How Engine Oil Can Help You Diagnose Car Problems

6 November 2015
 Categories: , Blog


Did you know you can learn many things about your car by examining its fluids? One of these fluids is the engine oil, whose status can help you diagnose engine problems. For example, these four oil conditions mean something is wrong with the engine:

There Are Globs on the Dipstick

If your dipstick comes out of the oil with globs, then there is a high chance that the engine is developing sludge. Sludge forms when the oil deteriorates, breaks down, and combines with contaminants to form thick deposits. Sludge is bad because it can block lubrication channels, and an engine that isn't properly lubricated can overheat and wear out fast. Other signs of engine oil sludge include:

  • Spark plug misfiring
  • Difficulty starting the car
  • Low oil pressure warning light

There Are Metal Flakes on the Oil

One of the functions of engine oil is to reduce friction between moving parts of the engine. The key word is "reduce"; the oil doesn't eliminate friction, so you still expect some metal to rub off the engine parts. However, these "normal" particles should be minimal and almost unnoticeable.

Therefore, if you can notice metal flakes in the oil, for example, when rubbing the oil between your fingers (make sure you are wearing gloves while doing this), then something is wrong with your engine. In most cases, it means that the engine is experiencing unwanted metal-on-metal contact, such as rubbing cylinders.

There Is Carbon in the Oil

Grit-like particles in the oil are probably carbon particles. Ordinarily, the oil filter removes all contaminants, including carbon particles, from the oil to keep the engine clean. If the filter's efficiency drops, for example if it is blocked, then the particles remain in the oil and increase the rate of wear of engine parts.

The Oil Has a Milky Appearance

Fresh engine oil is translucent; it turns brown or black after spending some time in the engine, and this is still normal. However, it isn't normal if the oil's appearance turns milky; in most cases, it means coolant or water is mixing with the oil. This can happen if there is a crack in the engine or a seal is defective and is letting water or coolant through. The risk of contamination increases if the oil level is too high. Contaminated oil won't lubricate or cool the engine well, so an increased rate of wear and overheating may follow.

As you can see, there is a lot you can learn about your car just by examining the engine oil; you just need to know what is normal and what is abnormal. Even if you can't perform a proper diagnosis, this knowledge can still help you. For example, you will know when something is wrong with your car and when to consult a mechanic.

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