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Why is Engine Oil Important?
Engine oil is vitally important for your vehicle. The oil is held in a sump (think of it as a tank). From there, it’s pumped around the engine. This only happens when the engine is turned on. The vital function of oil is primarily to do with lubrication, keeping as little friction between the metals inside the engine as possible. Oil also has a secondary function as a temperature regulator, helping to keep the engine at optimum temperature, although the coolant is responsible for the bulk of this job.
Synthetic Motor Oil or Conventional?
Almost all motor oil is now synthetic. Synthetic oil has huge benefits in comparison to conventional oil, and it is better for your car in almost every way. That is not to say that conventional oil is bad in any way – just that synthetic oil produces better results for most people. The disadvantage of synthetic oil is that it is considerably more costly.
Compared to conventional oil, synthetic oil is:
- Better for the environment
- Even less frictional (leading to a smoother and better-protected engine)
- Longer lasting
- Better for the car at start-up
- Good for leading to better fuel economy
- More consistent
- Useful for cleaning out the engine
- More expensive (perhaps the only downside)
How is Oil Rated?
Oil is rated using an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers, an organization based in America but whose standards are used across the world) rating.
Most oil ratings are for multi-grade oil.
This rating is made up of two numbers. These numbers represent the viscosity of the oil at different temperatures. The higher the viscosity, the thicker the oil. As temperatures increase, this causes oil to become less viscous (“thinner”), and so viscosity is always a concept relative to the temperature around it.
For example, you may see the side of an oil canister or your vehicle handbook say something like, “SAE 5W30”. The first number represents the viscosity in low air temperatures (“W” standing for “Winter”), while the second represents the viscosity in higher, more average air temperatures. 5W30 is one of the most commonly-used engine oils across the world, as it’s around about standard for most climates.
You must always make sure that you purchase the right grade of engine oil for your car. You will find this information in your vehicle handbook or by looking up your vehicle details online. Cars are specifically designed to use one type of multi-grade oil, and you must make sure to get the right type.
Before Changing Your Oil, Consider This:
There’s certainly nothing wrong with changing the oil in your car, but doing it wrong can lead to a very expensive engine repair or swap job that you will need carrying out. Also, changing the oil yourself will not count as an official service – if your vehicle warranty requires you to get it serviced at an approved dealer, there’s not much you can do about that. Nevertheless, new oil is always better than old oil, no matter the age.
Before changing the oil, you will need:
- A flat surface for your car to sit on – The car needs to be precisely level when you perform an oil change. Otherwise, the oil will all slosh to one side or the other in the sump, and when you drain it, it won’t all drop out. This will mean you have dirty, excess oil when you are driving.
- The engine must be warm (not hot) – Running the car lightly for five or ten minutes before you get started will do this nicely for you.
- You will also need to be able to get underneath your car. For low-riding models, this may be more tricky. You will need to put level axle stands under all four corners of the car, as a last resort. It would be safer to use an inspection pit or a ramp if you can get access to any of these.
- Your car’s oil grade specification, the quantity of oil required, and torque settings for its sump plug and oil filter – you must tighten these two things to the required torque levels. Over or under-doing it could lead to some serious problems. All of these figures will be found in your vehicle handbook.
- A replacement filter (always a good idea to do at the same time) – To change an oil filter, you need to drain the oil anyway. You should never put used oil back into an engine once you have drained it, in case it has become contaminated. Therefore, it usually makes sense to change your oil filter at the same time as performing an oil change.
- Filter removal tools (if you are doing the filter too)
- A ratchet (possibly plus an extension) and a socket to fit the sump plug or filter
- Brake cleaner (also known as cat cleaner or parts cleaner) – These products leave no residue behind but will effectively remove dirt, grime, and grease.
- Rags – Oil isn’t pleasant to get on your body, clothes, or any other part of the car. Use a clean rag along with some brake cleaner or cat cleaner to get rid of any droplets or spillages that might happen.
- An oil pan, or something to catch the waste oil – It can make quite a mess on your floor if you aren’t careful.
- A method of disposing of the oil in a legal and environmentally-friendly way – You can incur huge fines for pouring engine oil down a normal household drain, so whatever you do, don’t! You might be able to take your waste oil to a local garage or get it collected from home by a professional.
How to Perform an Automotive Oil Change
- Remove the oil cap in the engine bay. This allows air currents to help clear out the oil.
- With your car level, make sure the engine is warm (not hot!) and get underneath the car, using the correctly-sized socket to remove the sump plug. Use a search engine to find where your sump plug is if you aren’t sure. Ensure that it’s the oil sump plug you are removing, not the transmission one. Have an oil pan ready.
- Drop the oil into the pan.
- (Optional, but recommended) – When the oil is almost completely drained (the flow will slow down), remove the filter. Often you can do this with a ratchet, socket, and extension, but on occasion, you may need special tools, depending on the type of filter.
- (Optional, but recommended) – Install the new filter. Use a 3/8″ torque wrench to tighten it to the manufacturer’s recommended amount.
- Reattach the sump plug, tightening it to the specified torque.
- Pour in your new oil, making sure it’s the correct grade and that you put the correct amount in. Then put the cap back on the top.
- Start the engine. It will sound scary for a couple of seconds as the oil is being pumped around the engine. But that sound should settle down after a couple of seconds. You are now done.
- Make sure you have no leaks by leaving the car stationary for a few minutes, somewhere where there is no oil on the ground already.
And that’s it; you’re all done!
Changing the oil in a car’s engine is one of the simpler tasks, but you should still use caution.
Most especially, make sure the car is safe to work with and that you will not be injured. Never, never, start the engine without oil in the car. It could take only seconds for the metal to get too hot, seize or distort, and break the engine.
Thanks for reading this article, and we hope to see you again soon.