What’s it oil about? Getting to know the basics of the most important fluid in your car’s engine

Motor oil is essential to the performance and operation of any vehicle and knowing how to choose the correct oil, can become a bit of a headache if you’re not clued up.

First things first – when choosing oil, one needs to consider the thickness and grade that is recommended for your engine. There are various brands on the market, each with its own level of viscosity. Viscosity refers to the change in an oil’s thickness and ‘flow’ through various temperature bands. Simply put, oil needs to be able to flow well at lower temperatures, while still be thick enough to coat and protect the various engine components when there is an increase in temperature.

It might just be a fluid but oil also needs to be replaced at certain kilometre intervals to ensure smooth operation and longevity. Oil naturally breaks down and becomes contaminated through normal use and regular checks also reduces the risk of sludge build-up, which is the enemy of any combustion engine.

Similarly, the oil filter also has to be checked and replaced because there is no sense in topping up with fresh oil and an old filter is still in use. Like any generic filter, its job is to stop debris and particles from entering the engine.

Deciphering codes

When buying a bottle of oil, the front of the container will almost always be marked with something that looks like an unsolved physics equation – 10W40, for instance.

Oils are graded according to a number coding system ranging from 0 to 60, with the oil getting thicker as the number increases. For example, the 10 and W in that equation means that the oil has a viscosity (thickness) of 10 and has been tested in colder conditions. The 30 is its level in higher temperatures.

By knowing what type of oil your engine uses not only enhances its performance, but also helps ensure its overall longevity. If you’re not too sure about which oil works best for your engine or how much to use, it is best to seek the advice of a local mechanic or refer to the vehicle manual.

Stick to basics

A simple check of the dipstick is the best (and only) way to check oil levels. The levels should be somewhere between the minimum and maximum indicators and the colour should be a mix of brown and black.

Too much oil in the sump will increase the pressure in the engine and that can damage gaskets and seals. Too little oil will cause premature wear and result in what people to refer to as a ‘bearing knock’.

When starting up in the morning, it is best to let the engine run for around 15 seconds in order for the oil circulate. Choosing the correct oil for your engine is vital.

Now that you’ve got the knowledge, it’s time to shop! Head to gumtree.co.za or your Gumtree app (click for Apple & Android) and don’t forget to use your location settings to find local home and garden information close to home.

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