What Does Oil Do for the Engine?

As you’re driving, your car’s oil change reminder pops up, signaling it’s time for a change. But what does this oil do for your engine?

What’s happening beneath the hood?

An oil change for your car is a relatively simple and quick process, but it’s crucial for maintaining a clean and efficient engine.

Through regular oil changes, harmful contaminants that accumulate over time are removed, helping to prolong your engine’s lifespan.

It’s a worthwhile investment that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Continue reading to explore everything about engine oil: its functions, the recommended frequency for changes, the various types available, and more.

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Photo Credit: AutoChimps

What does Oil Do for the Engine?

Understanding what engine oil does is easier when you have a basic idea of how your engine works. You don’t need to know all the technical details to grasp its purpose.

The key thing to know is that there are lots of moving parts inside your engine. These parts not only rub against each other but also create a lot of heat.

  • Lubrication

Engine oil basically acts as a lubricant.

It helps all these moving parts in your engine slide against each other smoothly without getting too hot or wearing out quickly.

If you were to drive your car without any oil, the heat and friction would quickly cause the engine to become useless.

It’s like the engine would stick together and stop working. When this happens, it’s called the engine seizing or “locking up,” and fixing it usually means replacing the whole engine.

  • Improved vehicle performance

Clean oil also stops the buildup of sludge that can block the narrow oil passages in your engine. When oil flow is restricted, your vehicle uses more fuel, and its performance suffers.

  • Maintaining cooler temperatures

Inside your engine, controlled explosions heat metal parts up to 315°C. Without enough oil, these parts quickly wear down because they aren’t cooled by radiator coolant.

  • Enhanced engine performance

A well-oiled engine operates more efficiently, which extends its lifespan. Insufficient clean oil leads to mechanical parts wearing out and corroding, costing you money and time.

Why does engine oil degrade?

  • Dust and grime

Particles of dust and dirt may find their way into your vehicle’s engine through the air intake system.

Even small amounts of water can form as the engine heats up and cools down.

When combined with other contaminants, this water can create acids that react with the oil.

  • Oxidation and thickening

The more you drive, the more contaminated the engine oil becomes.

Over time, it starts to oxidize and thicken, losing its ability to perform effectively.

Once this happens, the oil needs to be changed to prevent potential damage to the engine.

  • Degree of contamination

Determining the level of contamination in your motor oil can be tricky.

That’s why car manufacturers recommend specific oil change intervals based on factors like the car’s age, make, and model.

However, most agree that it’s a good idea to check the oil level weekly.

  • Oil level decrease

If you notice your vehicle’s oil level dropping from its highest to lowest mark in less than 1600km, it’s essential to have a mechanic inspect the engine as soon as possible.

The Significance of Oil Changes

Motor oil plays a crucial role in lubricating the numerous moving parts of an engine, thus preventing damage and ensuring smooth operation.

With each engine cycle, by-products of combustion accumulate in the oil. If these contaminants exceed the oil’s capacity, they form deposits, sludge, and contribute to engine wear.

Therefore, regular oil changes are essential to prevent these contaminants from negatively impacting your engine’s performance and efficiency.

It’s also important to adhere to routine vehicle maintenance and use high-quality motor oil.

How often should you change your oil?

Generally, it’s recommended every 3-5,000 miles or according to your manufacturer’s guidelines.

However, this can vary based on factors such as your vehicle’s age, driving conditions, and the type of oil used.

Several modern cars now have engine oil indicators that alert you when it’s time for a change.

Additionally, dealerships or service centers often provide stickers indicating the next oil change date.

When uncertain, seek advice from an automotive technician or refer to your vehicle’s manual for guidance.

It’s always better to err on the side of caution!

What Happens When Your Car Runs Out of Engine Oil?

When your car’s engine doesn’t have enough oil, its parts rub against each other without any lubrication. This eventually causes the engine to seize up and stop working.

This damage is really hard, if not impossible, to fix. That’s why it’s super important to check your oil level regularly and change it often!

Besides the check engine light on your dashboard, there are a few other signs to watch out for that tell you it’s time for an oil change. These are:

  • Strange engine sounds:

Normally, oil keeps your engine quiet by lubricating its parts.

Nonetheless, if your oil level is low or gone, you might hear knocking or rumbling noises. If you do, get your car to an oil change right away.

  • Oil smell inside the car:

If you smell engine oil inside your car, you might have a leak.

And if you ever catch a whiff of exhaust fumes or gas, your car could be overheating.

Either way, it’s best to get your car checked by a mechanic as soon as you can.

  • Exhaust smoke:

While it’s okay for your car’s tailpipe to let out a little vapor, if it starts blowing smoke, you might have a leak or some engine parts acting up.

  • Lots of miles covered:

Most cars need an oil change every 3-5,000 miles, or about every 3-6 months.

If you drive a lot in one month, it’s a good idea to get an oil change sooner to avoid any problems. This is especially important if your car is on the older side.

  • Dark oil:

Fresh oil is usually clear with a yellowish tint. However, as it gets older, it turns darker because it collects dirt and other stuff.

If you notice your oil getting dark, it’s a sign that you need an oil change.


To sum it up, oil is like the superhero of your engine, it keeps everything running smoothly and prevents damage.

Furthermore, it reduces friction between moving parts, thereby keeping the engine cool, and stops nasty stuff from building up.

By checking your oil regularly, changing it when needed, and using good-quality oil, you’re giving your engine the TLC it deserves.

So, remember to take care of your engine oil, and it’ll take care of your car for many miles to come!

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