Oil needs to be heated to a certain temperature in order to properly coat all the moving parts of your vehicle’s engine. When oil is too hot or too cold, you may notice some performance issues. Despite temperature playing a huge role, there tends to be a lot of confusion about what temperature is best for engine oil. What is a normal engine oil temperature? Most experts agree that the ideal range is between 230-260°F (110-127°C). However, this range is going to vary, depending on certain conditions.
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Why Is Engine Oil Temperature Important?
Are you familiar with the term “cold start”? When engines are started in the cold or after a period of inactivity, there is little oil coating the engine to protect it from damage. However, modern oil innovations have made cold oil also work in your vehicle’s favor. Cold oil is pumped quickly and efficiently through the engine, lubricating everything necessary. Since cold oil is thinner, heat gets transferred more quickly, allowing the engine to also get to a functional temperature more quickly.
As oil heats, it gets more viscous, which makes it better at shielding the engine from damage. Viscosity also increases the heat absorption properties of the oil. Furthermore, the oil needs to be heated to around 220°F (104°C) in order to burn off water vapor and deposits. Should the engine never get any higher than 212°F (100°C), byproducts of combustion, such as sulfur, will mix with the oil and create an acid that damages parts of the engine.
In other words, your engine oil needs to reach the right temperature in order to function. Should the engine oil get too hot, it starts to break down at an accelerated pace. You may even experience an engine fire.
What is a Normal Engine Oil Temperature?
Generally, the normal engine oil temperature is between 230-260°F (110-127°C) for gasoline-powered engines. Diesel engines tend to run a little lower, around 200-230°F (93-110°C). Many full synthetic oils can withstand higher temperatures than conventional oil, sometimes reaching temperatures of 300°F (149°C).
What about motor oil designed for high-end racing cars? Those oils are specially formulated for the excessive strain put on those engines, and so they can often withstand temperatures up to 350°F (176°C).
Now, you may be wondering if this changes for higher mileage vehicles, such as a 5.3 L Vortec engine with over 75,000 miles? It depends on the oil. Some high mileage vehicles are running on a slightly more viscous oil, such as 10W-30 instead of 5W-30. Thicker oils can run a little hotter while simultaneously preventing wear and tear to an older engine. For that reason, you might see a high mileage oil temperature of around 260°F (127°C).
How to Check Motor Oil Temperature
As mentioned earlier, you want your engine oil at the appropriate temperature, because it is the lifeblood of your vehicle. If the motor oil is not working properly, you are going to have problems. That is why you need to know how to check your oil’s temperature. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- Use an infrared thermometer. Point the sensor on the thermometer towards the oil pan. The temperature will be displayed on a digital display.
- Buy a dipstick with a built-in thermometer. These are harder to reader than infrared thermometers, but they are accurate.
Fortunately, you should not have to monitor your car’s oil temperature manually. Most newer models have a built-in Thermometrics Oil Temperature Sensor (OTS), which records the exact temperature of the oil. Should it get too high, a warning light will come on to let you know.
What Happens If Motor Oil Gets Too Hot?
If you happen to be traveling down the road in your car and notice the AT Oil Temp light switch on, you need to cool the engine as quickly as possible. Engine oil that has grown too hot spells trouble. Motor oil is not flammable, but it will combust in the right conditions. There are other risks to keep in mind, too, such as a thermal breakdown.
Also known as viscosity breakdown, thermal breakdown occurs when the internal heat is too high, causing a chemical reaction to occur within the motor oil. This causes the viscosity to change and for the motor oil to start degrading more rapidly.
This change in viscosity is dangerous because the oil will stop flowing through the engine. The increased friction could generate enough heat and sparks to start an engine fire.
How Hot is Too Hot for Oil?
Whether you are using conventional (mineral-based) oil in your car or plan on switching over to a fully synthetic, you should know when the oils start to break down. Conventional motor oils can tolerate up to 250°F (121°C) without much issue, but they start to break down around 275°F (135°C) and will degrade rapidly past 300°F (149°C).
Synthetic motor oils, on the other hand, are not the same as conventional motor oil. A good synthetic will tolerate higher temperatures and withstand oxidation for longer. Depending on the brand and the formula, some synthetic oils can withstand temperatures up to 450°F (232°C).
To be safe and not sorry, it is recommended that you do not let the temperature of your oil exceed 300°F (149°C), regardless of the type you are using. Unless you plan on racing.
Check out this video, which explains what is considered too hot:
The normal engine oil temperature is between 230-260°F (110-127°C) for most vehicles using conventional and synthetic oil. That said, there are some instances where your car may have a higher temperature than 260°F (127°C). Should you notice that the AT Oil Temp light comes on, do not continue driving your car, as oil that is too hot is dangerous for your vehicle, particularly when it is hotter than 300°F (149°C).
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