All you need to know about engine oil

Most motorists know the importance of checking their car’s oil level regularly, but making sure you’re using the right type of oil for your engine is just as crucial.
Oil is your engine’s best friend, preventing dirt from building up and reducing acids which could cause corrosion. It also ensures everything is kept well lubricated, so that all those metal surfaces don’t grind together and wear out, and it helps keep your engine water-tight too.

Blood simple

Think of it in the same way you do your own blood – if something’s wrong with it, or it’s not flowing properly, your body’s going to be in all sorts of trouble, as your car will be if you’re not using the right kind of oil. Don’t assume that all kinds of oil are the same. If you can get to grips with how the different kinds of oil work, and make sure you pick the right type to suit your engine’s needs, you could see a dramatic improvement in your car’s performance.

The thick of it

When choosing the best kind of oil for your car, there are several factors you need to consider. One of the most important of these is oil viscosity. This basically means how thick the oil you use is. So, for example, syrup is thick and flows slowly, and so is more viscous than milk, which is much thinner and pours quickly.

Go with the flow

You don’t want to choose oil which is too viscous, as it will struggle to move around your engine when it is cold, and means your engine has to work much harder to circulate it, reducing fuel economy. Similarly, if you pick oil which lacks viscosity, it won’t provide much protection for your engine parts, which means they are likely to suffer from wear and tear more quickly. Viscosity modifiers can help, as they help your oil to flow properly when cold, but also make sure your engine’s components are protected at high temperatures. If you’re not sure which the right oil viscosity is for your engine, check your handbook (it’s in the glove box, underneath the turkey sandwiches and the two ball peen hammers) or contact your manufacturer and ask, remembering to factor in your usual driving conditions.

Making the multigrade

Multigrade oils are multi-tasking, in so far as they can work in both high and low temperatures, ensuring your engine performs to the best of its ability at all times. When looking at multigrade packaging, look for the letter ‘W’ after the number. This stands for winter, and the number preceding it should give you an indication as to the oil’s viscosity in cold temperatures. The higher the number, the thicker it is at low temperatures, while the lower the number, the thinner it is in cold weather. There will be a second number on the packaging after the letter W, which shows the oil’s viscosity in high temperatures. Again, the higher the number, the thicker the oil will be in high temperatures, and the lower it is, the thinner it will be.

Mineral or synthetic?

Mineral oils come from crude oil, which has been processed to get rid of any impurities. [embed width="600" height="355"][/embed] Synthetic oil is specially created through a range of chemical processes, and is designed to provide enhanced engine performance. Some oils are a combination of both mineral oils and synthetic oils, and these are usually labelled as ‘semi-synthetic’ or ‘synthetic technology’ oils. Although you might think that normal mineral oils might be the best at maintaining engine performance because of their purity, synthetic oils actually do the job better as they adjust particularly well to low and high temperature properties. They are also more heat-resistant and don’t degrade as quickly as mineral oils because they contain antioxidant additives to prevent oxidisation, which degrades oil over time.

Additional benefits

There are several other performance additives which provide extra protection when added to your oil. For example, anti-wear additives work by forming a sort of chemical barrier between all moving parts in your engine and can be very useful if, say, you are a truck driver regularly transporting heavy goods. There are also anti-rust additives, which are self-explanatory, and dispersants, which help get rid of any dirt and sludge circulating round your engine. These grubby bits get held in the oil, and can be removed when you next change it.

Checks and changes

You should check your oil at least once a month. If you have an older car, then checks should be more frequent, ideally every time you fill up with fuel. Your owner’s manual should tell you how often you should replace your engine oil, but as a rule of thumb, most manufacturers advise changing it every 6,000 miles to make sure you have enough in the engine. Remember to check the filter carefully too and get rid of any particles that have built up. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone if you get a pro to do this work for you. Your car should have dashboard light to let you know when oil is running low. Always act quickly when you see this, as it could mean oil is leaking, and any resulting damage could be permanent and serious.

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