The answer seems simple: probably about five quarts.
But, if you drive a small car with a four cylinder engine, it’s likely closer to four quarts. However, the V-8 engine in your truck could require about seven quarts. My in-laws’ RAM diesel pickup takes 12 quarts of motor oil.
You can see how the answer isn’t so simple after all.
To find out precisely how much motor oil your car needs, do one of the following:
Check the owner’s manual
Dig the owner’s manual out of your glovebox and look up the information in the index. Eventually you’ll find it.
You can skip the hassle and use our Product Guide instead. Just input your vehicle information and, below the motor oil recommendations, you’ll find motor oil capacity (circled below in red).
What if the oil level is too low?
It could be due to a couple issues, including insufficient oil added during the last oil change or oil consumption. There are several reasons for oil consumption (in fact, you can read about 40 of them here). But here are a couple of the more common.
Leaking seals or gaskets – your engine uses seals in various places to ensure oil stays inside the engine while contaminants stay out. A prime example is around the crankshaft where it sticks out of the engine and connects to the transmission. Gaskets seal the uneven metal surfaces between parts to ensure, in part, that oil stays inside the engine. The cylinder head gasket is a notable example.
If the seals and gaskets become worn, brittle or deformed over time, they can result in oil leaks. The engine oil level will drop, depending on the severity of the leak. If your engine leaks oil, visit a mechanic and have it fixed.
Volatility – engine oil can evaporate when exposed to heat. The less stable the oil, the more readily it evaporates. As the engine is running, a thin film of oil coats the cylinder wall and piston skirt. Given its proximity to the fiery cauldron inside the combustion chamber, the oil in this area of the engine can easily volatilize, or evaporate. The by-products can exit the tailpipe as emissions. But they can also form harmful carbon deposits inside the engine that reduce efficiency and eventually lead to engine failure.
Synthetic motor oil is more resistant to volatility than conventional oil, so use a good synthetic to reduce oil consumption due to volatility and help keep your engine clean.
What if the oil level is too high?
It’s likely due to operator error; someone simply added too much last time the oil was changed or topped-off.
Too much oil is a bad thing. The spinning crankshaft and churning engine parts whip air into the oil, which can cause foam. The tiny bubbles travel between moving parts, where they rupture. When they do, nothing is left to protect metal surfaces from wear. Foam also increases heat, which causes the oil to chemically breakdown sooner.
If the crankcase is overfull, drain the excess oil until reaching the correct level.
Increased oil level can also be due to fuel dilution. This is when fuel enters the crankcase and contaminates the oil. In severe cases, enough fuel can enter the crankcase to noticeably increase the oil level. This is bad. Very bad. Fuel dilution leads to sludge, varnish and engine wear.
The presence of coolant in the oil can also increase oil level. Again, this is bad. Anytime something that shouldn’t be in your motor oil is present, wear protection suffers. Coolant in the oil is likely due to a bad head gasket, which is a costly repair.
One last word of advice: check your oil at least monthly to ensure the proper level. Make sure the vehicle is parked on a level surface to get an accurate reading. Finding out the oil is too low or too high before something goes wrong can save you a ton of grief in the long run.
A typical engine contains hundreds of parts, none of which could function properly without oil. Far from a simple commodity, oil is a dynamic enabler of performance. It must lubricate, cool, protect, seal, actuate components and more. And it must do it all while exposed to tremendous heat and stress. Here, we highlight key areas where oil goes inside your engine and what it does once it’s there.
Variable Valve Timing (VVT)
To increase fuel economy and reduce emissions, most modern engines use VVT systems to adjust when the valves open and close. VVT systems use motor oil as a hydraulic fluid to actuate cam-phaser components. Solenoids, like the one shown here, control cam-phaser timing. These solenoids contain tiny openings through which the oil must flow. Even minimal varnish or deposits can disrupt the system, triggering a check-engine light. The oil must maintain viscosity to function as a hydraulic fluid while resisting deposits to maximize VVT system performance.
Valves and Seals
Valve seals prevent oil from running down the valve stems. This keeps the oil on valvetrain components and prevents it from entering the intake and exhaust ports and burning, increasing oil consumption. The oil must condition these seals to prevent drying, cracking and leaking. The oil also helps cool the valves and control cylinder-head deposits, helping prevent valve sticking.
The seals at the ends of the crankshaft keep the oil inside the engine. The oil must condition seals to prevent drying, cracking and leaking.
Wrist Pins & Undercrowns
Crankshaft eccentrics splash-lubricate the cylinders, wrist pins and piston undercrowns. Some engines have small nozzles that spray oil directly onto the wrist pins and undercrowns. The rapidly spinning crankshaft causes air entrainment in the oil, creating foam. If foam bubbles in the oil pass between metal parts, they collapse and cause metal-to-metal contact. The oil must contain anti-foam additives to quickly dissipate foam. The oil must also contain detergent additives to help keep the wrist pins and undercrowns clean.
Connecting Rods & Main Bearings
Combustion drives the pistons down the cylinder, creating intense pressure between the connecting rods, main journals and bearings. Oil molecules act like microscopic ball bearings that support this pressure and allow the rods and crankshaft to rotate without metal-to-metal contact. The oil must maintain its protective viscosity despite increased pressures, temperatures and shearing forces. If the fluid film weakens, the oil will squeeze from between the journal and bearing clearances, resulting in metal-to-metal contact and bearing wear.
The camshaft and lifters open and close the intake and exhaust valves. To prevent wear, the oil must form a strong fluid film that separates the cam lobes and lifters. It also must contain robust anti-wear additives to maximize the life of the camshaft and bearings. As the image below shows, AMSOIL Signature Series 0W-20 Synthetic Motor Oil did an excellent job protecting against cam wear in rigorous, third-party testing.
Pistons, Rings & Cylinders
The pistons compress the air in preparation for combustion. The piston rings perform several critical functions: they must seal the combustion chamber, return excess oil on the cylinder walls to the sump and transfer extreme piston-crown heat to the cylinder walls.
To prevent wear despite intense heat and shearing forces, oil must maintain a strong, consistent film between the rings and cylinder walls. It also must prevent deposits that cause ring sticking, increased oil consumption, compression changes and low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI).
Signature Series Synthetic Motor Oil achieved 100 percent protection against LSPI1 in the engine test required by the GM* dexos1® Gen 2 specification – zero occurrences were recorded throughout five consecutive tests.
Oil Galleries & Passages
An engine contains an intricate network of oil galleries and passages that carry oil to components. Passages in the crankshaft, for example, carry pressurized oil to the rod and main bearings, while similar passages in the upper end carry oil to the valvetrain. Oil that thickens in the cold can fail to flow through narrow passages and starve the engine of oil. Sludge, meanwhile, can plug passages and have the same effect. The oil must remain fluid when the temperature drops, and it must prevent sludge.
Oil Pick-Up Tube Screen
The oil pump draws oil through a fine screen and pressurizes it so it can flow through the oil galleries and passages to the bearings and valvetrain. Sludge can plug the screen, starving the engine of oil. Oil that thickens too much to pass through the screen has the same effect. Therefore, oil must remain fluid when cold to pass through the screen and flow throughout the engine at startup (when most wear occurs). The oil also must prevent sludge to keep galleries and passages clean, ensuring maximum oil flow.
To flush or not to flush. (One of our best sellers here in Sioux Falls)
It’s a question whose answer is obvious in the bathroom, but vigorously debated in the garage.
Let’s get right to the point. Is an engine flush good or bad?
Spend a few minutes perusing online forums and you’ll find a range of answers to this question, often involving a 1980s Trans-Am, Camaro or other car that someone thrashed on for years, parked in a pasture for a decade and now wants to revive with an engine flush.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is an engine flush?
How deposits and sludge form
Can engine sludge be removed?
Is an engine flush necessary?
Engine flush as part of maintenance
5 benefits of an engine flush
Engine flush products
Watch: How to do an engine flush (video)
What is an engine flush?
An engine flush is an aftermarket chemical additive designed to clean accumulated deposits, sludge and other gunk from your engine. You pour it into your engine’s oil-filler port and idle the engine for about 10-15 minutes. It mixes with the oil and circulates through the engine, helping dissolve sludge and clean deposits. Then, you drain the oil (along with much of the gunk, in theory), change the oil filter, add fresh oil and return to the business of driving.
How deposits and sludge form inside an engine
If it did its job, your engine’s performance will return to the heady days of its youth, when it delivered maximum power and efficiency. Over time, however, harmful deposits and sludge may have accumulated, causing power and performance loss.
Deposits and sludge can form for several reasons, including…
Frequent short trips that don’t allow the oil to fully warm up and evaporate moisture
Ingestion of air-borne dirt
High heat breaking down the oil
As it settles, sludge can clog narrow oil passages or the screen on the oil pickup tube, restricting oil flow to vital parts, especially the upper valve train. Deposits can cause the rings to stick, reducing engine compression and horsepower.
Can engine sludge be removed?
Yes. The proper detergents in the correct concentration can dissolve engine sludge, deposits and varnish. Ideally, sludge won’t form at all; however, sometimes mechanical issues arise, such as a leaking head gasket, and the formation of sludge occurs. If sludge does form, the oil’s detergents help dissolve and disperse sludge to clean the engine.
This is more challenging than it sounds. For starters, the oil must perform several functions, not just help prevent engine sludge. For that reason, oils contain a limited concentration of detergents (compared to an engine flush product) to ensure room in the formulation for other additives that protect against wear, fight oxidation, combat rust and more.
An engine flush product, on the other hand, is designed solely to clean. AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, for example, contains nothing but potent detergents, making it a more effective cleaner than motor oil. Plus, it cleans at the molecular level, ensuring deposits are dissolved and properly exit the engine with the oil when it’s drained. This is important since some motorists fear that an engine flush will free large chunks and cause an avalanche of debris to clog passages inside the engine. AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush guards against this scenario.
Is an engine flush necessary?
A good engine flush can help loosen deposits and dissolve sludge, returning your engine to like-new condition. However, in old engines with high miles, sludge may be the only barrier keeping oil from seeping through worn or cracked seals. Removing the sludge exposes the seals for what they really are – junk. Soon, your engine begins leaking oil, and you’re mind instantly associates the engine flush product with an oil leak.
In reality, the seals were already bad; the flush simply revealed their true condition.
If you suspect your vehicle falls into this camp, leave well enough alone and skip the engine flush. It’s probably not worth trying to revive an engine in such poor condition without first fixing the bad seals or other defects.
In effect, you’re choosing your problem: either sludge and deposits robbing performance or, if you clean the engine, the seals showing their true condition.
An engine flush is part of a good maintenance regimen
But that’s not to say an engine flush is never a good idea. In fact, it’s often the first step in helping restore a neglected vehicle to top-notch performance. And, often when you buy a used vehicle, that’s what you’re getting – a vehicle whose owner found antiquing on Saturday afternoon more enjoyable than changing oil or dropping the transmission pan. Consequently, your “pre-owned” ride, while not complete junk, may boast a sketchy maintenance record.
In these cases, a potent, detergent-based flush can help prepare the engine for new oil, loosening sticky valves or rings and helping remove harmful sludge. While not a required step when switching to AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, we do recommend flushing your engine if you want to give your vehicle a fresh start.
5 benefits of an engine flush
1. Prepares your engine for new oil
An engine flush helps loosen sticky valves or rings and remove harmful sludge and other contaminants. By cleaning the engine prior to installing fresh oil, you ensure the new oil functions as intended and delivers maximum protection. The oil won’t last as long or protect as well if it must contend with sludge and deposits from the previous oil.
By the way, we don’t require use of AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush before switching to AMSOIL synthetic motor oil, but we recommend flushing your engine if you want to give it a fresh start.
2. Helps increase fuel efficiency
Contaminants circulating throughout the engine can lead to oil breakdown and increased viscosity – and higher-viscosity oil requires more energy to circulate throughout the engine. Sludge and deposits on engine parts can also increase resistance, which wastes fuel to overcome. Cleaning the engine helps ensure parts move efficiently, maximizing fuel economy.
3. Helps reduce emissions
If deposits in the piston-ring lands cause the rings to stick, oil can migrate into the combustion chamber, where it burns. This not only leads to harmful deposits, it also increases exhaust emissions as the burned oil exits the tailpipe. A good engine flush helps free stuck rings and reduce oil consumption, in turn reducing emissions.
4. Helps reduce heat
Excessive heat is bad for your engine and the oil. Extreme heat reduces engine efficiency while increasing the rate at which the oil oxidizes (chemically breaks down). Sludge and deposits act as insulators that prevent the engine from dissipating heat as designed. Flushing your engine helps ensure it manages heat properly for optimum efficiency and oil life.
This might not apply to every engine flush, but it applies to AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush. It delivers results after just one application. And it only takes 10-15 minutes to use. Plus, you can safely use it in gas or diesel engines and automatic transmissions. While some solvent-based flush products require a cumbersome disposal process, AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush uses a detergent-based formulation. As such, you can dispose of it easily with waste oil.
Cylinder head pre-cleanup. Note the sludge around the valve springs and push rod openings.
Post-cleanup with AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, the cylinder head is noticeably cleaner.
Engine Flush Products: I use AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush
For the record, I’ve used AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush on three different pre-owned vehicles in my time, and it’s worked great. One of them, a 1999 Honda CR-V, accumulated more than 220,000 miles before rust forced me to replace it. Another, an Oldsmobile Intrigue, ran great until a computer problem forced me to trade it off…for the CR-V. The third ran great, but I sold it off after it, too, rusted out.
In sum, flush your engine if you want to give your vehicle a new lease on life. AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, as the name indicates, also works great for cleaning automatic transmissions. Check out this post to determine if a transmission flush or pan drop is better for you. But if you have any reservations about disturbing sludge or deposits that may be holding your old, high-mileage engine together, consider skipping it. It’s up to you.
How to do an engine flush
If you are looking for the best way to flush your engine this weekend, here’s a quick video that will walk you through the process, courtesy of MyJeepStory.
The health of your engine depends on motor oil circulating quickly and efficiently through the system, but sticking components and obstructed passages inhibit motor oil from lubricating, cooling and protecting your engine. Engine “sludge” occurs when oxidized oil and contaminants build up on engine surfaces. It can restrict the flow of oil to the point of engine failure and costly repairs.
Warehouse note: The so called “fully synthetics” which are mostly group III’s or a combination of a majority group II and a fraction III ($3.50 synthetics) to a majority III and a fraction of IV ($8.50 synthetics) – all based on price and what the stock holders allow to be used for a desired profit.. Note that all of these WILL leave deposits in the form of sludge. Turbocharged engines must avoid these brands which include the silver one shaped like a shampoo bottle.
Sludge: Where It Starts & How It Ends
The valve cover and oil pan are generally the first areas sludge appears.
The oil pick-up tube screen is often the next spot it accumulates, impeding oil flow through the system.
What begins as a thin film of lacquer or varnish deposits eventually bakes into an expensive mess.
The Sequence VG Engine Test
Engine failures due to sludge are often caused by a clogged pick-up tube screen – the motor is effectively starved of oil. The Sequence VG Engine Test determines how well an oil resists sludge formation and keeps the lubricant flowing freely throughout the system. The test is required for API SN PLUS – a specification recommended by most domestic vehicle manufacturers.
Ford* 4.6L V-8
Sludge and varnish deposits, piston ring sticking, clogged oil pump screens and roller pin wear
Taxi, delivery or commuter vehicle service
Oil pick-up tube screen limited to 10 percent blockage
Signature Series Synthetic Motor Oil was subjected to the Sequence VG to measure its ability to prevent sludge. As expected, Signature Series produced an oil pick-up tube screen virtually free from sludge (see image). Our unique combination of detergents and high-quality base oils control oxidation and sludge to keep engines clean and efficient.
Signature Series has 50 percent more detergents1 to help keep oil passages clean and promote oil circulation. It provides 90% better protection against sludge2.
Warehouse Note: Thankfully our efforts here in Sioux Falls have made the Signature Series our top seller and on the minds of many who want their investment to remain like new beyond 250,000 miles. People are realizing that it’s not all about change frequency as a non “true synthetic” can cause damage in just 10 miles in GDI engines due to LSPI.. Not to mention why I adopted AMSOIL back in the day – the added power and performance!!
1 vs. AMSOIL OE Motor Oil 2 Based on independent testing of AMSOIL Signature Series 5W-30 in the ASTM D6593 engine test for oil screen plugging as required for the API SN PLUS specification.
*All trademarked names and images are the property of their respective owners and may be registered marks in some countries. No affiliation or endorsement claim, express or implied, is made by their use. All products advertised here are developed by AMSOIL for use in the applications shown.
How Do I Switch from Conventional to Synthetic Oil?
To borrow a famous slogan, just do it.
There is still some confusion about changing to a different type of oil in vehicles, particularly older models that have accumulated many miles. A small group of ill-informed individuals in garages and on blogs still cling to old beliefs that synthetic motor oils cause roller followers to “slip or skid,” or that switching to synthetic motor oil causes issues in older engines, particularly oil leaks.
Facts have since replaced these outdated ideas about synthetics causing engine problems.
The use of synthetic lubricants is growing rapidly because properly formulated synthetics offer benefits well beyond what conventional and synthetic-blend products provide. Many new passenger car and light truck vehicles come factory filled with synthetic lubricants – not just high-performance sports cars.
There are a couple ways to switch to synthetic motor oil for the first time.
• Jump right in and simply change the oil. Take your vehicle to your mechanic or the nearest quick lube and ask for synthetic motor oil. Or, dust off your drain pan and do it yourself. You don’t have to do anything special to your engine first, and the synthetic oil isn’t going to cause problems in your vehicle that weren’t already there.
• Flush the engine first. Though not required, an engine flush more immediately removes sludge and debris accumulated over time. AND neutralizes acids so the new oil’s detergents can be more aggressive to keeping your engine deposit free.
The main difference between flushing your engine and a normal oil change to synthetics is the rate at which the built-up debris is removed from older engines. If you change to AMSOIL synthetic motor oil without flushing, for example, the detergents in the motor oil will clean accumulated deposits from the engine over subsequent oil changes. When you useAMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush, the cleanup is more immediate and helps ensure the engine is clean and free of any accumulated contaminants.
Wondering if an engine flush is right for your vehicle? Find out here.
However, we recommend using AMSOIL Engine and Transmission Flush if you want to give your engine a fresh start before switching to synthetic motor oil.
Ready to make the switch to synthetic motor oil? Check out our Product Guide for the right oil for your vehicle.