The Meaning of Oil Life Percentage

You can wash your vehicle every week and treat it was a coating of spray car wax, but there are plenty of other maintenance tasks that should have a much higher priority. To get the most out of your car’s life, the single most important thing you can do is ensure there’s always viable motor oil in the engine, but how do you know when to perform a change? Service centers will tell you to come in every 3,000 miles while your owner’s manual can range as high as 7,500, so which number is right? If you’re lucky, your car came with an oil life percentage monitor, and here’s a look at how this device works.

Factors Affecting Oil Life

The first oils used to lubricate motors were relatively simple formulations that were refined to last for a certain number of miles. Lube service centers still use this standard to perpetuate the necessity for an oil change every 3,000 miles, but today’s products make that obsolete. Today, a number of different factors affect your oil’s longevity:

  • Mileage
  • Age
  • Heat
  • Dirt
  • Your driving habits

The additives in your oil respond differently to every variable. If you regularly drive in extreme temperatures, your oil’s effective life will be much shorter than it would be in a mild climate. Hard acceleration and braking put even more stress on your lubrication. The chemicals also break down over time, so even inactive vehicles should get regular oil changes at least once a year.

How Your Car Measures Oil Life Percentage

Measuring oil life percentage isn’t as simple as starting a timer at every lube service and counting the miles until the next one. While this calculation starts with the odometer, other monitors come into play to help the vehicle figure out the correct number. Temperature gauges keep track of how hot the motor gets during operation. You’ll also find sensors tracking idle time, trip times, loads put on the engine and the number of ignition starts and stops. This information gets plugged into an algorithm and fed to your vehicle’s display panel.

When To Change Your Oil

You now understand how the vehicle calculates its oil’s life percentage, but what do you do with this information? You don’t want to cause a dangerous situation that could trigger a red flag on a car code reader, but you shouldn’t waste perfectly good oil either. Your best bet is to use the readout from this monitor in combination with other factors such as recommendations from your owner’s manual and regular checks of the engine oil level and color via your dipstick.

Be a Safer Driver

Now you have a better understanding of how oil life percentage monitors work, you’re armed with even more information to help you be a better driver. While gadgets such as a car jump starter can be convenient, you already have a lot of important technology under your vehicle’s hood. No matter if you need help understanding any of your vehicle’s components or you’d like to upgrade to better components, turn to the experts at a trusted auto parts retailer.


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  1. To know about Car Maintenance Checklist to Keep Your Car in Good Condition, check out our blog

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