Everyone, or almost everyone, knows your vehicle needs oil. Most people know engine oil helps keep vital components lubricated and functioning smoothly and that regular oil changes can enhance the operational life, performance, and MPG of a vehicle. When it comes to checking the oil in between changes, though, many drivers don’t seem to know or believe it’s necessary. At Two Fingers Automotive, we frequently see vehicles with engine damage caused by low, contaminated, or leaking oil. Before the summer sets in and gets your engine running hotter, now’s a great time to discuss engine oil and the importance of checking it!
Why do modern engines need motor oil?
The modern internal combustion engine is a marvel of technological sophistication and engineering advances that would stupefy our Stone Age, fire- and wheel-using ancestors into awed silence. However, it also represents a series of compromises between a series of controlled explosions and a complex tangle of systems that provide climate control, electrical, and motive power, just to name a few. Since most modern engines are cast from steel or aluminum, there are many metallic moving parts rubbing together. Motor oil permits these parts to function smoothly and properly, reducing noise, wear, and damage to the engine and its components while greatly extending the operational life of your engine.
What is motor oil made of?
Whether you use regular or synthetic motor oil, they both start life as crude oil, the same as the gasoline or diesel you put in your vehicle’s fuel tank. Regular motor oil contains a higher level of organic and chemical impurities because of the refining process it undergoes. Synthetic motor oil is heavily processed to remove these impurities and contains artificial chemical additives that make it possible to go longer between oil changes.
In layperson’s terms, the viscosity of given motor oil, commonly referred to as the “weight” describes its ability to flow and penetrate engine parts for lubrication and its minimum temperature to maintain that viscosity. For example, 5W-30 motor oil has a viscosity rating of 5 at a minimum winter temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 5W-20 and 5W-30 motor oil have similar viscosity, but 5W-20 is designed for use in engines in regions that experience colder winter temperatures, such as Colorado, Montana, and Alaska.
Why should I check the oil? Isn’t that the point of oil changes?
Regular oil changes are important to make sure your engine’s oil stays fresh, clean, and free of dust, dirt, engine sludge caused by oil breakdown over numerous heating and cooling cycles, and other contaminants. They also help extend the life of the engine’s gaskets and non-metallic parts, maintain airtight seals, and increase the engine’s operational efficiency by reducing wear throughout the system. An oil change often includes elements like changing out the oil filter, inspecting the oil pan for excessive debris or dirt, and swapping out your vehicle’s air filters since these parts have approximately the same estimated operational life as an oil change. However, drivers and vehicle owners should check their oil regularly between changes to make sure the amount of oil in the reservoir is within the vehicle’s normal operating parameters, meaning the system isn’t leaking obvious amounts of oil. They should also make sure the oil doesn’t look dirty, burnt, or contaminated with debris such as metal shavings, which often serve as an early indication of a developing engine problem.
When should I check my motor oil, and what am I looking for?
Most user guides and vehicle manuals recommend checking the oil every time you fill up your gas tank. We usually recommend this rule because it is easy to remember and strikes a good balance between too often and not often enough. Some drivers check their oil at the beginning and end of any trip over 100 consecutive miles, once a week regardless of distance traveled, or if they notice any indications of an oil leak under their car.
Most modern vehicle engines have a clearly marked dipstick next to the oil reservoir opening. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the exact location on your make, model, and year. Yours may pull straight out or require a twist to unlock the dipstick. Again, your owner’s manual should tell you which style you have. Once you’ve freed the dipstick, wipe it off with a clean cloth or paper towel to remove any old oil which may be stuck to it, reinsert it into the dipstick port, wait about thirty seconds, and pull it out again.
Motor oil is typically a uniform amber color when it’s first added to the engine. Over time, as the engine heats and cools the oil, particles of dust and dirt in the system become trapped. Such particulate matter makes the oil darker, but it should still have a visually “smooth” appearance. If the oil looks sludgy, enough dirt and dust have gotten into the oil reservoir to warrant scheduling a system flush and fill to clean out these contaminants. If the oil looks lumpy, or if you see metal shavings in the oil, you need to contact a mechanic like Two Fingers Automotive right away! Metal shavings frequently indicate a misfiring engine piston or other engine damage. Getting the problem diagnosed and fixed quickly can make the difference between a well-running vehicle, an expensive tow, repair bill, or a pricey pile of junk.
If you can’t remember which sports season was on TV the last time you checked your motor oil, you’re way past time to do so. Be sure to pick up a quart or two of the correct viscosity for your vehicle as recommended by the manufacturer, so you have it on hand in case your reservoir is a little—or a lot—low. If you must add oil, be careful not to spill it on the engine block, as this can cause relatively harmless but annoying engine smoking and unnecessary worry on your part!
If your oil check reveals a low reservoir, excessive dust, dirt, sludge, or any metal shavings, it’s important not to wait to get the issue taken care of. Instead, bring your vehicle to Two Fingers Automotive as soon as possible. Our skilled, experienced ASE-certified technicians can quickly diagnose the cause and help you determine the best solution, so you’ll get more power, a longer running life, and fewer headaches from your vehicle’s engine. We can also recommend oil change best practices to help keep your engine running smoother and quieter for years to come.
Of course, if your vehicle needs more extensive repairs, Two Fingers Automotive is ready and able to help with nearly all makes and models of both domestic and import cars and light trucks. Just call (704) 230-4678 to schedule an appointment over the phone, click here to make your appointment online, or bring your vehicle to 465 S Broad St, Mooresville, NC 28115. See for yourself why the Two Fingers Automotive touch is the TLC more Mooresville and Charlotte metro drivers trust to keep their vehicles in top condition, no matter what lies down the road ahead!