Everything You Need to Know About Engine Oil

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From choosing the right motor oil to refilling it

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The Basics

Engines are basically air pumps that make use of a variety of moving metal bits to convert air and gas into forward motion. Engines need to be kept cool and lubricated to work, and it is the job of the engine oil to keep the metal bits in your engine from grinding against each other. Without the correct type and amount of oil in your engine, it will eventually grind to a halt and turn into an expensive paperweight, which is why a check of your motor oil is so important. So, do you need 5W-30 or 5W-20? What is 10W-40? 2- or 4-cycle engine oil? And do you know how often to change your oil, or what type of filter to get? Read on to find out all you need to know about engine oil.

What Engine Oil Does My Car Take?

Determining what engine oil your car takes is as simple as checking your owner's manual, or calling up the dealership or support services linked to the brand itself. You could also contact a mechanic or a reputable workshop. The internet can also be a handy tool, but with forums and specialist sites dedicated to this kind of information. Remember that different types of oil may be recommended depending on whether you live in a hot or cold climate, and as viscosity or thickness of the oil, is important, you should always follow the prescribed recommendations.

Engine Oil Types

When it comes to choosing the right oil for your car, you might be overwhelmed with the various engine oil types. In terms of names, there are some clues in the numbers and letters themselves to help identify the type of oil you require. In 10W-30, for example, the first number represents viscosity at lower temperatures, with lower numbers indicating thinner oil. The second number indicates how thick it is at a normal, running temperature. There are also various brands of motor oil, and each will specify whether the oil is for gas or diesel engines. Here is a break down of the various motor oil types:

  • Full Synthetic - Most modern cars in the USA, especially high-performance vehicles, will require fully synthetic engine oil. This type of oil has a higher viscosity rating, which gives it a higher resistance to thermal breakdown. It might come at a slightly higher price, but will keep your engine cleaner, prevent black sludge from collecting in the oil pan, and even increase your fuel economy and engine performance. If you can afford it, this is the oil type to go for.
  • Synthetic Blend - When it comes time for an engine oil change, many will ask "what oil does my car take." The good news is that there's an engine oil type that works well for almost any car type in the US, and it's called a synthetic blend. This type of engine oil offers a great balance between fully synthetic and traditional engine oils and provides better fuel economy due to less evaporation and oil loss. It is perfect for older cars making the transition from traditional oil to a fully synthetic product. The cost of this type of oil is also much lower than the synthetic equivalent.
  • Premium Conventional - This is the cheapest and most basic engine oil available, and is commonly used on late-model light-duty vehicles with low to moderate mileage. This engine oil is suitable for basic engines with lower compression ratios not designed for high-performance applications.
  • High Mileage Motor Oil - As the name suggests, this type of oil is best suited to cars with mileage above 100k, and helps lessen oil leaks and consumption thanks to the components of the oil itself. Special conditioners are added that will fill the pores on seals and help to return them to their original shape and levels of flexibility. This can also reduce emission levels in some vehicles.

How and When to Check Your Oil

Knowing when to check your oil is vital - one should never wait for warning lights or engine seizure because then it's already too late. And, since checking a car's oil is one of the easiest maintenance jobs you could do, should be done at least once every month. Checking your car oil does not require you to remove an engine oil pump, engine oil cap and pan. All you need to do is to locate the oil dipstick, the location of which will be clearly indicated in your owner's manual, although it is usually colored to stand out in the engine bay. The question often arises whether you should check engine oil at a hot or cold temperature, and while some manufacturers recommend getting the car up to operating temperature, working with cold oil is safer.

Pull the dipstick out and wipe away any excess oil. Place the dipstick back and push all the way in. Now remove the stick once again and look on both sides where the oil level is. Dipsticks usually have indicators such as pinholes, or the working min/max, or high/low. If the level is between the two marks then it is perfect. If it is below the markings, it might be due to an engine oil leak and time for a top up, but make sure to check the engine's oil capacity to avoid an overfill. Checking motor oil levels is extremely important.

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Checking the Engine Oil Level

What to Look out for When You Check Car Oil

By now you should know how to check your car oil, but there is more to it than just checking levels. You're not going to have to do any scientific test on the oil, but knowing what to look out for could protect you against some costly repairs in future. Oil ages just like any other part in your car, and can start to show signs of degradation. Your engine oil should look transparent and glossy. Any sign that your engine oil is black in color will warrant an oil change. Brown bubbles and crust on the dipstick could mean that engine coolant has seeped into the engine. White exhaust smoke will also indicate this issue. If this is the case with your car, a trip to a qualified mechanic is suggested.

What You Need for Adding Oil to Your Engine

Adding oil to your engine is a simple and painless procedure that should not take more than five minutes. Below are the items you will need to top up your engine oil

  • The correct type and amount of engine oil
  • A funnel to stop spilling
  • A pair of gloves to keep your hands clean
  • Rag or paper towel to clean any spillage
Engine Oil Change

FAQs

How long will a car run without oil?

To prove just how important proper oil lubrication is to a car's engine, running an engine without it will result in complete seizure in around 15 to 30 minutes. This translates to major damage to most moving parts within the engine, causing some parts to almost melt together. The financial implications are severe.

What happens if your car is low on oil?

When your car is low on oil, it will still be able to operate to a certain extent, but it will certainly strain, and in some cases severely damage internal moving parts such as the crank and pistons. Your engine should warn you when your engine oil pressure is low by showing a warning light on the dashboard.

How do I know when my car needs oil?

There are two ways of knowing whether your car is in need of a top off: firstly, a quick check of the oil dipstick will tell you your car's oil level. The second and riskier method is to wait for your car to give you a low oil level warning light on the dashboard. By the time this warning light appears, some damage might have already taken place, though, so it is recommended to check regularly yourself.

What happens with too much oil in a car?

When there's too much oil in your engine, this will produce more pressure, which can lead to oil leaks, or even worse, it can lead to fouled spark plugs, valve issues, and even bent engine rods. Remember that if you are draining used or excess oil, to follow responsible engine oil disposal guidelines and look into recycling the plastic bottle.

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