A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Automobile Oil

New car owners probably have a lot of questions about how to care for their vehicles. This is a good thing. Caring for a car extends the life and cuts down on costly repair bills. In some instances, simple maintenance work also keeps the car from being totaled. Totaled, for newbies, refers to a vehicle requiring repairs costing more than the resale value of the car. Once totaled, a vehicle has only one destination: the local scrapyard.

Cars aren’t just totaled in an accident. They can be total due to simple oversights such as not changing the oil in the engine. New drivers and owners should familiarize themselves with the basics of automobile oil. Otherwise, the could be setting themselves up for serious avoidable problems.

What Auto Oil Does

Oil, essentially, lubricates the engine. An engine is made up of several moving metal parts. The parts operate at extremely hot temperatures while creating a great deal of friction. If an engine operated in a purely metal-on-metal fashion, it wouldn’t exactly last a long time. So, the parts must be lubricated by appropriate amounts of engine oil.

Engine oil is made up of two main things: base oils and additives. Drivers don’t really need to know about the chemistry involved with making oil. They do need to know what it does. In addition to reducing friction, engine oil cuts down on the heat an engine generates. The oil even partially contributes to keeping the engine clean, but you can’t rely solely on oil for engine cleanliness.

Changing Engine Oil

Engine oil won’t last forever. At some point, the oil has to be changed. The commonly suggested change time is after 3,000 miles. Certainly, it wouldn’t hurt to change the oil so quickly but some suggest 5,000 miles is more appropriate. Of course, it becomes cheaper to change the oil once every 3,000 miles vs. changing it once every 5,000 miles over the course of the year. High-end engines may not need an oil change until the 15,000-mile mark. Check your car’s owner’s manual to determine the suggested time in which to change the oil and the corresponding filter.

Checking Engine Oil

Don’t always rely on the mileage point to change the oil. The age of the oil factors into its performance as well. If you only drive a car 1,000 miles in one year, this doesn’t mean the oil is good for another four years. Oil breaks down not only from use. Age factors into the breakdown. When engine oil breaks down, it loses viscosity. A loss of viscosity undermines the oil’s ability to properly lubricate the engine. Also, dirty oil leaves sludge and impurities in the engine. So, you really need to check the oil regularly.

You check the engine oil with a dipstick. The dipstick is clearly visible on most cars once you pop up the hood. Clean off the dipstick, reinsert it into the engine, pull it out again, and look at the oil. If the oil is dirty, the time for a change is here. Clean, new oil is amber in color. If the oil has become dark and thick, then the oil should be changed.

The dipstick also tells you the actual oil level. Oil can leak or burn. Once you see the level is low, you know to add more oil to the engine. Better yet, take the vehicle to a garage to find out why the engine oil level has dropped. A major problem might be present somewhere.

Different Types of Engine Oil

Not all engine oil is the same. The standard type of oil is known as conventional oil. Other types of oils exist for newer cars, high-mileage cars, and so on. Synthetic and synthetic blend oils reflect two other oils to choose from. Check your manual for a recommendation, and also ask a mechanic what particular oil would be best.

Cleaning the Engine

When you went too long without changing the oil in your engine, a lot of sludge may have built up in the works. Leaving the sludge there wouldn’t be the best plan in the world. Cleaning the engine can be done at any number of garages. Take the vehicle to one and get the engine cleaned out to reduce the potential for problems.

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About the author: Wifred Murray

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