Learning to check your engine oil used to be a standard part of learning to drive. Just as you learned to turn on the engine or shoulder check, you’d also learn how to pop your engine hood, pull out the dipstick, clean it and then check the engine’s oil levels. It’s recommended that you check your oil at least every other time you fill up, or at the bare minimum, once a month. But most drivers these days ignore this advice or don’t even know how to do an oil check.

Checking your vehicle’s engine oil is a crucial maintenance task that helps you determine its health. Engine oil is vital for gasoline and diesel-powered cars to stay in good condition. It lubricates and cleans the engine so it performs more effectively. Without engine oil, your vehicle is at risk of damage.

Americans aren’t staying on top of engine oil maintenance
Unfortunately, many Americans neglect regular oil monitoring and changes despite how vital engine oil is for vehicles. Data from Carfax shows that 29% of Americans surveyed admitted they were behind on their scheduled oil changes. But why is this happening? We have a theory.

It used to be recommended that you get an oil change for your vehicle every 3,000 miles or every three months. Many older drivers grew up with this rule, so regularly servicing their cars became routine. It also helped that many older drivers were taught basic vehicle maintenance, like changing their own oil.

But now, oil change directives have changed. New engine technology has increased the intervals between oil changes, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Some manufacturers have recommended oil change intervals of 7,500 or even 10,000 miles, or about six or twelve months at a time. It depends on what your vehicle maintenance manual says. When this routine task gets spaced out this long, it’s a lot easier for drivers to forget, and it may be one of the reasons why many are ignoring their vehicle’s oil change needs.

Why do you have to change the engine oil?
Like many substances, engine oil breaks down over time. It can become contaminated by dirt or water or chemically altered by cold or heat. As your oil begins to break down, it becomes less effective. That’s why it’s crucial that when you check your engine oil levels, you pay attention to the condition of the oil itself. If the oil on your dipstick is brown or black, it’s still good. But if it begins to appear lighter or milky or looks like it has metallic flakes, it could mean the oil is starting to break down or there is internal engine damage. In that case, get your vehicle to a mechanic for an oil change and check before it becomes a significant issue.

However, potential engine damage isn’t the other reason maintaining your engine oil is essential. Poor engine oil has a lot of consequences for your vehicle, such as:

  • Lower fuel efficiency: Ineffective or degraded engine oil will cause deposits to form throughout your engine. These deposits turn into soot and carbon on vital engine parts like the pistons, valves, and injectors. As the deposits build up, they will decrease the efficiency of these parts as the engines run, reducing how effective your engine is at burning fuel. Over time, your fuel efficiency will drop, and you’ll burn more fuel than you need to.
  • Higher emissions: If you want to lower your greenhouse emissions while driving a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle, regular oil changes can help. Fresh oil keeps your engine running more efficiently, improves fuel efficiency, and reduces emissions.
  • Overheating: The engine oil in your vehicle is designed to stay at a specific viscosity level to coat the engine and keep it running smoothly and properly. However, dirt, contaminants, and water can thicken the oil over time, making it less effective. This effect can lead to increased metal-to-metal contact, which can cause overheating and, eventually, engine damage.
  • Engine Damage: Oil is the lubricant that keeps your vehicle running smoothly. It covers engine parts and reduces metal-to-metal contact, reducing friction that leads to engine wear and tear. As your engine oil breaks down over time, it can become more acidic, eroding these metallic surfaces, leading to more direct contact and, eventually, damage.
  • Sludge Build-Up: You should check your engine oil regularly to see if it appears sludgy. As engine oil becomes contaminated with dirt, water, or other materials, it thickens like a gel. Internally, as this engine oil sludge forms, it builds up within the engine, leading to clogs and preventing the oil from reaching all parts of the engine. If left unchecked, sludge build-up can lead to costly engine maintenance.

What type of oil do you need?
Now that you know how vital engine oil is to your vehicle, it’s time to choose what type of oil you need. Many owners get tripped up by this question, especially when asked to choose between regular and synthetic oil. It’s best always to check your vehicle maintenance manual or work with a trusted mechanic to find the right oil for your vehicle’s needs.

Regular or conventional engine oil is derived from mineral-based oils or hydrocarbons and refined into conventional mineral oil. Synthetic oil is also derived from mineral-based oils but undergoes an extra refining process called degradation. This process creates a more uniform molecular structure, making synthetic oil more stable and effective. To learn more about synthetic oil, read this previous blog on its benefits to decide if it’s right for your vehicle.

As a fuel and lubricant supplier, we know how vital engine oil is to vehicle maintenance. We work with many quick lube branding businesses, including our Chevron/Havoline and Valvoline partners, who offer fantastic oil-changing services. They are committed to providing fast and effective service to keep your vehicle in quick shape so it doesn’t have to be so hard to maintain. So, we hope this blog inspires you to be more diligent about checking your oil and changing it when it’s time. It really can make a world of difference to your vehicle’s performance!​​