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How Does an Engine Lubrication System Work?

Oil fill port in a car

Everyone knows regular oil changes are vital for keeping your engine in tip-top shape, but why? Lubrication is critical to maintaining the engine; without it, things get ugly. Knowing how the engine lubrication system works helps you understand how and why oil is so important.

You Are What You Heat

Processes inside your engine move quickly. You’re dealing with metal-against-metal friction, which creates heat, and on top of that, actual detonations are going off. Such intense heat quickly weakens, warps or breaks internal components, causing your engine to fail. That’s where lubrication comes in. Oil smooths movements and removes some heat as it flows over internal parts. In addition, oil is viscous, which means it binds to small particles produced by combustion and carries them to the filter, so they don’t build up in the system and cause problems.

Sumps Like a Truck, Truck, TruckEngine Lubrication System

The lubrication system consists of several parts. When added at the cap, oil falls to the oil pan (called the sump) on the bottom of the engine. The oil pump is driven by the engine and pulls oil from the pan through lines to the filter where small particulate matter is strained out. Under pressure from the pump, most of the oil then moves to the main bearings while a small amount is diverted to the oil gauge for an accurate pressure reading. From the main bearings it heads through small drilled passages to the crankshaft and connecting rods. The rotating crankshaft flings oil up onto the cylinder walls, and the cylinder rings scrape excess back down on their down strokes. Oil also travels to other moving metal-on-metal areas such as the gears and the camshaft’s timing chain. Extra oil drains back down to the pan.

They Say a Change Will Do You Good

Clean oil with the correct weight ratings for your engine is crucial. Without it, you may experience overheating as components run unlubricated, or your engine may become damaged by deposit buildup. This is why regular oil and filter changes are necessary — changing the filter ensures the system remains free of debris and clogs.

The proper oil rating is best determined by your manufacturer and is available in the user’s manual. Your manufacturer may also have a filter recommendation (as they are made of different materials with different microns of filtration capabilities), but there is more leeway for straying from their recommendations, if your warranty allows. Filters aren’t the place to skimp, so make sure you’ve done some research before choosing a different filter. Confirm the thread of the new filter fits, so you don’t end up with a cross-threaded nightmare.

Oil and filter changes will benefit your engine and maintain your vehicle’s health for many more years. Just make sure you’re using the right products and frequently checking oil levels.

Check out all the filters available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the engine lubrication system, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Blair Lampe.

Blair Lampe View All

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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