Using the right motor oil will optimize the performance of your car’s engine. The wrong oil? Not so much. That can have a negative effect. Same goes if you allow the oil to work for too long. After a while, the oil will break down. If you don’t replace it with fresh oil, your engine can break down too. So, if you are a bit unsure about when to change your oil, where to change your oil, or which oil to use for your car, here are some thoughts to point you in the right direction.
1. When to Check the Oil
At the top of the list of routine maintenance procedures for your car is taking care of the oil in its engine. Engine oil (AKA “motor oil”) is essential to the proper engine function. Without it, your engine would not run for more than a few minutes, if that. The oil serves to lubricate all of the moving metal components inside, keeping them from making metal-to-metal contact and reducing friction.
While it is the job of the oil to protect your engine, it is your responsibility to ensure there is an adequate amount of oil in your engine at all times. Over time, the oil will break down and become less effective. And every so often, you need to replace the old oil with fresh oil and the old oil filter with a new one.
Depending on your level of comfort with car-related maintenance operations, you might choose to check your oil yourself, or you might opt for assistance with an oil change service. Either way, the oil level and overall condition should be checked at least once a month.
Check your vehicle owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. While most vehicles have a dipstick in the engine compartment that can let you inspect the oil level and condition, some newer vehicles have electronic oil monitors instead.
If you choose to check the oil yourself, turn the engine off (careful if it is still warm), locate the dipstick, and pull it out from the engine. Wipe off any oil from the end with a cloth. Replace the dipstick all the way into its housing and remove it again. Quickly look at both sides of the tip to see how high the oil mark is and whether it falls between the high and low marks. If it is too low (below the bottom mark), you might add oil to “top it off”. Just make sure you add the correct oil.
You are also looking to see that the oil has not been compromised. Now, you cannot tell by looking at your oil that it is old. Some motorists believe that if the oil is black, it is old and in need of replacement. It is true that old oil will turn black or dark brown, but dark oil can also be normal. Soot from the combustion process gets into the oil but does not have a negative effect. Fresh oil starts out a honey color, but perfectly good oil turns dark in fairly short order. The only way to tell if oil is too old to do its job is to submit it for chemical analysis. Or change it when it is due for a change.
Look too for metal particles that could indicate internal engine damage, or for a milky appearance that might mean that engine coolant is leaking into the oil because of a bad engine seal or gasket. Check for signs of an oil leak as well.
If everything is okay, return the dipstick, close the hood, and do it again next month.
2. When to Change the Oil
Some drivers tell you to change the oil when it is black; others repeat the old, outdated mantra that the oil should be changed “every three months or three thousand miles”. The truth is, neither bit of advice is accurate.
So, when should you change the oil in your engine? While not as sexy as the three-month, three-thousand-mile mantra, the answer is simple: when the manufacturer recommends you do so. That recommendation is different for each vehicle. The shortest interval between oil changes under normal conditions that is recommended by a manufacturer is 5K miles. But it could be more than 10K. It all depends on the manufacturer who performs a host of tests to determine how long oil will last effectively in their engines.
As with the procedure for checking the oil, look to your owner’s manual (or the maintenance schedule that came with your car) for the recommendation about how often to get an oil change for your engine. You might find that you need to change the oil more often than the standard recommendation by the manufacturer because you drive in what are considered to be “special” or “severe” conditions. In that case, many manufacturers recommend shortening the time between oil changes.
There are a couple of other things to note about oil change intervals.
First, say your oil is due to be changed every 7.5K miles, but you only drive your car a few thousand miles each year. Most manufacturers recommend that you change the oil at least annually, regardless of the number of miles you add to the odometer. You should keep maintaining your car, even when it is sitting still.
Also, even though you might drive a vehicle that only needs its oil changed every 10K miles, that does not mean that other maintenance can be ignored. Extended oil changes, made possible by advanced engine and synthetic oil technologies, present a mixed blessing. They allow for less-frequent oil changes but make it all too easy to put off other routine maintenance that might be done alongside an oil change. And because some shops offer a courtesy inspection with each oil change service, extending the time between services means that your vehicle is not being inspected as frequently.
3. What Grade of Oil is Right for Your Engine
When it comes time for an oil change, the array of choices as to the type and weight (viscosity, or grade) of oil are seemingly endless. Look at the shelves in your local auto parts store or Walmart and you will notice row after row of different brands, each with many products to offer.
The “grade” of motor oil refers to a numeric designation by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to categorize oil according to its viscosity, how thick or thin it is. The higher the number, the thicker the oil, or the “heavier” its weight. The lower the number, the thinner. So, grade, weight, and viscosity all refer to the same aspect of motor oil: how thick it is.
Vehicles of old relied on thicker oil than the advanced engines of today. Where 30-weight (grade 30) oil was common years ago, now much lighter-weight oil is the norm. Multi-weight oil (where an oil product has the properties of a low viscosity oil when cool and high viscosity when warm) is also the standard. You might be familiar with 10W-30 or 5W-20 oil; those are examples of multi-weight oil, where the first number represents the grade when cool (“W” stands for winter) and the second number represents the grade when warmed up to operating temperature.
The answer to what grade of oil is right for your engine is, once again, found in your owner’s manual. A technician at a trusted repair shop will also have access to a database that reveals the proper grade oil for your engine. Only the recommended grade should be used (some manufacturers specify a range of grades).
4. What Type of Oil Should You Should Choose
That is because many of today’s engines are built with extremely tight tolerances between the moving components inside and require extremely thin (light-weight) oil that can seep into those small spaces. 0W-20 and even 0W-16 oil are increasingly popular among manufacturers. Grades that light are only made possible in a lab, where synthetic oil is made artificially.
Because of the engineering that goes into its formulation, synthetic (such as industry-leading Mobil 1) boasts several oil advantages in addition to its ability to be produced to extremely low viscosity. If your engine came from the factory with synthetic oil installed, you should stick with synthetic.
But what about engines that came with conventional oil? Well, you can choose to switch to synthetic at any time. You can always switch back if you like, though your engine might appreciate the advancements of synthetic oil.
5. Which Oil Filter is Right for Your Engine
Not only is motor oil specific to your engine, but the oil filter that cleans the oil needs to match as well.
Oil filters come in two basic forms: canister and cartridge. A canister filter is a self-contained unit about the size of a small soup can that screws onto a flange on your engine. When it is time for an oil change, the filter is removed and disposed of (according to local regulations). A new filter is installed in its place. The benefit to a canister filter is that it is simple to replace. The downside is there is more to dispose of.
Cartridge filters were used many years ago and are finding their way back into popularity with manufacturers. A cartridge filter relies on a permanent, reusable housing on your engine. Only the filter material inside the housing is replaced, lessening the impact on the environment.
Either way, the oil filter works to remove impurities in the oil between oil changes. The filter should be replaced every time you have your oil changed. Selecting the correct filter can seem daunting, since there are hundreds to choose from, yet only one size that actually fits your engine. You will likely not find that information in your owner’s manual.
If you are unsure about how to treat your engine, or if you are looking for more answers about oil changes for your car, schedule an appointment to talk to a trained professional at a trusted shop near you.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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