Engine Oil Color Chart – When Do I Need to Change It?



If you want to know when you should check your engine oil, an engine oil color chart should be of great help, as based on those colors, you can make an informed decision. This ought to make things easier for you, regardless if you are a beginner or a pro when it comes to cars and driving them.


The changing of color

If you are new to the car’s game, you may not know that the engine oil can change color. Yes, it can, and that color can reveal a lot to you about the general condition of the engine. As we look at this aspect, you should know that while these colors may indicate a certain aspect, it’s not always set in stone that a shade represents something exactly.

We can look at how engine oil has usually the color of amber, but if we take into consideration the various types of oil out there, some additives present in them may make it turn darker quickly. This will mean that the darker hue will not necessarily mean that there is a problem to be detected.

Nevertheless, you want to use common knowledge and sense when you are dealing with the engine. For example, if it’s been over nine months since the last time you changed the oil, the darker color may indicate the fact that the oil is starting to get dirty and that it would be required for it to be changed.

On top of that, if you are the kind of person who has the tendency of changing oil brands often, basically all bets are off in that case. The weather also has the capacity of creating an impact when it comes to oil color. This means that, while this can not be considered an exact science, a shift in color is, at the end of the day, a good indicator that something may be off.


The new oil color …

It is only appropriate for us to talk a little bit about the color of the new engine oil, before we start analyzing the changes that can occur to it. Generally speaking, a new batch of clean engine oil is going to have an amber-like color to it. Not only that, but the oil should be clear when you use the dipstick.

As the engine oil will start getting darker, this can mean several things, such as the presence of contaminants, high heat, or additives that can make the oil turn dark as you use it. This means that the best way in which you can see if the oil has changed color is to check it out every now and then.

For this, you’ll have to use the dipstick maybe once a week and make a mental note. As time passes and you do this more often, you’ll learn by yourself how dark the oil turns after 3,000 miles (it will usually be dark brown by then) or after 5,000 miles (it will turn very dark brown). In time, you will learn the exact shade that says you should change the oil.


… And the changed oil colors

The first group we are going to talk about is the creamy or milky engine oil. This is indicative of the fact that said oil has water in it. This can happen because the engine’s coolant is dripping into the oil as there is a leaky head gasket somewhere. There are other reasons, as well.

For example, if you’ve traveled for short periods of time, over short distances, so the engine wasn’t capable of producing enough heat in order for the water to be burned. As a result, water vapors are created which will, in turn, get mixed with the oil. So what does the creamy or milky engine oil mean?

Basically, this is not something to worry about, as this aspect of the oil doesn’t mean a replacement is necessary since it only appeared because of the short trips you have taken. In this case, you will only have to drive a bit more, just enough so that the engine will have the chance of evaporating the water.

What about the dark engine oil? If you were to ask people, in general, they will say that light and clean engine oil is good, while dark oil is the one that you have to throw out. This may be true, but there are exceptions to this rule. The more you run the motor, the more deposits the oil will start to collect.

Oil can start to get dark also as a result of other factors, such as if you have changed the engine oil brand recently, as that may make the oil have a different color. On top of that, a new brand may lead to changes in color over a shorter period of time, so it’s not a clear indicator. This is why it’s good to stick to just one brand of oil over time.

If you’ve noticed that the red engine oil is showing up or that the shade is much darker than you would suspect is normal, keep in mind the total number of months that you’ve been driving using that engine oil. In some cases, you’ll need to make the change after only 3,000 miles, while others can go as many as 5,000 miles.

There is one color that should trigger an alarm, though. If you notice that the oil has turned black, that is a clear sign something is not working properly with your engine or car system, in general. As a result, it is highly recommended that you take your vehicle to a close car repairing shop so you will be able to find out what the problem is.


What about thick and dark oil?

If you notice that the oil you are using is dark and thin, yet it still looks pretty translucent, there are several explanations for that. One of them is that you are using some synthetic blend, which gathers a greater quantity of grime from the engine than a typical oil, which makes the oil look darker in the bottle and even when you check it with the dipstick.

In case you notice this color and texture in the oil of your car a short time after you’ve gone to a repair shop where you asked for premium service, don’t worry, that is probably the reason why the engine oil has now a color that you didn’t recognize, but of course, there is more than that.

The oil will start to get a darker shade as the engine of your car is heating up. If you try it with the dipstick after you’ve taken the car for a really long drive, you’ll notice that the oil is much darker than before; it will also be much darker than when you compare it to the color it usually has when it’s just parked somewhere. We mention that this is absolutely normal.

But, if you don’t use synthetic oil, and the oil is looking dark and sludgy, that’s the sign you were waiting for – it is time for you to make the oil change as it got saturated with engine muck. Replace it as soon as possible with some fresh and viscous type of oil, so you won’t have any car problems in the future.

Of course, there are other cases that you should pay attention to. For example, driving on dirt roads, towing cars, taking part in races, all of these activities will surely make your oil darken faster, while if you are just using your car for the classic commute, the oil will darken slower.

If you notice that the oil in your engine has gotten to the color of black coffee, then this is a sign that the oil has absorbed a greater quantity of carbon from the combustion process or some other types of byproducts. This will make the oil have a really unpleasant, acrid, even acid-like smell to it, which you can detect with ease and it signals the need for a change.


Check it out often

So, what is the best way from which you can tell if something is wrong with the oil in your engine? Simply, check it out often. You really don’t even need a mechanic to inform you if something is wrong or not, you can do it by yourself, especially since it’s a really simple task, that you can get used to easily.

You can either be curious or even a bit paranoid about this aspect (or the general health of your car), so you can check once a week, or even a couple of times a week, and take a mental snapshot of the color that oil has in different circumstances. You will soon learn how to tell the difference between various shades and when something is truly wrong.

Just to be sure, you can take it to a mechanic, but there is no reason for you to spend that much money on such an easy task!