Every car engine needs an oil, but not just any oil will do. Modern engines are designed and built to rigorous standards and require oils that meet very specific industry and automaker specifications to ensure long life. Failure to use the correct type of oil and document its use can void your new vehicle warranty.
Most newer vehicle models require synthetic or fully synthetic, low-viscosity, resource-conserving multigrade oils that minimize friction and maximize fuel consumption. However, choosing the right oil is not always easy.
The right oil for your vehicle makes and model must be the correct SAE viscosity grade, meet performance standards set by API, ILSAC, and/or ACEA, and meet any special specifications set by the automaker or engine manufacturer. These requirements are listed in your vehicle’s owner’s manual, and your auto repair shop can also provide you with information on your vehicle’s recommended oil specifications.
Oil change intervals vary depending on vehicle age, type of oil, and driving conditions. It used to be normal to change the oil every 3,000 miles, but with modern lubricants, most engines today have recommended oil change intervals of 5,000 to 7,500 miles.
Additionally, if your car’s engine requires fully synthetic motor oil, it can last up to 15,000 miles between services! You cannot tell the condition of engine oil by color, so follow the factory maintenance schedule for changing the oil.
What is Motor Oil?
Historically, motor oil was just a mixture of base oil and additives used to lubricate engine parts, reduce friction, clean, cool, and protect the engine.
However, modern synthetic motor oils are a complex mixture of base oils and additive components designed to perform a variety of tasks:
- Separating and lubricating moving parts
- Reducing engine wear
- Helping to prevent deposits from forming on internal engine components
- Removing and suspending dirt and contaminants in the oil until these contaminants can be removed at the next oil change
- Cooling engine parts
- Enhancing engine fuel efficiency
- Providing protection across a wide range of temperatures
- Operating hydraulics in variable valve timing
- Helping protect the emissions system
In other words, modern synthetic motor oil does a lot more than just lubricate. It’s responsible for engine wear protection and engine performance enhancement as well as complete protection of all moving parts.
Engine oil is comprised of two basic components base oils and additives. The base oils constitute 70-90 percent of the total and are created from natural gas or crude oil, while additives round out the remaining 10-30 percent and can be a variety of things.
These additives include among other things:
- Anti-wear additives
- Friction modifiers
- Anti-foam additives
- Corrosion inhibitors
- Viscosity index improvers
- Pour point depressants
Why is a Motor Oil’s Ability to Clean Important?
Every time your engine runs, by-products from combustion contaminate your engine oil. If the contaminants build up in the oil, they can settle and create sludge and deposits in the engine. Using low-quality motor oil, neglecting to change your oil, and maintenance issues can also lead to sludge forming in your engine.
If your engine components and oil passages are dirty, your vehicle performance, efficiency, and quality can diminish. Deposits also trap heat inside your engine like an insulating blanket.
How To Change Engine Oil?
Park the vehicle on a level surface, apply the parking brake, and switch off the engine. If necessary, raise the front of the vehicle by driving it onto a ramp or by jacking it up and using jack stands.
Caution: Never climb under a vehicle that is only supported by a jack! We also recommend wheel chocks to prevent wheels from rolling on the floor.
- Open the hood.
- Locate and remove the engine oil dipstick (helps oil flow when drained).
- Once the vehicle is safely and securely supported, put on safety goggles, crawl under the vehicle and locate the engine oil pan. (See Owner’s Manual for reference.)
- Locate the oil drain plug, which is a long screw head on the bottom of the pan. The oil can drain out of the pan through the drain plug. (Note: Some vehicles have two drain plugs.)
- Place a container, e.g., an approved oil pan, under the drain plug. Make sure the drain pan is large enough to hold the amount of oil that is expected to drain from the engine. Check your owner’s manual to see how much oil your car needs.
- Loosen the drain plug with a ring spanner or hexagon. Socket. Carefully remove the plug by hand, making sure the drip tray is under the plug hole. The oil will flow out of the hole quickly, but allow all the old oil to drain out for a few minutes. (See vehicle owner’s manual for more information.) CAUTION: OIL MAY BE HOT!
- Wipe the oil pan threads and oil drain plug with a rag and visually inspect the condition of the oil pan and oil drain plug threads and gasket. Purchase a replacement drain plug if you are concerned about the condition of the plug. Replace the drain plug gasket if necessary (some OEMs recommend this). When the oil is completely drained, replace the oil drain plug and tighten it with the correct box wrench or hex screwdriver. Bushing with the torque specified by the manufacturer. (See instruction manual.)
- Locate the oil filter. If the old and new oil filters are not identical, double check the application to ensure you have the correct filter. (See the vehicle owner’s manual for more information.)
- Position an oil pan under the oil filter to catch any residual oil remaining in the filter.
- Loosen the oil filter or oil filter cap with the oil filter wrench and drain the oil from the oil filter.
- Remove the oil filter. Check if the filter gasket has come loose with the filter. If it is still stuck to the motor mount, remove it and any remaining residue.
- Apply a thin coat of new oil to the gasket of the new oil filter so that it can be easily installed on the engine. (Caution: Do not use grease!) Install the new oil filter on the engine by hand by turning it clockwise. Once the oil filter gasket first contacts the mounting plate sealing surface, tighten the filter according to the instructions for your application (usually located on the new oil filter or oil filter box), preferably by hand. Generally, this is 3/4 to 1 full turn after the filter gasket contacts the engine. (NOTE: Procedures for replacing the cartridge oil filter may vary. Refer to the owner’s or service manual for instructions.)
- Under the hood, remove the oil filler cap and use a funnel to add the correct amount of engine oil of the correct viscosity. (Refer to vehicle owner’s manual for recommended class, specification and quantity.)
- Reinstall the oil filler cap.
- Start the engine and let it idle for at least 30 seconds. Check carefully under the vehicle for oil leaks (particularly at the oil drain plug and oil filter). If any leaks are visible, stop the engine immediately and have the leaks repaired.
- Stop the engine and wait 30 seconds to allow the engine oil to settle. Carefully inspect the area under the vehicle for oil leaks.
- Lower the vehicle safely onto level ground.
- Install and remove the oil dipstick and check the correct oil level, add more oil if necessary. (See vehicle owner’s manual for oil capacity and recommended oil level on the dipstick.)
These instructions are intended as general guidelines. Please consult your owner’s or service manual for specific instructions on changing the oil and filter on your vehicle. Use extreme caution when lifting or jacking any vehicle.
How often should you check engine oil level?
Did you know that your oil is often a good indicator of your engine’s health? So, how often should you check the oil level in your vehicle? In the days before oil level sensors, many drivers checked their oil level, using the dipstick, at least once a week.
That may not be necessary these days. Having said that, it’s worth remembering that your motor oil is as important as any other engine component. You should check your oil level at least once every couple of weeks or before a long journey and in older cars, maybe even more.
Even if you’re driving a brand-new car or highly engineered European model, environmental factors such as fuel quality, extreme temperatures or stop-and-go driving can increase the amount of oil your engine uses.
It’s essential to change your engine oil at the intervals recommended by the manufacturer.
How to check Engine oil levels?
Firstly, make sure that your car is on level ground. It’s also best to check your vehicle’s oil levels when the car is cold.
In most cars, the dipstick handle is brightly colored, for example, yellow or green, however, if you’re unsure check your vehicle manufacturer’s manual. Now remove your vehicle’s oil dipstick fully using a clean cloth to wipe off the oil.
You’ll note there are maximum and minimum markers on the dipstick. If the oil is anywhere between these two markers it’s ok to drive the car, however, if below the minimum marker you shouldn’t drive the car until the oil has been topped back up.
Having wiped the dipstick clean of oil, next replace it in the tube pushing it all the way down. Then remove it again and inspect the oil level. If the oil is low then fill it up.
How Often Should You Change Engine Oil?
Your vehicle’s manufacturer likely lists a mileage-based (like every 5,000 miles) and a time-based (like every six months) oil change schedule in the user manual. It often recommends changing your oil at whichever interval comes first. Prior to COVID, most people arrived at the mileage-based interval long before the time-based one, so that’s the figure they relied on.
However, engine oil also degrades with time, so it’s just as important to change your oil when the time-based interval has been reached. The general recommendation is to change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or every three to six months, with twice a year being the minimum.
Newer vehicles don’t typically require oil changes as frequently as older vehicles, and vehicles that use synthetic oil can go longer without a replacement than those using conventional oil. In any case, you should check your oil at least once a month to ensure it isn’t low or noticeably dirty.