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Car Smart, The Mystery of Motor Oils and Filters

Car Smart
By: Michael Bardole ASE Master Technician

So now the summer months are slowly but surely turning into the colder months of fall. And as the hills in the temperate zones of the U.S. turn into the brilliant colors of fall, things change inside your cars power train as well. Things that can make your engine react differently to colder weather. These changes if not maintained can become problems later on as the dead of winter sets-in.

To start with, let’s take a look at the oil now in your crankcase or engine. If you are sporting older and dirty oil inside your engine, you may be causing less lubrication and more friction inside your engine. But that’s obvious and not the only reason to change your motor oil. One of the most important reasons at the change of each season is to up-grade to the correct viscosity to compensate for temperature changes. Why? If you are coming from say, California to Utah in December that is enough of a shift in climate temperature for some vehicles to adjust oil viscosity.

 What does that mean?  It means that all oils are rated in viscosity also known as viscosity index. An example of this would be a 10 W 30 weight of oil. What the numbers mean is that the viscosity will not thicken more than 30 which is a flow rating of oil at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This number 30 is a measure of how fast it pours out of a calibrated opening in Saybolt Universal Seconds or (SUS) at a corresponding temperature. Again in the case of the higher number which is 30 the corresponding temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. And the oil will not thicken more than a flow rate of 30 SUS seconds at 0 degrees.

On the other end of the spectrum it will not thin out more than 10 at 210 degrees. The W means that it has been tested at both zero and 210 degrees through the (SUS) calibrated opening or rating. So think of the W as a measure of both ends of the spectrum. Or simply put it is a winter grade of oil. Winter grade oils allow for extreme temperature swings during winter in the temperate zones of the USA.

· So what this all means is this: That the prime objective of all motor oils is lubricate all moving parts inside the engine. To make this process more efficient motor oils must keep its fluidity or thickness at a constant flow over a wider range of pressures and temperatures. So choosing the correct weight or viscosity of oil as the seasons change can be very important in many vehicles. And extremely important the more extreme the temperature ranges become. 

· So when you buy 10 W 30 weight oil what you’re getting is a winter grade of oil that will maintain a more constant flow of oil through your engine at all times. This becomes important when you first start it up your car in the morning to when you shut off your engine and go into the house at the end of the day. If all engine moving parts receive lubrication at a constant rate of speed and flow no matter how hard you drive your car or how cold it gets, then you can be more assured that enough oil is getting to where it needs to be. 

· So can we buy bad or ineffective oil? The answer because of organizations like the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Automotive Petroleum Institute or (API) is, no. Because of these organization and many others rate and certify oil. And all oil nearly world wide must pass stringent testing and meet all requirements of all automotive manufactures world wide. Yes it is true that there are higher rated oils than others. Many oils have been given service ratings like, SSJ, and, SL, and so on. The rating most sold in today’s cars is an, SL, or an, ILSAC also known as an energy conserving oil. That ILSAC rating is in your more expensive oils. Just a note, all of these oils we have been talking about are for gasoline engines. If you want good rated oil for diesel engines you may want to look at a CI-4 or higher. To keep up on the API rating standards you can go to their web site: www.api.org/eolcs.

Bottom line all oil must meet minimum requirement to even be sold in America. And that’s good for you! But if you just need a quick basic reference guide for what oils work best in what temperatures the very best place to start is your owner’s manual that usually comes with every car.

· So what about oil filters? Aren’t they all the same? Boy is that answer ever NO. Here is the deal with oil filters. They are designed to by pass or not filter oil in extremely cold weather. Remember oil is not perfect and when the weather is too cold say twenty five below zero and you have 15 W 40 oil that is good for only ten degrees above zero, you have a problem. This oil can get too thick and not pass through the small filter pleats. If this happens, the lubrication system can get plugged up. With no lubrication comes catastrophic failure inside your engine. That’s where the oil filters design comes in. In this event the oil filter must allow this filter pleat or element to move down into the outer can or oil filter body and allow the thick oil to by-pass and keep flowing. This prevents engine from seizing or burning up.

But here is the rub. If you are sold a cheap filter at the oil change place you go to, you may be buying trouble. The first thing you ask when going to a quick lube place is, do they advertize what quality oil filter they use? Bottom line here is, cheap is cheap especially when it comes to oil filters. And when no lubrication occurs inside your engine the following can happen:

  1. The cheap filters by-pass spring mechanism can be prone to fail. When this happens to your new oil filter your engine suffers. Why? Because your oil filter can go into permanent by-pass mode and you will never know that your oil is not being filtered.
  2. The cheap pleated filter element can tear especially if the oil filter is not primed first with clean and correct motor oil. Keep in mind that oil pressure between 20 and 80 PSI can hit a cheap dry filter element and tear its way through the filter media. Again producing an opening allowing large chunks of debris to pass through and into your engine.
  3. Speaking of priming your oil filter, did you know that this practice also allows you to reduce the dry running time your engine goes through as it fills an un-primed or dry oil filter? This is a no lubrication issue as well. Typically your engine should show oil pressure by shutting off the oil light or moving the oil pressure gauge within three seconds.
  4. How do you know if the oil filter you are getting at the oil change place has a good oil filter? Ask. Or if you are buying one at the auto part store check what you are paying for it. This market is so completive that any oil filter over five or six dollars is likely to be a good one. Remember if your cheap oil filter is plugged again you have a no lubrication issue.

So let’s wrap up all this oil/filter stuff into something we can remember. First, read your owners manual to get educated on what oil to use. Second, always buy a good oil filter. The more you pay for an oil filter the better quality it is. Third, always use or insist on the correct oil changing practices or procedures. What are they you might say? They should be in a ten step procedure and are as follows epically if you are doing it yourself:

  1. Use correct new oil and filter for your engine and time of year.
  2. Make sure your engine is warmed or at operating temperature so it will fully drain out. Also make sure it drains for at least one hour or even over night! The longer your engine drains the better.
  3. If you are changing your oil in your garage by yourself, always pull your oil filter first. Once you have it out on the bench you can do a side-by-side comparison. This is just incase you are sold the wrong oil filter at the parts store. Yea this happens all the time, trust me. If this happens and you only have the one vehicle, all you need to do is re-install the old oil filter and drive back and exchange it for the correct one. Cool idea huh?
  4. Assuming you do have the correct oil filter next you drain the oil into your clean oil pan. Remember when un-screwing the oil drain plug, rightey tightey and leftey loosey. Do not strip the oil drain plug by over-tightening it or using impact tools to loosen it. Air tools on this oil drain plug is a real bad idea.
  5. Again let it drain out fully and make sure you re-install the oil drain plug in clean condition.
  6. During this drain time start priming your new oil filter with clean oil and lubricate the rubber oil seal on the new oil filter.
  7. Here is the tricky part; after the oil filter has been fully primed make sure the old seal didn’t stick to the engine block by getting a good look at where the oil filter seat is located. You don’t want to stack two rubber oil filter seals on top of each other or you will have a leak at that point. Now install the new filter on until it makes contact with the engine block and go at least three quarters of a turn past that. I usually turn on the new filter by hand as tight as I can by hand just to make sure. Use both techniques to check your work.
  8. Always check your dipstick for a full reading before you start your engine. Remember to check your owner’s manual for the correct amount of oil to install in your engine. It may read a bit over full until the oil filter gets saturated fully. Just remember to re-check your oil after you start it up and then shut it off again.
  9. After you have verified you have oil in your crank case by checking the dip-stick reading now is a good time to start your engine.
  10. Start it up! And count one Mississippi two Mississippi three Mississippi and the oil light should be off by now. Just remember you should not be getting over six or seven seconds wile the oil pressure light is still on or the pressure gauge needle has not moved. If this happens, then shut off your engine and re-check your work. If it all checks out correct then give it another try only this time don’t go over three seconds. If you still have no oil pressure call a mechanic or if you have forever send me an e mail and I can walk you through the process.

You can contact me at: roaddata3@msn.com and if you are in the Summit/ Wasatch / and Utah county areas you can e mail me and I can send my mobile service over to check your problem.

It is highly un-likely this will ever happen but it is good to know just incase. Please remember don’t be afraid to change your oil yourself. Not all of the procedures listed above happen at an oil change facility and that is a very good reason to change it yourself if you are so inclined.

Until then, happy motoring and may the force be with you!

Written by Michael F. Bardole    
Copy Right 9-24-10     all rights reserved

This article is intended to serve as reference information only. This website and/or author of these and other articles assumes no responsibility or liabilities for any and all published/written or other material presented in this and other publications.


BY MICHAEL BARDOLE   09/25/2010



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