Your car is a complex machine, a mass of intricately engineered metal parts all moving as one to get you where you need to be. All those metal parts grinding against each other can create a lot of wear which is why lubricants like motor oil are required to keep everything moving smoothly. You know it needs motor oil, but how much oil does a car need?
The short answer is “it depends on your car,” but that doesn’t necessarily clarify things. Let’s learn a little more about motor oil, what it does and how you can check your levels.
Why is oil important for a car?
Oil serves two primary functions in your car: It provides lubrication to reduce friction between moving parts and it also helps absorb heat, keeping the engine from overheating. Both functions are crucial to the sustained health of your car. That’s why ensuring you have the right level of oil should be part of any good car maintenance checklist.
What if the oil level is too low?
Engine parts like valves and cams need to be fully lubricated within a very short window of ignition. If the volume of oil is too low, it could take too long to reach those crucial parts. This can increase wear.
What if the oil level is too high?
If the oil level is too high, there’s a possibility that it becomes aerated as it gets pumped through the engine parts, and the back-and-forth movement of all the parts just whips the oil into a froth. This may reduce its efficiency as a lubricant, potentially causing wear on your engine.
Finding how much oil your car needs
As you can see, having too much or too little oil has the potential to cause serious issues for your car. However, the exact volume of oil that’s “just right” for a car tends to vary based on the car. Different engines require different levels of oil, although a general rule of thumb is that bigger engines with more cylinders take more oil.
Consulting your owner’s manual is generally the fastest way to get information that’s accurate for your car. If that’s not available, you may be able to look up the information on one of several online databases. While you may be able to get this information simply by putting in basic information about your car’s make and model, using your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) will probably get you more accurate results.
Your car may come equipped with an oil dipstick to help you estimate how much oil is in there. This dipstick typically has two lines, one indicating the minimum amount of oil and the other indicating the maximum amount your car needs to stay operating safely.
How often should you change your oil?
Adding oil to your car isn’t a one-and-done deal. Motor oil breaks down over time, changing in viscosity and becoming less efficient at lubricating and cooling down the engine. This is why changing your oil at regular intervals can be important. The exact length of these intervals, however, varies based on a few different things.
Conventional wisdom held that oil should be changed about every 3,000 miles, but that was based on older oils that didn’t last as long. Modern oils, particularly synthetic oils, tend to last significantly longer than that. Your owner’s manual may be your best source of information to determine how regularly you need an oil change. It may even list out different scenarios that may require an adjustment to your car maintenance schedule, such as frequent stop-and-go driving or driving in extremely hot and dusty climates.
So, how much oil does a car need? As you now see, the answer really is dependent on the car itself. Perhaps the best answer is “the amount recommended by the manufacturer.” Going too far below or above this recommended amount may result in some unpleasant consequences for your engine. Adhering to the manufacturer’s recommendation may help keep your engine running in tip-top shape.