The Motor Oil FAQs – Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

At some point while learning to drive, you certainly had the importance of your car’s motor oil drilled into your head.

These days, between digital monitoring systems, computer records at your mechanic and the extended life of advanced oils, it’s not something we think about regularly anymore. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good to be up to snuff on some good general knowledge.

Here is a list of FAQs about motor oil:

Q: How can I tell if my motor oil is still good?

Many modern vehicles have monitoring systems in place that tell you when the oil needs changing. However, it’s always good to know how to check these things yourself. Every vehicle will still have a dipstick that you can use to check the oil level and quality.

Pull the dipstick out and look for the fill line. The oil will leave residue to indicate whether it is full enough (or too full!). You can check the quality of the oil by looking at the color and feeling it. Healthy oil will be a clear reddish gold and feel smooth. Oil that needs changing will be darker brown to black and feel grainy to the touch.

Q: Should I be worried if my oil is black?

While it’s probably time for an oil change, this isn’t something to panic about. Black engine oil just means that it is doing what it is designed to do–keep your engine components lubed and clean.

However, just as you wouldn’t want to wash dishes with dirty water, dirty oil won’t do as good of a job as clean oil.

Q: How often should I change my oil?

The answer used to be pretty standard–every 3,000 miles. Over the last few decades, though, advances in engine and oil technology has changed that.

Depending on your car and the type of oil you are buying, you can now go 5,000 to even 15,000 miles without an oil change. The packaging on the oil you buy and your owner’s manual should provide all the answers you need about suggested timing.

There is no replacement for regular observation and maintenance, however. Changes in seasons or road conditions may significantly shorten the lifespan of certain motor oils. Be sure to check your own oil regularly.

Q: Can I change my own oil at home?

Yes! A thousand times yes! It wasn’t that long ago that it was common for people to change their own oil. It is some of the most basic, regular maintenance you can do and it will bring you closer to your vehicle.

If you are generally handy and have a few tools, the job shouldn’t take you more than an hour. Just be careful to make sure you are using the correct oil for your car (consult your owner’s manual), you’re not cross-threading any parts when replacing them, and that you follow all state and local laws regarding disposal of the old oil.

All that said, it is also relatively inexpensive to get an oil change these days. There is never a bad time to check in with your mechanic and ask him to look over your car. An oil change is a great opportunity to ask while they’ve already got the hood open.


Q: Does motor oil in the bottle go bad?

The short answer is “yes, but it probably hasn’t.”

Engine oil typically has a shelf life of up to five years. In all honesty, it can probably go much longer than that. If the bottle is stored in extreme temperatures or extreme humidity, it may experience a noticeable drop in quality.

A good rule of thumb is that if you remember buying the oil, it’s probably still fine. Most bottles have a “best if used by” date stamp on them, too.

Q: Where should I get my oil changed?

If you’ve decided to get your oil changed by a professional, you can choose pretty much anywhere that does any kind of car service. There are several chains that offer quick walk-in oil change services. These are mostly very professional and inexpensive.

You may want to consider going to a local mechanic or your dealer’s service shop. The oil change is a great opportunity to look over the car since you’ve already got the car in the repair bay. The better your mechanic knows you and your vehicle, the better they can serve you and help save you money in the long run.

For more car care tips and knowledge, visit the Strutmasters blog.