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Should You Check Your Engine Oil More Often in the Winter?

An oil cap on the valve cover of an engine.

It’s important to check your engine oil regularly regardless of the weather, but you may be wondering if you need to do anything special when temperatures dip below freezing, as cold temperatures and hot temperatures do affect oil differently. Here’s what happens to your oil when the weather is cold and what you need to do to be ready for winter weather.

Why Check Your Engine Oil in the First Place?

Oil dipstick

If you open a fresh bottle of oil, you’ll notice the color is a golden amber rather than dark brown or black. That’s because it’s clean when it comes right out of the bottle, but it quickly loses its luster once it runs through your engine.

As the oil lubricates your engine, it collects dirt, grime and carbon from the combustion process along the way. Over time, this turns the oil a darker shade and makes it thicker. You’ll want to check your engine oil to make sure it doesn’t need to be topped off and to see whether it’s dirty enough to require an oil change. The oil doesn’t need to have the light color it had when it was new, but if it’s very dark and sludgy, then it’s time for an oil change.

What Happens to Oil in Cold Weather?

Cold weather makes oil denser, which can make it harder for the oil to flow as freely through your engine. This is especially true when you first start the engine after the car has been sitting. As you drive, the engine warms up and the oil warms up, too. Depending on your vehicle, the manufacturer may recommend a different oil for the winter months that will still flow freely when the temperature drops.

It was once commonplace to change the oil viscosity from summer to winter, but that’s not always true today, as many engine oils don’t have the same viscosity challenges they did years ago. Stick with the oil recommended by the manufacturer to ensure that you’re doing what’s best for your car.

Should You Check Your Engine Oil More Often in the Winter?

While temperature changes do affect engine oil in the winter months in particular, it’s important to check your engine oil on a regular basis and get it changed at the recommended intervals. Modern cars usually need oil changes every 5,000 to 10,000 miles they drive, but you should always follow the manual for your vehicle. You’ll also want to check a few times between each of these intervals to make sure your levels and color are correct. If you own an older car or have reason to believe that your vehicle consumes oil, check more frequently.

It’s well worth it to brave the cold for a few minutes and check that your oil is squared away instead of ignoring a potential issue and risking damage to your engine.

Check out all the oils, lubricants and fluids available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about how to check your engine oil, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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