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What exactly does engine oil do?

A regular change of oil for your engine isn’t just a wise idea, it’s an absolute essential to keep it running efficiently.

The main purpose of oil in your engine is to always keep its internal parts cool and well lubricated. Without oil, these parts will move less smoothly and grind up against each other, causing unnecessary wear and even damage to an engine.

Frequent oil changes will ensure sludge, dirt and other debris don’t clog up your engine. Fresh oil will lubricate your engine far more effectively than oil that is older and dirty, making it much easier for parts to move. Left unchecked, an engine running on dirty oil will lead to severe damage and could result in a costly replacement.

On the bright side, changing engine oil is both relatively inexpensive and simple to perform, but there are some points to note. Read on as we explore the function of engine oil, the different types available and signs to watch out for that your oil might be running a little low.

What are the functions of engine oil?

Engine oil is the key ingredient in the effective operation of engines, but there are many roles it plays that benefit its users in efficiently running vehicles and other types of machinery.

Lubrication is the first job of engine oil. It efficiently reduces wear and friction on all moving parts of the engine. These parts, heated by friction and combustion, are cooled by the oil, which assists as a coolant while cleaning deposits from combustion, along with everyday dust and dirt lodged in the engine. Removing these unwanted deposits mitigates parts getting clogged that, unattended to, can result in a reduction in engine performance. Oil also acts as protective barrier for engine parts from corrosive acids created during combustion. This seal it forms over engine parts like cylinders and pistons ensure engine efficiency and performance remain at optimum.

These functions of engine oil add up to an array of benefits. To start with, the lubricant improves an engine and its individual parts’ lifespan. This removes threats of corrosion or other damage, which lowers maintenance costs considerably. Next, the correct oil for a specific engine will ensure it operates efficiently at the top of its capability. Parts that have the advantage of fresh oil simply run better.

Finally, a well-oiled engine will assist in reducing its fuel consumption, along with its CO2 emissions. The oil reduces the chance of friction between parts, improving its efficiency by requiring less fuel to run at the same performance.

What are the different kinds of engine oil?

When crude oil is refined, contaminants, natural matter and unwanted hydrocarbons are removed, creating mineral oil. As the first engine oils developed, mineral oils are designed for use on less advanced and older engines. Compared to more modern synthetic oils, mineral oils are lower performance, but they are among the least expensive lubricants available to buy. In some case, such as classic or vintage vehicle engines, mineral oils will be the recommended choice of auto-manufacturers.

Synthetic oils, on the other hand, are engineered from mineral oils that have been chemically modified or made entirely from a synthetic formula. Synthetic oils feature far fewer impurities than mineral oils and benefit from an abundance of additives designed to enhance lubricating power. More than this, synthetics feature better antioxidant, anti-corrosion, detergent, and anti-wear effects than more traditional mineral engine oil. For these properties, synthetic oils are typically chosen for more technologically advanced vehicles and machinery that demands high performance.

Between these two main kinds of engine oil sits semi-synthetic oil. While not as advanced as a purely synthetic oil, this middle option offers a greatly enhanced performance over mineral oils, making it a popular choice for many modern vehicles.

What are the negative effects of low engine oil?

When an engine is low on oil, it will show symptoms you should never ignore. Low oil levels are a risk not only for the engine, but can impact power, fuel economy and user safety. Oil levels might drop for several different reasons, one of which could even be a leak.

Warning lights flickering are not uncommon but an oil light that’s flickering is a sign that the oil in your engine is running low. Typically displayed by a symbol resembling an old-fashioned oil can, this sign should not be ignored on your dashboard.

Knocking sounds coming from your engine are a strong sign your oil levels need attending to. Metal grinding or knocking is the sound of the moving parts of an engine rubbing together. Engine oil prevents this occurring by protecting it from both heat and friction; without it, engine rods can break, causing the engine to either seize or completely break down.

What if I use the wrong type of oil?

While the brand selected for motor oil isn’t always important, ensuring you use the correct viscosity grade is essential. Whether for a vehicle or other piece of equipment, you should always consult the owner manual and use the engine oil specified by the manufacturer. Using the incorrect oil can cause a reduced level of lubrication, shortening the life of an engine. If the manual dictates synthetic engine oil must be used, don’t use mineral just because it’s a less expensive option.

Checking and changing your engine oil

To prevent any damage to your engine, it’s a smart move to regularly check your oil levels. A simple and straightforward process to complete, it can help you sidestep serious mechanical issues building up in the engine.

Always ensure an engine is cold before an oil check to avoid burning yourself. Use your owner manual if necessary, and locate the oil dipstick. Wipe away any dirt, debris and old oil that’s built up. You’ll note maximum and minimum oil levels marked on the dipstick. Insert it into your oil pipe and pull it out. If you’re below the minimum marker, it’s time to top up.

Checking and changing your oil regularly will make sure you always get the best performance out of your engine, allowing you to reap the benefits of smooth running and optimal fuel efficiency.

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