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How Does Oil Lubricate an Engine?

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You're on your way to work and the the Check Oil Light comes on. You may not know how the oil lubricates and protects the engine, but you know it's an important part of keeping your car running. You take the time to make an appointment with YourMechanic to ensure the oil is doing its job and there are no leaks. It's a good idea to understand what the oil does and where it goes under your hood, so you can understand why it's important not to ignore a low oil or check oil light. Here’s a bit about how oil works to lubricate the engine.

Starting the journey

When your car is turned off, oil collects in the oil pan, usually situated at the bottom of the engine. The oil pan, also known as the sump, holds between 4 and 8 quarts of oil depending on the size of the engine. As soon as the engine roars to life, the oil pump begins to work, moving the oil through the oil filter, which strains the oil to remove contaminants and particles which can damage engine components.

Moving on down

The oil continues its journey into the tight spaces and channels between engine components. It goes in between the bearings and through the crankshaft. The rod bearings and main bearings have small spaces between them and the other components, which must be lubricated to reduce heat and wear generated by friction.

The majority of the oil stays in the crankshaft area, but some goes to the camshaft or the valve lifters, and the rocker arms. Gravity and the continuous flow generated by the oil pump moves the oil down through the head and the engine block. It ends up back in the oil pan where it starts a new round.

Most cars use a wet sump, but a few have a dry sump. A wet sump is where the oil pan lies at the bottom of the engine, and a single oil pump works to move oil through the engine. A dry sump has an oil reservoir located elsewhere, specifically not on the bottom of the engine, and has at least two oil pumps to scavenge and move oil through the engine. There’s more flexibility to the design of the pan when it is located elsewhere, however this system is more complex and expensive to design and build. Dry sump systems are often found in performance-oriented cars, as they offer certain benefits for engines that regularly run near the redline or under high cornering loads.

If the oil runs low, it won't be able to move through the components and provide lubrication to all of the moving parts. These parts can become worn and damaged as they hit against each other. Make it a priority to check your oil level and have a mechanic look at your car if you think it's leaking oil.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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