are intended to shear. This shearing results in a thinning of the oil which can reduce resistance and increase fuel efficiency in your car, but can also result in a lack of wear protection when conditions get severe if you’re running it in your SXS. The high performance oils spec’d by the OEM for your side-by-side are resistant to this shearing.
- Cheap automotive oils generally have higher volatility than a high quality synthetic oil. Volatility is the tendency of a substance to evaporate, meaning that you’ll get better oil retention and maintain your fill level better with good oil. Below is a comparison of the Polaris PS-4 to a run-of-the-mill automotive oil after 75 hrs of run time in identical Scrambler 1000 engines.
- Manufacturers of high quality oils hold stricter standards when it comes to the consistency of their products. Budget automotive oil manufacturers will often switch base stocks and additives in an effort to maintain low costs, whereas you will ALWAYS get the same thing when you purchase Polaris oil, for example.
Okay, so what did you just read? Another unqualified opinion in a sea of opinions? Not exactly. This article is a result of a partnership with Polaris Engineered Lubricants, so there is some real muscle behind the claims. They’ve asked us to help spread the word on the importance of using the correct oil in your SXS. It’s also important to understand that this is not a sales pitch for Polaris oils, but rather a plea to pay attention to the recommendations of your manufacturer, whoever that may be. They’ve spent thousands of hours doing the detailed testing that “that guy” on the forum has not.
Side-by-sides are unique machines with unique requirements. They aren’t cheap either. So if you want yours to last as long as possible, you need to consider lubricants that were engineered specifically for it, without the design constraints of cheap automotive and aftermarket oils.
By all means, do as you please, but just remember the next time you’re asking yourself whether you’re getting anything by paying more for that expensive oil than what’s on sale at Costco; the answer is yes.