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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

The journey begins in the oil pan which is like a train station where the train stops off when the car isn’t running. The oil pan is also known as the sump and holds between 4 and 6 quarts of oil, depending on the size of the pan. As soon as the engine roars to life, oil leaves the oil pan through the oil pump where it’s strained to remove any contaminants. It next travels through the filter to get the smaller particles. This helps ensure these particles don’t get transferred to the engine where they can cause problems.

Moving on down

The oil continues its journey into the spaces and channels of the engine. 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 prevent contact.

The majority of the oil stays in the crankshaft area, but a small amount goes to the camshaft or the valve lifters, and the rocker arms. Gravity pulls the oil down to the head and the motor block. It ends up back in the oil pan where it starts a new round.

This process is the same on all vehicles, except for one big difference. 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, while the dry pump is elsewhere. In fact, it can be placed in many places around the engine, but isn’t on the bottom. There’s more flexibility to the design of the pan when it can be located elsewhere. It also doesn’t overdose the crankshaft on oil, which improves horsepower.

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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