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How Oil Works In Your Car’s Engine

March 5, 2020

How Oil Works In Your Car’s Engine

What comes to mind when you think of oil? For some people, the word conjures up images of gushing wells in Texas, fuel prices at the pump, or even conflicts in foreign countries. Others might imagine an auto store aisle lined with any number of plastic bottles with labels reading 10W-this and 0W-that. No matter what picture you relate to the word, the truth is, oil is an important commodity – and it is essential for your engine.

Crude oil is the base for many products on the market. It is the base for plastics that are used in anything from grocery bags to heart valves. It is used to make cosmetics, carbon fiber, couches, and more. When blended with other chemicals, oil is the base for paraffin wax, asphalt, and tar. It is used to make soap, vitamin capsules, fertilizer, insecticide, and even perfume. Crude oil is made into fuel oil used to heat homes and generate electricity. It is distilled to make gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. And, of course, motor oil.

Yes, oil is important. And motor oil has a long history and is used for a lot of purposes. But how is it important for your engine’s performance? Let’s go through a basic overview of how oil works in your car’s engine.

The purpose(s) of motor oil

The primary purpose of motor oil (also known as “engine oil”) is to lubricate all of the moving metal pieces inside the engine of your car, truck, or SUV. Motor oil ensures that the pistons, valves, camshaft, and other components travel or turn smoothly while simultaneously minimizing friction and reducing component wear. The result? Longer engine life and fewer mechanical breakdowns.

But motor oil does more than lubricate. For instance, oil also aids your engine’s cooling system by helping to transfer heat. Friction (and, of course, the combustion process) creates heat that builds up in your engine block. Motor oil not only reduces that friction but also absorbs some of the heat from those components with which it comes into contact. As it circulates through your engine, the oil picks up heat before traveling back to the oil pan where it is stored. There, some of the heat is dissipated.

And motor oil helps to clean your engine as well. It is equipped with additives – friction modifiers, detergents or cleaning agents, viscosity improvers, and the like – which serve to prevent the buildup of varnish and other deposits in your engine. They help to improve operating efficiency and protect engine components. And they help prevent sludge.

The path of motor oil

The lubrication (oil) system in your engine is made up of several components – besides the oil itself. Oil is stored in a sump, aka the oil pan. The oil pan is attached to the bottom of your engine. Air flowing past the oil pan when your car is in motion allows heat to dissipate.

An oil pump circulates the viscous fluid through the system, drawing it from the sump and forcing it through a series of oil galleries, just as your heart pumps blood through your arteries and veins.

On its way through your engine and back to the oil pan, the oil travels through an oil filter that removes particulates (dirt, metal debris, or other impurities) from your oil so that harmful materials do not remain in your engine and cause damage or premature wear.

The possibilities of motor oil

As motor oil is pumped through your engine under pressure, it leaves behind a thin lubricating residue or film on internal components – on the cylinder walls, on the pistons, on the valves, camshaft, and all of the other moving parts. That film creates a slick surface. It also separates those metal parts. That way, the pistons cannot make metal-to-metal contact with the cylinder walls. The valve stems do not rub directly against their guides. The bearings do not rub against the crankshaft journals.

For this to happen properly in your engine, it is important that you install the correct type and weight (viscosity) oil.

Motor oil comes in different grades of viscosity (how thick or thin the substance is), each grade matched to a particular engine. One manufacturer might recommend 5W-20 oil, another 0W-16. And they are not equal. One is quite a bit thinner than the other. In fact, most vehicles on the road today use oil that is thinner than cars and trucks of the past. Where 10W-30 weight oil was common many years ago, thinner lubricants are used in today’s smaller, lighter-weight engines made with tighter tolerances.

Besides the different grades of motor oil, there are also different types. Conventional oil is derived and distilled from crude oil. Until recent years, manufacturers included conventional oil in their engines right from the factory; indeed, many still do.

But synthetic oil, oil that is created artificially in a lab (sometimes with a highly-refined crude oil stock as its base), contains molecules that are far more uniform in size and shape than those of conventional oil. For that reason, and because synthetic oil (such as industry-leading Mobil 1™) usually contains advanced and superior additives, it has the advantage over conventional oil in terms of performance and usable life. Synthetic oil, however, does tend to cost more than its conventional counterpart. Some drivers find a compromise between the two with semi-synthetic blends.

The plan for motor oil

Whether you choose the advanced capabilities of synthetic oil or stick with conventional (though you do not always have a choice since some cars require the use of synthetic), it is essential that you adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended intervals between oil and filter changes.

There was a time when people stuck with an old standard recommendation of changing oil every three thousand miles. That outdated suggestion is obsolete for all but a small number of vehicles that operate in harsh and abusive conditions. Today, auto manufacturers recommend oil changes somewhere between 5K miles (the shortest duration) and 7.5K miles. Some even extend the interval to 10K miles or more. It all depends on your specific vehicle make and model. Check with your owner’s manual or maintenance schedule for the recommendation for your car. Better yet, take your car in for an oil change and 21-point vehicle inspection.

Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs, and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

COLUMBIA AUTO CARE & CAR WASH
|
Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.