Over time, the quality, consistency, and color tend to change on your oil-based lubricants this is because of many factors that directly “age” your oil. As a rule of thumb, color does not dictate the efficiency of oil. The color will change for a variety of reasons from heat, additives, and contaminants to something as simple as water and coolant, so judging an oil’s efficiency on color alone is not possible.
With that said, let’s look into what we CAN learn from oil color.
What Color is Oil Supposed To Be?
First, oil color doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Oil can be very, very dark (black even) and still be effective. However, as a general rule:
- New, clean oil is amber in color
- As engine oil gets darker, it can indicate:
- High heat
- The presence of additives that cause the oil to darken during normal
Next, let’s talk about the engine oil colors that indicate problems.
What Color Is Synthetic Motor Oil?
Synthetic engine oils are the color of caramel. Their hue is similar to that of conventional oils, which have a light brown color from the container. Professional mechanics must constantly review the packaging of conventional and synthetic oils for maintenance. Identifying the variety of oil can be challenging by looking at color alone.
Most synthetic oils will change in color over time, just like conventional oils. Synthetic oils feature additives to help your vehicle perform so that the liquids can collect dirt and grime faster than conventional counterparts. As long as you inspect synthetic oil frequently and change it as directed by the vehicle’s manufacturer, you will set yourself up for success.
You will most likely notice the difference between synthetic oils versus conventional oils in the consistency. Synthetic oil is thinner than conventional varieties. If your synthetic engine oil color changes to a dark shade of black and appears thick and grimy, you are due for an oil change.
Why Is Motor Oil Black?
Thick, very dark, or black engine oil usually indicates that your oil has been exposed to dirt or dust contaminants that lead to a soot build-up. Direct injection gasoline engines produce soot over time that causes standard motor oil to turn black and thick. Soot is a byproduct of incomplete combustion and since soot particles are less than one micron in size, they typically do not cause much engine wear.
The problem with soot happens when the soot particles begin to agglomerate into larger wear-causing contaminants. This is where the dark engine oil and thick texture may come from.
Why is Motor Oil White?
Milky, foamy, or cream-colored oil can be an indicator of a head gasket leak if your exhaust is producing white smoke, or your vehicle is leaking coolant. Simply looking right under your equipment or vehicle’s oil cap should reveal if your equipment is suffering from milky or frothy oil. Typically, this happens if the oil is exposed to water after raining or the equipment is not used long enough for the water on the engine to evaporate and burn off.
Should You Change Your Oil Based on Its Color?
Let’s also crack the myth that the color of your oil indicates when it is time to change your oil. It is very common for people to assume that there is a correlation between the color of oil, and the need to change the oil. This is not necessarily the case. Many of the changes and elements your oil is exposed to will change the color, so there is no actual way to tell if your vehicle needs to be changed by just looking at it.
These are the big color indicators to look out for in your oils and lubes. As you have learned there is no sure-fire way to know what is wrong with your oil by just looking, however, these are some indicators that it may be time to replace or look into what is wrong with your storage.
What Happens if You Forget to Change Your Oil?
Oil, whether synthetic or conventional, is vital for lubricating the moving parts of an engine. Forgetting to change your oil can lead to the following:
- Premature engine failure: Motor oils absorb heat that builds up in the engine. Besides causing blown gaskets, excess heat may result in connections warping to the point where they are unusable. Driving your vehicle with old oil is a quick way to cause the engine to seize. Repairs often exceed the cost of vehicles.
- Decreased engine performance: Synthetic and conventional oils contain detergents to clean engine parts. These additives move contaminants to the fuel filter for removal. Forgetting to change your oil allows grime to clog engine components, decreasing available torque and fuel economy.
How to Check Your Motor Oil Color and Level
Checking the color and level of your motor oil is simple. Follow these steps regularly to learn more about your vehicle’s condition:
- Park your vehicle on a flat surface and turn it off.
- Allow the vehicle to sit for 15-20 minutes.
- Open the hood compartment.
- Move to the motor oil dipstick and put gloves on.
- Pull upward on the dipstick and wipe it clean with a paper towel or cloth.
- Insert the dipstick back into the compartment it came from.
- Remove the dipstick again and look at the color, thickness, and level reading.
- Place the dipstick back into the compartment and shut the hood.
It is dangerous to drive a vehicle far past the recommended oil change interval. Doing so may void warranties from an automaker, and your engine could stop working while you are in transit.
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