What does oil do in a car?

12 minute read Published on May 25, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Close-up of mechanic hands pouring motor oil at auto repair shop.

If you’re a driver, then you probably know that a key component of scheduled car maintenance is the oil change. But what does oil do and why is it so important? This is what we seek to answer today.

Why your car engine needs motor oil

First, let’s explain why the engine is so vital to the functioning of your car. In order to do so, it’s important to understand just how complex modern-day vehicles are. Today’s high-tech internal combustion engines are made up of hundreds of pieces that all operate simultaneously to power your vehicle. More than that, some pieces are required to move quickly, as much as thousands of times per minute. In order for all these different parts - from the pistons and rods to the bearings and valves - to do their jobs and move as efficiently as possible, they need constant lubrication. Otherwise, there would be too much friction, which not only results in wear and tear but generates heat, all of which would quickly lead to engine failure. That’s where oil comes in.

Oil is considered by most automotive experts to be the lifeblood of the car. Similar to blood in the human body, oil is necessary for the engine to function. When it comes to your car engine, oil serves as a lubricant. It keeps the metal parts of your car from grinding against one another and it also helps minimize heat. Although even a well-lubricated engine will still generate a lot of heat, oil helps to draw heat away from specific components so that they remain at optimal temperatures.

In other words, it is this thin layer of oil that keeps your engine working and your car moving, that is why knowing how often you should change your oil is so important. The general recommendation is every 3,000 and 5,000 miles, but you should always check your manufacturer's recommendations. Missing or skipping an appointment would be a big mistake especially since they’re one of the least expensive services you can have performed on your car. After all, if you wait until your car is low on oil or empty completely, it could lead to major problems, the most extreme of which is engine failure. Meanwhile, if you regularly change the oil in your car, you will ensure your vehicle runs as reliably as possible and performs as well as it can. So the next time you see that red oil light appear on your dashboard, call your mechanic right away.

Extra benefits of engine oil

Although the primary purpose of engine oil is to lubricate your car’s engine and keep it cool, most modern motor oils also offer additional benefits, many of which relate to engine performance.

For instance, nowadays, another important function of motor oil is that it helps keep your engine clean. It does this by processing dirt, grime, and other debris through an oil filter. Plus, both synthetic and regular oil now often contain additives that help boost oil performance. Examples of these additives include corrosion inhibitors which prevent rust formations, dispersants to remove sludge buildup, and viscosity index improvers to make the oil even more effective in extreme temperatures.

There might even be more benefits beyond those listed above depending on the type of oil used in your car. Note that although fully synthetic oil tends to be the priciest type of oil on the market, it is also the best-performing for cars.

At the end of the day, no matter what type of oil you choose to put in your car, it is a crucial component that needs to be taken care of. For this reason, oil changes are a routine part of preventative car maintenance. The good news, oil changes don’t take long, so not only are they inexpensive but they’re convenient.

What happens to a car when it runs out of synthetic or conventional oil?

When a car runs out of any type of oil, whether synthetic or conventional, it can result in serious damage to your car. More specifically, a complete lack of oil in your car could cause the various metal components of the engine to grind against and ultimately destroy one another. The engine may even seize, which means that the parts inside of it that usually move, stop moving and rotating. If this happens, your entire engine might need to be replaced, and at that point, you might even choose to buy a new car altogether.

Thankfully, it is rare for an engine to run out of oil completely. There would have to be very uncommon circumstances, like an extreme case of neglect or a mechanic accidentally forgetting to tighten the drain plug in the oil pan, for your engine to be completely emptied of oil. If you suspect that your car is leaking oil or is low on oil, take it into an auto body shop as soon as possible.

Where is the oil in a car located?

The oil in a car is typically located inside the engine. In the engine, you will find a large oil reservoir, also known as the crankcase. This reservoir contains several quarts of oil, which is drawn from the oil pan into the tube before making its way through the oil pump, which disperses it through the engine. As it gets dispersed throughout the engine, it lubricates the rapidly moving metal parts that, without it , would otherwise fail. The oil is then cleaned of any dirt and grime via the oil filter before it starts its circuit all over again.

As you can see, the motor oil in your car is one piece of a larger, more complex process, and every part of the engine depends on the oil for a number of reasons. Therefore, it is crucial that drivers maintain proper oil levels. Otherwise, if there isn’t enough oil for the tube also known as the oil pickup to draw from, it might resort to drawing in air, which adversely affects oil pressure and does not have the same lubrication and cooling properties.

Why is there engine oil leaking from my car?

Leaks are a common problem with cars. There are many different fluids that might be leaking from your car, and one of them is oil. Oil leaks are most common in older cars. This is because, as vehicles age, the engine’s seals, gaskets, and other connections can wear, cracking or loosening in places, which leads to leaks. Not only does an oil leak leave a mess beneath your car, but if your car is constantly leaking oil, then it will mean more frequent top ups, which can be a major inconvenience.

The most common causes of oil leaks in cars are a damaged oil pan, a loose drain plug, a worn seal, a bad gasket, and a leaking oil filter. Unless you are an auto expert, as soon as you notice any substance leaking from your car, it’s best to take it into the shop.

Oil changes are especially important for winter car maintenance since oil levels may drop more quickly in cold temperatures. Given that oil changes are essential to the functioning of your car, you should be sure to factor them into your overall car maintenance costs when purchasing a new vehicle.

Key considerations for the engine oil in your car

If you’re a driver, then it’s important to understand all the facets of your car, and that includes the motor oil. A few key factors to consider related to the oil in your car are as follows:

When to change your motor oil

First, you will need to think about when to change your motor oil. As you probably know, engine oil needs to be changed. It wears out, breaks down, and can become so old that it degrades from heat. Even if a car is parked for long periods of time, the oil can still wear out. Thankfully, you can easily find out how often to change your engine oil by referring to the owner’s manual in your car.

Although automotive experts have their own general recommendations, the best place to look is your car’s owner’s manual, as those recommendations will be specific to your make and model of vehicle. You should also pay attention to the oil light on your dashboard. This will appear when oil levels are low and should be replaced.

How often to check your car’s oil levels

How often you should check your car’s oil levels is another consideration when you have a car. Generally speaking, most mechanics recommend checking your oil levels at least once per month. The reality is that waiting until your next oil change isn’t the wisest choice, especially during the winter or if you have a road trip coming up you can find more car maintenance tips for your road trip here. Refer to your owner’s manual to determine how often your manufacturer recommends that you check your car’s oil levels. Your owner’s manual will also specify how you can monitor your car’s oil levels. For example, some newer cars have electronic oil monitors, whereas others have the traditional dipstick.

If your car has a dipstick and you’re checking the oil levels manually, make sure that your car is parked on a level surface. It is also recommended that you wait until your engine is cool, e.g. after your car has been parked for a little while. When your car is ready and only once the engine is turned off, pop the hood of your car and locate the dipstick. Pull the dipstick out of the engine oil reservoir and wipe off any oil from the end using a towel. From there, insert the dipstick back into its tube. Pull it out and examine the dipstick to see where the oil reaches.

Every dipstick has some way of indicating the appropriate oil level, though it can vary. For example, some dipsticks might use the letters L and H, meaning low and high, while others might say MIN and MAX to indicate the minimum and maximum amount of oil that should be in the car.

If the dipstick indicates that your car does not have enough oil, you will need to add oil as soon as possible. You should ideally use the type of oil recommended in your owner’s manual. In addition, it is not recommended that you add more than half a quart at a time.

Please note that if you notice the oil is regularly low even when you check every month, this could indicate a problem, such as a leak. At this point, you should take your car to be checked out by a mechanic.

How often to change your car’s motor oil

How often you should change the oil in your car depends on a number of factors, including the make and model of the car you drive. Although the old rule was to change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, for some cars, the interval is greater. For instance, some automakers have updated their recommendations to be every 7,500 or even 10,000 miles. This loosely translates to every six or twelve months. Since every car is different, your best bet is to consult the owner’s manual in your car. If you follow your manual’s recommendations and take your car to a mechanic if you notice signs of a problem, such as a leak, your car’s engine should remain in good shape.

What type of oil to put in your car

Choosing what type of oil to put in your car is another consideration. Again, we recommend consulting your owner’s manual, as if your car requires a specific type of oil, it will be stated here. That said, most cars do not require any special type of motor oil. Although synthetic oil might offer some additional benefits, it is rarely required for the proper functioning of a car.

Synthetic oil vs. conventional oil

There are two main types of oil in cars: synthetic oil and conventional oil. Conventional oil is what you probably think of when you think of oil. It is made of refined crude oil. Meanwhile, synthetic oil is an artificial lubricant made of chemical compounds. You will find both fully synthetic oils and synthetic blends on the market. Synthetic blends combine crude oil and synthetic base stocks. Full synthetic oil is the highest quality oil available and often features a wide range of additives that increase the lifespan and efficiency of the oil. A few other benefits of synthetic oil are as follows:

  • Synthetic motor oil offers better protection against engine wear and tear
  • Synthetic motor oil features fewer impurities and helps keep your engine clean
  • Synthetic motor oil remains at a thinner consistency and flows more efficiently, even in extreme temperatures
  • Synthetic motor oil is better at protecting your car at high temperatures which is ideal for turbocharged engines, which are becoming more common

Generally speaking, due to the cost of synthetic oil, a driver only really needs to add it to their cars if their automaker calls for it. That said, there are a few circumstances when using synthetic motor oil might be more beneficial. For example, if you take lots of short drivers, conventional oil may not heat up enough to burn off the impurities, which limits its ability to protect your engine. In addition, if you live somewhere with extreme temperatures, such as very hot summers and very cold winters, then synthetic oil may be the better choice.

This type of oil can withstand temperature changes better than conventional oil, which allows it to function for longer periods of time. Lastly, if your engine is prone to building up sludge and grime, as some are, then synthetic oil might be a viable solution. This is due to the fact that synthetic oil is typically better at breaking down dirt and grime and thus reducing sludge buildup, which in turn, can increase the lifespan of your engine.

Does car insurance cover oil changes?

No. Car insurance does not typically cover routine maintenance, such as oil changes. That said, if your engine suffers damage in an accident and starts leaking oil as a result, the cost of the repairs may be covered. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you might be able to file a collision insurance claim, direct compensation coverage claim, or uninsured motorist coverage claim to receive a payout that helps you cover the necessary repair.

Although car insurance does not typically cover oil changes, it can cover a lot of other expenses. For example, if you have comprehensive coverage and your car is stolen, it can pay to replace your vehicle. Alternatively, if you get into an accident and your car is damaged and you suffer an injury, it can pay for your vehicle repairs, as well as any medical expenses you incur. It can even cover lost income and funeral fees if someone passes away in an accident or if someone is unable to work temporarily due to their injury. To find out more about what car insurance does and doesn’t cover, reach out to BrokerLink today.

Get in touch with BrokerLink

If you want to learn more about the functionality of oil and why it’s so important that you change the oil in your car regularly, reach out to BrokerLink today. One of our licensed insurance advisors can explain how oil changes work, how often you should top up the oil in your car, how to check your oil levels, and whether car insurance covers oil changes.

Speaking of car insurance, as car insurance experts, we will do everything we can to ensure you have the best possible coverage for your needs. We will reach out to insurance companies across Canada to request quotes and find the most affordable rate. No matter what type of auto insurance you’re looking for, you can trust BrokerLink to find it for you. A few of the types of car insurance that we can help you add to your policy include:

Contact BrokerLink if you want to receive a free car insurance quote. It only takes a few minutes and there are no strings attached! Simply answer a few questions about yourself, the type of car you drive, and your insurance needs, and we’ll get back to you with an accurate quote in no time.

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