Engine Oil Essentials - Compare The Market

Engine Oil Essentials

 
 
 
 
 

Ever stood in an auto shop for what seems to be an eternity, trying to decipher those numbers on the engine oil? Do you stand there pondering questions such as ‘Which one is right for my car?’ or ‘How often do I need to top-up the oil?’? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Most people typically do not pay attention to engine oil until it’s too late, when the oil light suddenly starts to flicker on and off. Oil is the lifeblood of your car, and it pays to know a little bit about the fluid that keeps your engine running. We explain the essentials of DIY oil checking and replacing.

What does oil actually do?

Engine oil lubricates your engine’s components. It prevents the metal surfaces from grinding together and wearing out from friction, and helps regulate engine temperature by transferring heat away from the moving parts. In short, a well-oiled car can increase your vehicle’s efficiency and longevity by minimising wear and tear on the engine, and can prevent your car from overheating.

Regularly checking and topping up your engine oil can also help save on fuel costs, as a car with low oil needs to work harder to cool the engine and to keep the components turning, which requires more petrol.

Oil numbers explained

The majority of engine oils recommended for cars sold in Australia are covered by an oil classification system developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). There are also other systems in use as well, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Association des Constructeurs Europeens dAutomobiles (ACEA).

It is important to check your owner’s manual to see which ratings and system the manufacturer has specified before you make your oil purchase. Car manufacturers spend a great deal of time testing and developing components to work to various tolerances with a certain amount of lubrication. Your vehicle may not use SAE ratings, so it is important to first note which system your manufacturer has specified.

SAE ratings designate the oil’s viscosity. Viscosity determines how thick (or thin) the oil is at a set temperature. For example, an SAE rating of 30 means the oil is thinner than a rating of 40 at the same temperature.

Most cars use multi grade oil ratings, as engine oil thickens or thins depending on the external temperature. The majority of single grade oils get too thin on a hot day, so multi grade ratings prevent thinning when the engine warms up. Take for example the multi grade rating of 5W40 – the number before the ‘W’ is the cold viscosity rating, and the number after the ‘W’ is the hot viscosity rating. In this example, the oil acts like a 5-rate single grade oil when cold and acts like a 40-rated single grade oil when hot.

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ engine oil numbers, as it depends on the type of car you drive, however, it is of utmost importance that you stick with the oil system and rating that the manufacturer has specified for your car.

How do I check the oil?

With the majority of cars, the engine needs to be cold. This is so you can have all the oil in the oil pan in order to get an accurate measurement. Some manufacturers recommend that the engine be warmed up before checking the oil; check your owner’s manual to see if this applies to you.

With the engine turned off, pull the dipstick out for the engine. Using a spare cloth or rag, wipe any oil off from its end and place the dipstick all the way back in. Pulling it straight back out, check both sides of the dipstick to see where the oil is on the end. Every dipstick should have markings to indicate the minimum and maximum oil level – usually these are the words MIN and MAX or the letters L and H (low and high). Your owner’s manual should tell you what markings they have used, and what they stand for.

If there is an oil ‘streak’ between two marks, the level should be fine. However, if the oil is below the minimum indicator, this means you need to add oil.

It’s also a good idea to examine the colour of your oil at the same time, to check if there are any abnormalities. Brown or black oil is fine, but if it has a light, milky appearance, there might be coolant leaking into the engine. Check to see if there are any metal particles as well – this may mean there is engine damage. If you see any of these, it is important to go to a mechanic as soon as possible for further investigation.

If the level is fine and you haven’t noticed anything strange, simply insert the dipstick back into its tube, put the cap back on and close your bonnet.

What does oil actually do?

Engine oil lubricates your engine’s components. It prevents the metal surfaces from grinding together and wearing out from friction, and helps regulate engine temperature by transferring heat away from the moving parts. In short, a well-oiled car can increase your vehicle’s efficiency and longevity by minimising wear and tear on the engine, and can prevent your car from overheating.

Regularly checking and topping up your engine oil can also help save on fuel costs, as a car with low oil needs to work harder to cool the engine and to keep the components turning, which requires more petrol.

How much oil do I need?

Overfilling your engine with oil is bad for the car, so only add a little oil at a time and check the level as you go. You can use a funnel to make the process easier and to avoid any spills. If your dipstick has indicated your oil is below or near the minimum mark, start with about half a litre and then check the dipstick again to check if adequate. If your dipstick is indicating you need more, slowly add the second half litre. Keep checking the dipstick as you go. Once you approach the maximum line, it’s fine to stop.

How often do I need to check the oil?

Your oil usage depends on what type of car you drive. Most new cars rarely need a top up of oil between services. If you’re driving a car that’s more than 10 years old or has done a lot of kilometres, the oil needs checking regularly. Whether your vehicle is old or new, it’s always important to check the oil (and other fluids) whenever you’re setting off on a long drive or have not driven in a while, to avoid any emergencies on the road.

The Final Word

In addition to checking your oil, it is recommended to book your car in for regular services. DIY maintenance and expert repairs can go a long way to ensure the longevity of your vehicle.

While maintenance can help you keep your car in good condition, comprehensive car insurance can protect it in any unforeseen circumstances. Compare providers today for peace of mind on the road.

Choosing the right oil type for your car is as important as choosing the right insurance.
Compare policies now to make sure you are getting a great deal.

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Author comparethemarket.com.au

Launched in September of 2012, Comparethemarket.com.au – operated by Compare the Market Pty Ltd (CTM) – has teamed up with a range of Australia’s insurance providers so you can compare some of the latest deals, in one place, side-by-side. The team behind comparethemarket.com.au have experience in insurance, comparison, customer service and digital. If this was a stuffy corporate monologue, we’d tell you that we’re a bunch of subject matter experts specialising in User Experience, Customer Insights & Online Strategies. But to be honest, it’s just as accurate (and a whole lot easier) to say that we’re a bunch of people who want to make your experience with online comparison better. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re forward-thinking, that we share an entrepreneurial spirit, and the fact that we like to have a bit of a laugh too. We’re all a bit too addicted to chocolate, but no one’s perfect, really.

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