Oil plays a vital role in engine performance by helping to reduce wear and tear, preventing parts from overheating, and keeping the engine clean. Over time, though, oil can break down, causing it to become less effective. When this happens, your engine may run hot, emit black or bluish smoke, and issue a check engine light.
Operating a vehicle without the right amount of oil is incredibly dangerous and can cause permanent damage to the engine. If the engine begins to overheat or emits thick black smoke, pull over and call a hauling service to tow your vehicle to the nearest mechanic. However, you can avoid these issues by regularly checking your oil and changing it when needed.
As far as general car maintenance goes, checking and replacing your oil should be at the top of the list. In this guide, we’ll explain why oil is so important for your engine, how to tell if it needs changing, and what happens if you leave it unattended for too long. If you notice any of the issues discussed here, change your oil immediately.
Why is Oil So Important?
To better understand why your vehicle needs clean oil, it helps to know how an internal combustion engine works. In very basic terms, an engine burns fuel to create energy. That energy is used to turn the crankshaft, which, in turn, powers the wheels.
The pistons in an engine move up and down, and with each stroke, they create a tiny explosion. That explosion is what powers the engine. The connecting rods connect the pistons to the crankshaft, and as the pistons move up and down, they spin the crankshaft. All of this movement creates a lot of friction, and without oil, that friction would cause the engine to overheat and eventually break down.
Oil helps to lubricate the engine parts, reducing wear and tear, and keeping the engine running smoothly. Over time, though, oil breaks down and becomes less effective. It can become diluted with water or fuel, or it can become contaminated with dirt, dust, and other debris left behind from combustion. When this happens, it needs to be changed.
If you don’t change your oil, your engine will eventually overheat, and the parts will start to wear down. The engine will also run less efficiently and produce more emissions. In some cases, it can even cause engine failure.
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Signs of Dirty or Low Engine Oil
If you’ve neglected your vehicle’s engine oil, you may notice a few tell-tale symptoms. These indicate that your engine is either burning dirty oil or running without enough lubrication:
- Black or Bluish Smoke: If your vehicle starts emitting bluish or black smoke with an acrid smell, it indicates that your engine is burning hot, causing carbon deposits within the oil to burn during combustion. This is a sign that you need to change your oil immediately.
- Check Engine Lights: A check engine light can indicate a variety of issues, but one of the most common is dirty oil.
- Knocking Noises: If you hear a knocking noise coming from your engine, it could be a sign that the oil is no longer effectively lubricating the engine parts.
- Overheating: If your engine overheats, it’s a sign that the oil is no longer doing its job of dissipating heat. This is a serious issue that can cause permanent damage to your engine.
All of these symptoms can lead to widespread engine damage if left for too long. Change your oil as soon as possible or consult with a mechanic if you do not know how.
How to Change Your Own Oil
An oil change is one of the easiest car repairs you can make and if you haven’t learned to do it before, we highly recommend taking some time to master the skill. Not only will it save you money, but it will also give you a sense of accomplishment every time you complete the task. Here is a basic rundown of how to change your oil:
- Locate the oil drain plug and oil filter. These are typically located on the bottom of the engine.
- Place a drip pan underneath the drain plug and unscrew it until oil begins to drain from the engine.
- Allow the oil to drain out completely. This may take a few minutes.
- Replace the drain plug and tighten it.
- Remove the old oil filter and replace it with a new one.
- Open the hood of your car and locate the oil filler. Unscrew the cap and pour fresh oil directly into the engine using a funnel.
- Start the engine and let it run for at least 2 minutes. Check for any leaks.
- Properly dispose of the old oil by pouring it back into the container that held the new oil. You can take this to a service station and they’ll dispose of it for you.
If you don’t feel comfortable changing your own oil, any reputable mechanic can do it for you. It’s a relatively quick and inexpensive repair, and it’s well worth the money to keep your engine running smoothly.
Related: Why Your Car Is Blowing White Smoke After Oil Change
How Often Should You Change Your Oil?
The general rule of thumb is to change your oil every 5,000 miles. However, this varies depending on the make and model of your vehicle, as well as your driving habits. If you frequently drive in stop-and-go traffic or in extreme weather, you may need to change your oil more often. Similarly, if you use your car for towing or hauling, you may need to change it more frequently.
The best way to know for sure is to consult your owner’s manual. It will have specific recommendations for your car. You can also ask your mechanic for their opinion. When in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and change your oil more frequently rather than less.
Related: What Happens If You Put Too Much Oil In Your Car
Does it Matter Which Type of Oil You Use – Synthetic vs. Conventional?
The short answer is yes, it does matter. Synthetic oil is designed to last longer and withstand higher temperatures than conventional oil. It’s also more effective at reducing friction and protecting your engine. However, it’s also more expensive.
If you’re looking to save money, conventional oil is a perfectly acceptable option. Just be sure to change it more frequently than you would with synthetic oil. Ultimately, the best oil for your car is the one that’s recommended by the manufacturer.
How Much Does an Oil Change Cost?
The cost of an oil change varies depending on the type of oil you use and where you have it done. If you do it yourself, you’ll just need to buy the oil and an oil filter, which will cost around $30. If you take it to a mechanic, they’ll charge you for both the oil and their labor, which will typically cost between $40 and $75.
The Bottom Line
Clean oil is essential to the health and performance of your engine. If you notice that your vehicle emits black or bluish smoke, runs hot, or has started to make knocking noises, check your oil dipstick, and consider changing the oil immediately. It’s an easy DIY repair that shouldn’t take more than a half-hour to complete.