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Having your oil changed at the recommended intervals laid out in your owner’s manual is vital to keeping the different parts of your engine lubricated and in good condition. In between oil changes, it is a good idea to occasionally check the oil levels, making sure you don’t have a leak. When you do, take notice of the color and texture of the oil. You’d be surprised what it can tell you about the health of your vehicle.

What the color of your engine oil means

Thin Amber-Colored Oil

Conventional engine oil, right out of the bottle is usually a red-brown/amber type color. Fresh oil is thin, and if it has detergents added to it to help keep the engine clean it will thicken and darken over time. So, if your oil is a clean, thin amber color it is likely fresh, and your engine is in good condition.

Thick and Dark Oil

If the oil is dark (but still translucent), thin and a little runny, you are likely using a synthetic oil blend. The additives in synthetic oils collect even more muck from the engine than conventional oils. These additives make the oil appear darker fresh out of the bottle. If the oil is not thick, it is likely healthy. Remember, as the engine heats up, oil darkens. So, if you check your oil after a long drive, it is going to appear darker than it would if the engine were cool.

If your oil is dark and thick and you do not use synthetic oil, it is past time for an oil change. The oil is filled with grime from the engine. You should have an oil change as soon as possible.

Milky or Frothy Oil

When the oil appears to be milky, it usually means that there is a problem with the head gasket, intake manifold or the water pump gasket. Radiator fluid may have blended with the oil giving it the milky appearance and froth like texture. If your oil appears milky, you should check to see if your coolant levels are low. Remember, only check radiator fluid levels when the car is cool. If levels are low, you likely have a leak. If your exhaust is white or smells like coolant it is another good indication that coolant is mixing with your oil.

Water can also make your oil appear milky. If your coolant levels are normal, and your exhaust is normal too, you may have a condensation problem, or water is somehow leaking into the engine. If the oil resembles a foamy latte, there is absolutely something wrong.

When your engine oil is discolored, it is always a sign that something is not operating properly. Either your engine isn’t the right temperature, or something has leaked into the oil or both. All of which means it’s time to seek the help of a professional mechanic for a proper diagnosis. If the oil is contaminated or thick it cannot properly lubricate the engine’s moving parts, which can lead to serious and costly damage.

If you need help with discolored engine oil or even just a routine oil change and live in Tucson, AZ, we can help. Accurate Service is a full-service auto repair shop. Call us today at 520-620-9129 or go online and schedule an appointment.