Last Updated: 10.04.2022

Your car’s oil usage depends on the size of the engine. The bigger the engine, the higher the amount of oil required to realize optimum lubrication. 

So, how much oil does your car need? Generally, smaller engines like a 4-cylinder type require between 3.5 to 4.5 quarts of oil for all lubrication needs and so forth. However, there are other factors to consider, and we’ll be looking at those as we go along. 

But before we discuss oil intake and refill frequency, it is important to understand the importance of oil in your car. Keep reading to find out. 

Why Is Oil Important in Your Car?

As we debate the amount, quarts, level of oil, etcetera, let’s try to answer the basic question of why oil is important in your cars. 

Oil performs various essential functions within your car’s engine. Think of it as blood supply to the vehicle’s heart, which is the engine. Without oil, the engine will practically malfunction.

car engine parts that needs oil

Besides the basic lubricating and cooling functions, oil is essential in cleaning up the engine residue. It protects all the moving parts of the engine by maintaining an ideal internal environment. Hence, a vehicle’s life depends on the continuous presence of oil in the engine.

The lubricating aspect is essential to reduce friction and wear on the moving parts. The oil’s cooling characteristic, on the other hand, suppresses the heat caused by combustion and friction. A combination of these functions maintains the right conditions to allow continuous engine functioning. 

Also, appropriate oiling lessens the engine’s fuel consumption through increased efficiency and reduced resistance. Hence, you can maintain improved operation with a minimal amount of fuel.

How Much Oil Does My Car Need?

The car’s oil usage depends on the following three main factors: engine size, oil filter change, and the manufacturer’s specific recommendations.

Engine Size

The engine size is the primary factor that affects how much oil your car will need. Smaller engines use relatively less oil, with larger ones consuming up to 12 quarts of oil.

car engine image

Varying engine sizes take up different amounts of oil quarts as follows:

  • A 4-cylinder capacity needs up to 5 quarts of oil.
  • A 6-cylinder engine requires nearly 6 quarts for normal operations.
  • An 8-cylinder power engine uses 8 to 9 quarts of oil.
  • A 12-cylinder capacity takes between 11.5 to 12.5 quarts to match its increased power output. 

These quantities don’t necessarily have to be exact—to the last drop—since it is the quarts and not the actual liquid volume that matters in the engine’s oiling processes. 

As long as you have matched the quarts of oil with their equivalent engine capacities as outlined above, you are good to go.

Oil Filter Change

old and new oil filter for car

Changing the oil filter requires an additional 0.25 to 0.50 quarts of oil to achieve the initial lubrication state—that is, on top of the usual engine’s uptake. These extra oil quarts go into the oil filter holding area.

Manufacturer’s Specific Recommendations

High-end vehicle manufacturers like BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, have specific oiling recommendations. These recommendations dictate the amount and frequency of oil refills. You can find this information in the manual.

When to Go for Your Next Oil Refill 

As a rule, you should go for an oil refill before you complete the required service mileage. So, you should be guided by the covered mileage and not the number of days between refills when deciding about oil change. 

Aside from the routine engine service, you should visit your local garage for an oil change when you encounter the following:

Oil Pressure Warning

Modern car models are fitted with oil pressure detection systems, which automatically warn drivers when it is time to refill or if the oil pressure is too low. However, older car models do not have these notification accessories. Consult your service shop when you get this warning.

Overheating of Engine’s Surface

An overheated engine is a sign of inefficiency and internal stress caused by insufficient lubrication. This sign should guide you to do a refill as soon as possible. 

Poor Engine Performance

A sudden drop in engine performance when all other components are in a good condition could mean inefficient oiling. You should stop by your local garage for a refill and engine servicing when you experience this. 

Burning Oil Smell

These smells come from leaks and oil drips, which get into hot engine parts. This weakens the oil’s cooling and maintenance properties. Thus, you should consult your mechanic for an oil change and servicing when you notice such unusual odors.

Clunking Sound From the Engine

Clunking outcomes indicate poor lubrication on the engine’s internal components. This sign calls for an oil refill to prevent friction and abrasion of parts. 

The signs we have identified above arise in extremely poor oiling situations. They indicate a terrible engine state, which not only wears out essential parts but could also lead to safety issues.

Best practices demand that you change engine oil before completing the specified mile coverage to minimize such negative effects. That being said, it’s best to get used to the regular oil change and engine servicing schedule to keep your car in top shape.

Identifying the Right Oil for Your Car

With the arrival of numerous oil brands in the market, motorists are exposed to a lot of marketing scams. So, you should always be guided by your car’s manual when shopping for oil. 

If you don’t have an original manual—most car owners find themselves in this situation—it would be best to source information from licensed oil agents and service stations. This way, you avoid falling into the trap of those unscrupulous vendors that offer substandard oil products.

Other than the manufacturers’ recommendations, choosing the right oil for your car should be based on certain core properties, including viscosity as well as conventional, synthetic, and high-mileage synthetic blend.

As a car owner, you should understand the oil refill patterns to avoid too low or high levels. Too low or high oil levels pose adverse risks to the engine’s operational wellness and durability. 

Also, you shouldn’t be misguided by the assumption that too high oil levels result in improved lubricating qualities. Too much oil allows air absorption into the liquid. This causes foam, which travels through the oil’s moving parts and eventually leads to rupture.

Oil Viscosity

Viscosity indicates liquid flow resistance. Basically, it is desirable to go for highly viscous oil (thicker) since they maintain an adequate lubrication film between parts. 

Oil viscosity is normally labeled as follows: 10W-40. The second number indicates viscosity; the higher the number, the higher the quality of the oil. It is advisable to go for high viscosity oil to maintain the required level of lubrication even as your engine heats up during the action. 

However, thick oil can cause delayed starts in cold temperature conditions. That’s why you should go for moderate viscosity to avoid the drawbacks of extreme thickness choices. 

Either way, the highly viscous motor oil is desirable as it upholds its intended functions even in extreme operations situations.

Conventional vs Synthetic Oil vs High-Mileage Synthetic Blend

As a regular user of motor oil, you should understand the difference between conventional and synthetic oil and the recently introduced formula called “high-mileage synthetic blend.”

Conventional mineral oils:Mineral oils, which come from refined crude oil, are suitable for older engine series. This compatibility is based on the fact that traditional engine models were designed to run on the oil available during those years. 

You should use conventional oil a lot less since they have various drawbacks. Experience shows that they cause increased fuel consumption and low engine performance. Plus, they drain faster.

Synthetic Motor Oil: This category of oils is designed to cater to the high-performance capabilities of modern-day engine models. Hence, you should use synthetic lubricants for the current crop of vehicles since their automatic operating components call for increased oiling efficiency. 

Important features to look out for in synthetic oil technologies include the following: adaptable viscosity suited for both temperature extremes; optimal fuel efficiency; infrequent oil refills; and less wear on parts, among other tailor-made benefits. 

High-Mileage Synthetic Blend: Emerging oil technologies have added yet another layer called “high-mileage synthetic blend.” This is specifically designed for vehicles that have covered over 75,000 miles. 

It means that the oil blend is tailored to anticipate lubrication problems associated with extensive engine use. 

More importantly, a high-mileage synthetic blend comes with improved additives and detergents required to restore the shape and increase the flexibility of pores and cracks that are common in old engines.

Do More Additives Improve Oil Performance?

No, more isn’t necessarily better. While additives are a major component in lubrication, more additives don’t necessarily translate to improved oil performance. In fact, more additives could weaken the oil’s overall performance. 

So, you should tread carefully when it comes to additives and how much of them to use in particular situations. For instance, sulphur additives contain incredibly effective anti-wear and antioxidant properties but can significantly undermine the engine’s fuel efficiency.

Related: Find out how to remove a stuck oil dipstick tube. 

Final Thoughts

Whether you are an auto service professional or a DIY motor enthusiast, you can estimate your car’s oil uptake using its cylinder counts. For instance, a 4-cylinder engine requires between 3.5 to 4.5 oil quarts, just as a 12-cylinder capacity would consume between 11.5 to 12.5 oil quarts in an ideal performance state.

Car owners should avoid the following four scenarios as they have the potential to weaken the engine’s lubrication and performance:

  1. Too low oil levels
  2. Too high oil levels
  3. Too many or undesired oil additives
  4. Substandard oil brands 

In any case, you should try to do oil refills before completing the specified mileage to maintain the optimum lubricating state of your engine.