Engine oil is the very lifeblood of your vehicle. Without it, the engine has no lubricant, the moving parts all start to grind together and you end up with a friction-ridden overheating pile of scrap metal under the bonnet.
Equally, an engine that has used and expired oil is equally as ineffective. The question, however, is how do you know when your current engine oil is done and it’s time to replace it? This is the subject of today’s blog. Below you’ll find 8 critical signs that it’s time for an oil change.
1. Excessive Engine Noise
If you’ve noticed that your engine is getting louder, then the reason for that is likely to do with the engine losing lubrication. This loss of lubrication is a direct result of the oil losing consistency as it picks up a growing amount of grit, dirt and other debris and contaminants. It makes the oil thicker and less fluid, and therefore not mobile enough to get where it needs to be in the engine.
Besides idling and running in a louder state overall, you might also hear knocking sounds, ticking sounds and other strange noises. Such noises are not to be ignored, nor are they usually good news. Let a professional give the engine a look over.
2. Low or Falling Oil Levels
When you check the oil dipstick, where are the oil levels showing? The best policy is to always keep oil levels at whatever your manufacturer recommends. Those recommendations are not arbitrary.
An alternative scenario is that your oil levels are going down more quickly than usual. If you’ve topped up your engine oil not long ago, for instance, but then discover that levels have dropped over a few days, then you might have a more serious problem like oil leaks.
Oil leaks are serious and need to be addressed immediately. Look for signs of oil pooling under your car or in the engine bay. It should give you some indication as to where the leak is located. Have the car seen by a professional mechanic as soon as you can.
3. “Check Engine” Light Is On
Nobody likes to see the “Check Engine” light on their car. One of the many reasons it might come on is that you are in need of an oil change. It could be something else, however, including faulty sensors. In any event, the “Check Engine” light warrants attention from a mechanic.
If you get a check engine light that is flashing, then it’s not oil but rather your engine possibly misfiring, which is much more serious. It’s vital that drivers don’t ignore the check engine light.
4. The Car Shakes When You’re Idling
When you pull up to the traffic lights in your car, what happens? If your oil is losing its efficacy, one of the things that can happen is that it may start to shake or vibrate. These vibrations are caused by the increasing friction in your engine. If you notice it while idling once, do your best not to idle any more until you can get your car either home or to the garage for an inspection and possibly an oil change.
5. Gritty Oil Texture
Most of us learn how to check the state and level of our oil when we are learner drivers. Pop the bonnet open and locate the oil dipstick. Pull the dipstick out, wipe it clean with a rag, replace it and draw it one more time for a fresh reading. What do you see?
What you want to see is a light golden-brown kind of colour with a healthy gloss and shine to it. There should be no signs of grit, dirt or other grainy contaminants in the oil. If you see such contaminants, then it’s another important sign that the oil is ready for a change.
6. You’ve Done 3,000 Miles Or More
For conventional engine oil, the typical time between oil changes is about 3,000 miles. If you’re driving an older car (pre-2010) then there’s a good chance you’re still using conventional oil and so no oil change for a long time after 3,000 miles is pushing the boundaries.
If your car uses full synthetic oil, which many modern cars do, then that mileage gap is increased to 7,500 or even 10,000 or more, depending on the specific brand and oil type that you use. Whatever the recommended mileage interval recommended by your OEM, you should stick to that. When the odometer reaches each milestone, you should keep an extra-close eye on the oil dipstick.
7. Excess Exhaust
The days of vehicles spewing visible clouds of exhaust are behind us, for the most part. When your oil is functioning normally, you shouldn’t see any signs of exhaust coming from the tailpipe. Therefore, if you see exhaust fumes, it’s a sign that your oil is getting too old and needs changing.
It should be noted that visible exhaust fumes in excess can also indicate other problems such as a broken gasket. Before just changing the oil, you should let a mechanic take a look to make sure that it’s not being caused by something else.
8. You Hear a ‘Ticking’ When Starting the Engine
When you start up the engine, the mechanism works immediately to move oil in and around the system via the engine valves. Old engine oil that has lost its consistency can’t easily be moved by the engine and so it has to work harder when you’re starting up.
The result of this is typically a kind of ticking noise as the engine is trying to warm up. If you hear that ticking noise as your engine takes longer to start, then it might be time for an oil change.
Conclusion: Learn the Signs, Keep Your Oil Healthy
When you know the signs, the chances of you running into any serious difficulty because of your engine oil are significantly reduced. Pay attention to the various signals your car is giving you, and keep one eye on the dipstick.