How Much Oil Does my Car Need?
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Even if you don’t deal with regular car maintenance, as a car owner, you would know that maintaining the oil level in a car is critical for it to run smoothly. Car oil lubricates the engine and its running parts and helps cool the engine. In addition, car oil removes deposits or contaminants from the parts of your engine.
If your oil is low or too high (more on that later), you risk damaging the engine because of all these crucial functions that motor oil provides.
So, you know you must keep the oil in your engine up to a certain level, whether you’re changing the oil and the filter or just topping up. The question for you is, exactly how much oil does my car need?
You can rely on a mechanic to take care of that for you. But if you’re a do-it-yourselfer in general or want a more affordable oil change, you’ll have to get that information yourself to keep your oil up to proper levels.
The answer to the critical question of how much oil your car needs depends on the size of your engine. A smaller engine requires less oil than a larger one does. Typically, a 4-cylinder engine takes about five quarts, a 6-cylinder engine takes about six quarts, and an 8-cylinder engine requires eight quarts.
There are exceptions to these rules, however. For example, some V8 engines have been manufactured with advanced technologies making the engine compact, so you might only need five quarts. Compact four-cylinder engines might only require four quarts.
That’s why it’s essential that you get specific information about your car from one of the following sources before you attempt an auto oil change.
Car oil change: Where to get the info
There are several ways to determine exactly how much oil you need for an auto oil change. The first is to look it up in your car’s owner’s manual. You’ll find this information under headings such as Vehicle Specifications or Lubrication System. You might also look in the index under Motor Oil or Engine Lubrication, or similar words, to help you find the information you’re seeking.
The owner’s manual will also tell you about the desired viscosity of the oil you should use for your car. Viscosity is indicated in numbers and letters such as 10W-40, where the first number tells you about viscosity at lower temperatures. The lower the number, the better the oil will move in colder weather.
The second number indicates how well the oil works in warmer weather. This is crucial because, at higher temperatures, oil becomes thinner and can’t lubricate the engine as well. Choosing the correct viscosity is critical when you’re about to do an auto oil change.
If you’ve lost the manual or bought a used car without one, you can try to buy a manual online. You can also go to your car manufacturer’s website to browse their collection of manuals.
Or you could turn to the pros by calling your local dealership’s parts or service department. They’ll ask for your vehicle’s make, model, trim, year, and engine size, or if you don’t have that information, for your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
The VIN appears on your registration and the car’s dash near the bottom of the windshield.
If you buy your oil at a car parts store, the people there can also help you find out how much oil you need. Finally, there are online tools that can help you find your car’s oil capacity. Google “car oil capacity” or visit the website of a car parts company to find these tools. You can also check the manufacturer’s website for this information.
Just be sure you’re consulting a legitimate source to get the correct information for your car.
Car oil change: Types of oil
When choosing oil for a car oil change, you’ll also need to take into consideration the type of oil that’s best for your car.
Here are the three types of oil:
Conventional: This type of oil is made from refined oil, and has a slower flow, so it’s perfect for cars running in cold weather or for older engines.
High mileage: Best suited for cars with over 75,000 miles on the engine, this oil helps break apart sludge, improves oil efficiency, and slows oil loss.
Once you’ve learned how much oil you need, what viscosity to choose, and which type of oil to use, you’re ready for a car oil change or to top up your oil levels.
Car oil change: How to tell if your car needs oil
There are a number of signs that your car needs an auto oil change or topping up:
Fourth, look for a drop in fuel economy. If the oil is dirty, it’s harder for the motor to perform efficiently, so there will be a difference in the gas mileage you’re getting. This is another sign that it’s time to check the oil.
Anytime you notice a change in your car’s performance, it indicates something could be wrong with your oil level. Pay attention to your car and heed the warnings.
Car oil change: Checking the oil
You should check your car oil level when you see any of these signs. Do this by using the oil dipstick that you’ll find under the car’s hood with a metal or plastic loop attached at the end.
Run the car for about 10 minutes to warm it up, then let it sit for about two minutes to allow the oil to settle. Then pull the dipstick out and wipe it with a clean cloth.
Next, put the dipstick back into its port, wait for one to two seconds and remove it again, looking to see where the oil has clung to the stick. There will be two lines on your dipstick, and you want the oil level to be between the two lines.
If the oil is at or below the bottom line closest to the end of the dipstick, it’s time to add oil. If it’s above the top line, you’ve got too much oil and will have to drain some.
You should also pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals at specific mileage markers. When it’s time for a car oil change, you’ll completely drain the existing oil, change the filter, and replace all the oil.
It’s essential to change the filter when you’re changing the oil because about 3/8 of a quart of old oil will remain in the filter. You risk contaminating the new oil with that old oil if you don’t change the filter.
When replacing the oil, you’ll add the amount you’ve determined by asking the question, how much oil does my car need? But if you’re still unsure about how much oil to add, start by pouring in three quarts, then recheck the oil level with the dipstick.
If your oil is below the bottom line on the dipstick, add about half a quart, wait two minutes, and check again. Add another half-quart if the oil still isn’t right. A quart of oil will generally take the oil level on the dipstick from the low line to the full line.
Always wait two minutes between dipstick checks when you’re adding oil. This is somewhat tedious, but it’s the best way to get an accurate oil level reading.
Once you’ve got the oil at a satisfactory level, you’re good to go. Remember to recycle the old oil once you’re done.
Car oil change: Too little oil
What happens if you put less oil than the manufacturer recommends into your car when you’ve performed a car oil change or topped up? This is bad for your car. Too little oil means less lubrication of engine parts and more friction, causing wear to the engine. It also means higher temperatures in the engine, which again can cause damage to engine parts.
Also, too little oil means oil won’t get to the upper-end parts of the engine immediately upon start-up. These parts include the camshaft and cam bearings, the valves, the timing chain, and the lifters. Without oil at start-up, you risk damage to these components.
It goes without saying that rebuilding a damaged engine costs far more than refilling or changing the oil in your car, so take care to use the right amount of oil.
Car oil change: Too much oil
There is such a thing as too much oil in your car’s engine. Too much oil leads to engine wear in the long run because the crankshaft, oil pump, and mechanical engine parts will aerate the oil and whip it into a froth. Air bubbles from that froth reduce the oil’s ability to lubricate and cool the engine, leading to the same damage that can result from too little oil.
Note that it’s OK if you added an extra half a quart of oil, as this won’t damage your engine. Anything beyond that, however, could be trouble. Here are some signs that you have too much oil in your car:
You see foam on the dipstick
A smell of burning engine oil
Signs of smoke from the engine
Signs of smoke from the exhaust
The engine is making too much noise
The engine oil pressure light on the dashboard is on
You’ll have to drain some oil if you see these signs.
Obviously, you want to pay attention to the amount of oil you’ve learned is the correct capacity, and to your car’s dipstick. Doing this should help you keep your car’s oil level at the correct amount.
In summary, your car will need this much oil to operate at maximum efficiency:
4-cylinder engine: about five quarts
6-cylinder engine: about six quarts
8-cylinder engine: about eight quarts
Knowing how much oil your car needs is crucial to keeping your engine running smoothly and preserving its life expectancy. It’s a critical question with a simple answer once you know where to look, as we’ve detailed above.
Asking, “How much oil does my car need?”
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