The engine oil plays a very important role in the overall operation of a car. It helps keep your car engine run properly and keep its internal parts lubricated and cool. It helps prevent damage and wear since it keeps the engine’s moving parts from grinding against each other. That is why if your engine oil turns black, it can be very alarming, especially if you are expecting it to still have its normal color. So you ask, if your engine oil turns black, should you be concerned? While new engine oil usually has a translucent amber color, depending on the type of oil you use, some of its additives can cause it to darken at a faster rate.
If your engine oil turns black or gets a darker hue because of this, it is not an indication that there is a problem. There are also times when the engine oil turns black when soot and other combustion products find their way into the cylinders. This soot is created over time since it is a byproduct of incomplete combustion and this can cause your regular engine oil to become dark. Soot particles are very small, with less than one micron in size so they don’t usually cause much engine wear. However if your engine oil turns black and it has been ten months since you last had your oil changed, then it probably means that your oil is dirty and is due for a change. If this is the case, then you should be concerned and have it changed immediately before engine problems start to occur.
If Your Engine Oil Turns Black: What Color Engine Oil is Bad?
While the engine oil color changes and can tell a lot about the overall condition of your engine, it should not be used as the only guide in determining the oil’s condition. If your engine oil turns black, should I be concerned? Not necessarily. As mentioned above, while engine oil usually has a translucent amber color, depending on the type of oil you use, some of the additives it has might cause it to darken at a faster rate. This means that engine oil with a darker hue might not indicate that there is a problem somewhere.
Although examining your engine oil’s color is usually a good habit since it can reveal several internal problems, as mentioned earlier, it should not be your only guide for assessing its health. Plus, in assessing the condition of your engine oil’s health, you should also use your common sense. If it has been a while since you last changed your oil, if your engine oil turns black, then it means that your oil is due for a change.
But many car owners are asking, what color engine is bad? Before we answer this question, we need to understand the basics first. The engine of a car is a very complex component. It consists of various parts that work and move about close to each other, capable of producing massive amounts of mechanical power. Now, the engine oil plays a very important role in this complex mechanism.
Engine oil is responsible for lubricating the engine’s moving parts and helping minimize friction. The oil helps each part give their optimum performance, allowing the engine to run smoothly. But as the engine is busy creating energy to move the car, it also creates and releases byproducts from the combustion process. Now, these byproducts along with long periods of heat cycles the oil needs to withstand can lead to its color to darken over time. This goes to show that it is natural for the engine oil to change color over time.
There is a myth, which many people still believe to be true, that if your engine oil turns black or has darkened, you should have it changed immediately. They think that black engine oil has worn out or has become too saturated with contaminants and that it can no longer protect your engine. This is not usually the case, discoloration can happen since it can be a natural byproduct of heat and soot particles that are considered to be too small to cause damage or wear to your engine.
Car manufacturers are still recommending that you follow the maintenance schedule or interval they have set based on distance and driving conditions. They also recommend that you use the right type of oil in light of weather conditions. So basically, the color of the engine does not necessarily mean that there is a problem. It can be very dark but still be very effective in doing its job.
So what color engine oil is bad? You will know if the engine oil is bad and indicates a problem when:
- Engine oil is milky, foamy, or is cream-colored.
When you notice that your engine oil seems milky, foamy, or has a cream color, it can be an indication that you have a head gasket leak. If this is the case, you may also notice that your car is losing coolant and excessive white smoke coming out of your exhaust.
- Engine oil is dark and thick.
When you check your engine oil and it has a dark color and it is thick, then it is an indication that your oil is dirty and contaminated. It might have been caused by extreme driving conditions. This means that you need to have your oil changed immediately.
- Engine oil with a frothy and creamy texture.
If you notice that your engine oil has a creamy or frothy texture, it is an indication of water contamination. You will know that it is water contamination if you don’t see white white smoke coming out of your exhaust or your coolant level hasn’t dropped.
- Engine oil has a gasoline smell.
If your oil has gasoline contamination, you won’t usually notice unusual discoloration. You will just know when it is contaminated with gasoline when it smells like one.
If Your Engine Oil Turns Black: Can I Drive My Car with Dark Oil?
Many car drivers still believe the myth that the engine oil’s color can indicate that your oil is due for a change. They tend to assume that there is a link between the oil’s color and the need for an oil change. As mentioned earlier, this is not necessarily the case. So if you ask, can I drive my car with dark oil? Yes, you can, especially if your engine oil turns black because of these reasons:
- Soot build up.
Soot can cause your engine oil to turn black. While many people believe that soot is only produced by diesel engines, gasoline engines can also produce it. Modern gasoline direct injection engines can produce soot over time which can cause your engine oil to become black. It is a byproduct of incomplete combustions and since it is less than one micron in size, it can’t cause wear on your engine.
However, this soot can become a problem when the soot particles start to gather up and become larger contaminants and this is what causes the engine oil to become black and thick. As mentioned above, if the engine oil turns black and thick, then you need to have your oil changed immediately.
- Heat cycles
Heat cycles can also cause your engine oil to turn black. Heat cycles mean the continual exposure of engine oil to periods of high heat. For example, you drive your car in the morning and your engine reaches its normal operating temperature which is usually around 195 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit and heats up your engine oil. Then when you park your car, the oil will also cool down.
Then after several hours, you start your car for a quick drive and your engine oil will be exposed to heat again. Then when you turn off your car, your oil will be cooled down again. This heat cycle or process repeats many times everyday, depending on how frequent you drive your car.
Heat cycles can cause your engine oil to go black since some additives in it are more prone to darkening when exposed to heat compared to the others. Plus, oil can also become darker due to normal oxidation. Oxidation can happen when the oxygen molecules react with oil molecules which result in chemical breakdown. This oxidation can happen at a faster rate when there is high heat.
If Your Engine Oil Turns Black: How Do You Know If Engine Oil is Bad?
Oil changes are usually done every 3,000 miles, but since most engines today have modern lubricants, it is recommended that the oil changes are done every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. But of course, the exact intervals can vary from vehicle to vehicle. To be sure, you need to check your owner’s manual to find out the exact interval set by your car manufacturer.
However, there are other factors that should be considered as to when the oil of your car should be changed such as the age of your car, your driving conditions, as well as the quality of the oil you used. That is why it is important to check your oil and its level regularly to determine if your car is due for an oil change.
If your engine oil turns black and you experience any of the following symptoms of a bad engine oil, then it is an indication that your car is due for an oil change.
- Illuminating oil change light or check engine light.
This is one of the early and obvious signs that your engine oil is due for a replacement. The oil change light will be set off by your car’s onboard computer when it has detected that there is insufficient amount of oil in the system. If it is turned on, check your oil and its level and investigate. The check engine light will also be set off in worse cases, to warn you that there is something wrong within the engine. It might be due to insufficient lubrication. This should be corrected immediately to prevent any further damage.
- Unusual engine noises.
If your engine oil turns black and you notice that your engine is making unusual noises like knocking or rumbling sounds, then it can be an indication that your oil is due for a replacement. This can happen when oil has lost its ability to provide a protective layer between engine parts, due to being old or contaminated, which can prevent metal to metal contact and keeps it quiet.
- Oil smell inside the car.
If you notice an oil smell inside your car, it can be an indication that you have an oil leak. You may be able to smell it when it is dripping onto the hot part of the engine or on the exhaust and is being burned. If you notice this problem, you don’t only need an oil change, but you should have your car checked immediately to determine what caused the problem and have it fixed.
- If you have traveled a lot of miles.
If you know you have traveled a lot of miles in the last month, you should have your oil changed sooner than your usual schedule. You can check your mileage or oil change sticker from your previous service.
It is important to check your engine oil’s condition and level regularly. If your engine oil turns black, investigate further. Although it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a problem if your engine oil turns black, you still have to determine if its consistency is thick or if you experience any symptoms of a bad oil. If it is dark and thick, or you experience some issues, then it has to be replaced immediately. But if you know that you have been having your oil change at the right intervals, if your engine oil turns black and you don’t experience any problems, then there is nothing to worry about. Just make sure that you are well aware of your next oil change schedule.