Topping up oil before a trip – does it make sense?
Before the travel

Topping up oil before a trip – does it make sense?

It takes approx. 4 minutes to read this article

Before embarking on a long journey it is necessary to remember about the inspection of our car. Checking lights, first aid kit and oil level are the basic activities that a driver should remember about.

Why do we need oil?

Let’s start with a banal and simple question – why do we need oil in the engine? It is needed to lubricate moving parts of the engine, but its most important and basic function is to cool the engine. Another very important task is to keep the heart of our car clean. Oil prevents the build-up of combustion products inside the chambers that get into the oil when the engine is running. Cleaning additives are responsible for cleanliness. The more additives and the higher the quality, the longer the oil will be able to cope with contamination.

With use, the lubricating properties of oil deteriorate. The viscosity of the oil decreases, and that means the strength also decreases. This is another reason to remember to change it regularly. Oil also has the job of fighting moisture in the engine. Where does it come from? Quite simply, from the air. Then emulsifiers come into action, which bind water and deposit it on the oil filler cap. There are also demulsifiers. These fight against water removal and evaporation. However, in winter conditions, where we often use the car for short distances, both demulsifiers and emulsifiers are not able to cope with water, and this causes sludge and deposits, because the engine is not sufficiently heated.

Topping up and replacing

If you forget to change or refill your oil within the period recommended by your car’s manufacturer, you can cause your engine to seize up. Even the best engine oil cannot maintain its properties indefinitely. This is why it is important to check the oil level in our engine regularly. Driving for too long with insufficient fluid not only accelerates engine wear, but also causes the accumulation of dangerous combustion byproducts. The worst result of low oil level is engine seizure, which involves its replacement, and these costs are counted in thousands of zlotys.

When adding oil, remember that it should always be the same liquid that is already in our engine. In the case of older cars, its level should be checked on the dipstick. In newer cars, the oil level is already displayed by a special graphic sign next to the speedometer.

While on the road you should also remember not to add cold oil to a warmed up engine. You probably did it more than once and more than twice, but such practices sooner or later will have its consequences. Why? Because we are not able to see if any microcracks have appeared on the head or camshafts as a result of temperature differences. The most vulnerable are cars with long heads, such as Nissan or BMW, so it is better to wait a few minutes for the engine to “cool down”.

Does brand matter?

If you look into the user’s manual of your car, you will surely find a recommendation to use oil of a specific brand, which the engine was already filled with at the factory. Most often, this is the result of commercial agreements between oil and automotive companies. However, when we visit a local garage or gas station, it may turn out that only products of a different brand are available. Should you be afraid of this?

In most cases absolutely not. Practically all commercially available oils are subject to independent certification – in our region the responsible body is the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association ACEA. This ensures that the oil base – constituting 75-80% of the whole product – must meet certain specifications. Consequently, all oils can be mixed with each other. However, we should pay attention to choose oil with the same viscosity parameters each time – this is the most basic marking placed on each bottle.

Of course, the more loaded our engine is, the more important it is to choose the recommended brand, as units with a high compression ratio operate in a much narrower window of optimal parameters. This is when OEM specifications, i.e. specifications of individual manufacturers, come to our assistance. On the back of each oil you will find information about which of them a given product meets. However, we should always remember that even driving with oil that will not be 100% adjusted to our engine is better than operating the unit with insufficient lubrication.


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