Does Oil Freeze

Does Oil Freeze – Can Engine/Motor Oil Freeze (Freezing Point)

Does oil freeze? Since this is a motoring website, we’re assuming you’re asking about motor oil. And the short answer is yes, but also no. There’s a bit more to it, and that’s what we’re going to discuss in this post.

Whether you’re moving or traveling to a colder area, or maybe the area where you live has gotten a lot colder, this article will help you understand engine oil and the cold weather. Oh, and we’ll also give you some tips on winter motoring!

Does Oil Freeze: Oil Freeze Point Explained

Technically, most engine oil freezes at temperatures between -40°F to – 130°F, if not lower. But these temperatures are so extreme that you’re unlikely to experience them unless you’re on some Arctic expedition. However, engine oil does get thicker in colder temperatures and turns into a gel-like substance.

So, it doesn’t freeze and crystalize in the same way that, say, water does. But rather, it thickens as the temperature drops to the point where it will become a gel-like substance. In any case, the oil becomes unusable for the engine.

The video above shows how differential oil thickens at freezing temperatures. While it doesn’t freeze, its thickness makes it difficult to circulate the oil evenly and therefore it can’t do its job properly.

When the oil can’t lubricate the engine properly, it will cause more friction and stress to the engine. You don’t need us to explain that’s bad news. It can cause serious engine damage or even cause a seized engine in extreme cases.

So, does oil freeze? Technically it does, but at extreme temperatures that you’re unlikely to experience. But it will still thicken to a point where it becomes unusable and can cause engine damage, and this is what we’re referring to when we say engine oil freeze.

Does Oil Freeze: Engine Oil Types And Freeze Points

With the technicalities out of the way, let’s talk about oil types. There are three main types of engine oil: conventional or mineral oil, semi-synthetic, and synthetic oil.

All of them freeze at a very low temperature you’re unlikely to experience. However, the temperature at which they turn into a gel-like substance differs:

  • Mineral oil is simply refined crude oil with little-to-no additives. And they have a higher “freezing” point at around -4°F or -20°C.
  • Semi-synthetic is a mineral oil that’s been mixed with some additives to improve its performance. They typically “freeze” at around -49°F or -45°C.
  • Synthetic oil is a lab-made lubricant. Although its base material is often crude oil, it’s been treated with modified petroleum components and additives to improve performance. They can withstand temperatures as low as -76°F or -60°C.

Different Oil Types

Mineral oil is the simplest of them all, and therefore the cheapest. They usually cost around $38 for a 4-liter container, and there’s usually a $20 difference between mineral and synthetic oil. Whereas the semi-synthetic oil sits somewhere in between.

Most car engines can work with any type of oil (TYPE, not VISCOSITY, mind you), and you can even safely mix them. Although if you were to mix synthetic with other oil types, then you won’t get the full benefit of the synthetic oil (therefore, it’s crucial to understand the nuances between synthetic blend vs full synthetic oil).

However, when it comes to choosing engine oil for the winter, it’s perhaps more important to pay attention to the oil weight or viscosity rating. This segues us nicely to our next section:

Does Oil Freeze: Oil Viscosity Explained

Whichever type of oil you get, chances are they won’t freeze apart in extreme conditions. But you need to pay attention to the oil weight, also known as the SAE viscosity rating

You’ll notice every engine oil has something like “5W-20” written on the packaging. That’s the oil’s viscosity rating as determined by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The SAE rating determines the oil’s thickness at different temperatures.

So, what is the meaning of this oil number? The first number with the ‘W’ (W for winter) represents the oil thickness at 0°F or -17.8°C. Meanwhile, the latter number represents the oil thickness at 100°C or 212°F, which is the engine’s operating temperature.

The higher the number, the thicker the oil is at the respective temperature. And the lower the number, the thinner the oil, making it easier to pump. Note that the ratings do not specify at what temperature the oil thickens into a gel-like substance; it simply represents the thickness at different temperatures.

If you need more references, check out our guides on oil viscosities below:

Why Is Oil Viscosity Important

Car engines are very finicky. If something isn’t right that they won’t run properly, and will probably damage themselves in the process. And that includes when you use the wrong type of oil.

This rating is important as car engines require different oil viscosity. Some engines can operate with thicker oils, while others will require thinner oil to operate efficiently and safely. This rating makes it easier for mechanics and consumers to find the correct oil for the car.

Using engine oil that’s too thin will cause metal-to-metal contact between the components. This will result in excess friction, causing severe engine damage that will likely require an engine rebuild or replacement. You don’t need us to tell you that’s a costly endeavor – check out our guide on how much do engine rebuilds cost to learn more.

Meanwhile, using oil that’s too thick will force the engine to work harder to pump the oil. This can cause a loss of horsepower, and an increase in fuel consumption and the extra stress can also lead to engine damage. This is why overfilling your engine oil (and having too much oil in your car) is terrible, as excess oil can also cause unnecessary stress.

Does Oil Freeze: How To Choose The Right Oil

As mentioned, different engines require different oil viscosity to operate safely and efficiently. So, don’t just go out and buy the lowest winter rating possible; pay attention to the recommendations from the manufacturer!

Check your owner’s manual, and you should find the recommended oil viscosity range from your manufacturer. Most carmakers will list several oil viscosity ratings that are safe for the car to use. If you live or are about to travel to a colder region, use the oil with the lowest winter rating as recommended by the manufacturer.

If you can’t find it in your manual, there is plenty of information you could find online. Dealer sites often state the safe range of oil weight your car can use. And you can also find recommendations from fellow owners in forums. Just make sure you type in the correct model year and engine.

Does Oil Freeze

It’s really as simple as that when choosing engine oil. Aside from the viscosity rating, pretty much any renowned motor oil brand will be safe to use, whatever your car’s make and model is.

Additionally, you can use any oil type. Although we’d like to note that it’s better to use whatever your manufacturer recommended in the first place. And as mentioned, you can usually safely mix them, although you won’t get the full benefit of synthetic oil if you mix them with regular mineral oil.

Does Oil Freeze: Preparing Your Car For Winter

If you’re reading this post then it’s most likely you’re either about to move or travel to a cold and freezing region. Winter motoring can be treacherous, but there are things you can do to minimize risks.

We already mentioned that you should use engine oil with a winter viscosity rating as low as the manufacturer would recommend. And here are our other tips:

1. Avoid Driving If You Can

Yes, the first tip is to avoid driving altogether. This only applies when the road is filled with snow and ice, which is an extremely dangerous driving condition. Otherwise, you can still safely drive.

Even with the most advanced four-wheel drive system and the most capable winter tires, driving in snow or ice is still dangerous unless your name is Sebastian Loeb or Mads Ostberg. So, best to make one trip to stockpile all the essentials you might need, and avoid going out whenever possible.

2. Check Your Tires

If you have no other choice but to drive, then the first thing you should check is your tires. If you already have winter tires, check the grooves or tire tread and make sure they’re still deep and in good condition.

You can use a tire tread depth gauge to see if your treads are still deep enough and safe to use. Simply stick the gauge into the groove and press it against the tread block. As long it’s still more than 2/32 of an inch, then the tires are still safe to use.

Winter Driving

You should also check the tire pressure before driving. Some would recommend deflating your tires when driving in snow, this is because offroad enthusiasts often deflate their tires when driving on mud or sand.

The idea is that underinflated tires won’t sink into the terrain, and they can better find grip on these terrains. However, it doesn’t translate well in winter driving. You actually want the tires to dig in so they can find the road surface beneath the layer of snow, giving you better traction. So, keep the tire pressure at around 30 to 35 PSI.

3. Consider Winter Or All-Season Tires

If you’re still using summer tires, switching to winter tires might be a good idea. Winter tires have deeper blocks and a tread pattern that’s been designed to better deal with snow and ice.

Additionally, it uses a different rubber compound that doesn’t harden in cold conditions. This allows it to remain soft even in cold conditions, which allows it to better find grip on snowy or icy roads.

If you live in a region where it gets both cold and hot throughout the year, you can also opt for all-season tires. These tires offer better traction in the cold than summer tires, but better longevity in the dry than winter tires.

Winter tires tend to wear out quickly on dry roads. This is because the softer compound leaves more rubber on dry roads, causing it to wear down more quickly. All-season tires offer you flexibility, and you don’t have to change tires when the season changes. Our guide to the best all-season tires for snow can help you find the correct all-season tires for your needs.

4. Check Your Battery

Car batteries are also sensitive to cold temperatures. To avoid a breakdown in the middle of nowhere, regularly check your battery and alternator (good if you’re trying to figure out if you have a bad battery vs a bad alternator). Make sure the battery has enough charge, and that the alternator is also working so that it recharges the battery properly.

There are three things you need to check: the battery’s voltage when off, the voltage when the engine is running, and the cranking voltage. The cranking voltage is particularly important in winter driving as it indicates the battery’s condition and you can replace it before it fails.

The video above from ChrisFix is a great guide on how to use a multimeter to check your car’s battery condition. Note that the cranking volt should be greater than 9.7 volts. Any less than that then your battery is dying.

Last but not least, consider getting a battery with a cold cranking amp (CCA) of 600 amps or more. Higher CCA means the battery can deliver more power at freezing temperatures, providing a smooth start even in the coldest weather. We have a great guide here on car battery sizes and specs on how to choose the correct battery.

5. Check Your Fluids

Now you know the answer to the question “does oil freeze?” But how about other fluids in the car? In a nutshell, yes, they can freeze as well. And you should also check other fluids in your car such as the coolant and fuel.

Most coolant now already comes premixed with antifreeze, which lowers its freezing point to -5°F and will keep the cooling system running smoothly. But some cars may still run on water in the cooling system, so you should double-check that. The video below will let you know what other things to check with the coolant and cooling system.

Meanwhile, fuel has a very low freezing point, with some freezing at as low as -200°F. However, moisture may seep into your fuel line, and water freezes at a much warmer 32°F. This can block the fuel line, which prevents fuel from getting into the engine.

You can help prevent this by using antifreeze additives and keeping your fuel level above a quarter of a tank. But the best way to prevent this is to simply always park indoors whenever possible.

6. Prepare A Winter Survival Kit

Like it or not, sometimes bad things happen. Maybe your battery died, or you accidentally drove into a ditch. As they say: better safe than sorry, so it’s best to have a winter survival kit just in case of emergencies. Here are the things we recommend you have in your car at all times during the winter:

Those are just some of the essentials. We’ve linked those to products on Amazon if you’d like to buy them separately (maybe you already have some of them). Or you can also buy a complete kit if you don’t want the hassle.

Note that you should also keep a reflective warning triangle, a car jack, and a lug wrench at all times just in case you need to change your tires.

7. Other Winter Tips

There are plenty more tips if you want to be ready for all types of emergencies. But doing the ones we’ve listed above are the basics and should prepare you enough for the winter.

Some other things you can do include getting your car coated and washing them regularly to protect it from rust (for more insight, check out our comparison between surface rust vs deep rust, and how to prevent rust on cars), especially if you live in the salt belt. Lubing your door locks and window tracks is also a good idea to prevent damage.

We recommend watching the video above for more winter driving tips. Another key thing is to make sure the heater, defroster, and other accessories in your are working properly.

Does Oil Freeze FAQs

Got any more questions about engine oil and cold temperatures? These answers might be helpful for you:

What Temperature Is Freezing Celsius

Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be zero degrees in Celsius.

What Does The Weight Of Oil Mean

Oil weight or the viscosity rating is essentially the thickness of the engine oil. Most modern engine oil has a multi-grade rating; the number with ‘W’ represents its thickness at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and the latter number represents its thickness at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the engine’s operating temperature. The larger the number, the thicker the oil is, and vice versa. The key thing is to always use oil within the weight range specified by your car’s manufacturer.

How Long Is Oil Good For

Engine oil has a shelf life of up to five years in a sealed container. If it’s been opened, then the shelf life may be as short as two years. If the container’s been left open it’s probably not a good idea to use them as they may have collected dust, reducing their lubricating property.

What Temperature Does Oil Freeze

Oil will typically freeze and crystalize at temperatures lower than -130 degrees Fahrenheit. Note that mineral or conventional engine oil will thicken into a gel-like substance at temperatures as high as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, and synthetic oil at -76 degrees Fahrenheit, rendering them unusable.

Does Gas Freeze In Car

Gas can freeze, but only in temperatures lower than -40 degrees Celsius. Some may even have a freezing point as low as -200 degrees Celsius or -328 degrees Fahrenheit. You’re unlikely to experience temperatures as extreme as this. Fuel line freeze usually has more to do with water particles trapped in the line. You can use antifreeze additives and keep more than a quarter of fuel in the tank to help prevent this.

Does Cold Weather Affect Car Engines

Cold weather affects your car’s engine because the oil and other fluids in the car will be at a lower temperature. This can increase friction and makes it harder for the engine to reach its optimal operating temperature. It can affect fuel consumption and the performance of the engine, although not always to a noticeable extent.

Does Oil Expand When Hot

Yes, like most other liquids, engine oil also expands when hot. This is the reason why some recommend that you check the engine oil when cold. However, the reason why you should check it when cold is more for safety. Additionally, checking the engine oil 30 to 45 minutes after driving allows the engine oil to drip back into the oil pan, giving you a more accurate reading of the oil level.

What Temperature Does Water Freeze In A Car

Water will freeze at 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of what you store them in. Use antifreeze for your car’s cooling system to allow water or coolant to circulate through the system even in freezing weather. This will drop the freezing point to as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit.

How To Keep Your Car Engine From Freezing

Your car engine won’t freeze. But the fluids in your car can, which will prevent it from working. For the cooling system, use a coolant that’s been mixed with antifreeze so it can withstand temperatures as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit. As for the oil, fuel, and other fluids, the only way to keep them from freezing or thickening is to park your car inside a garage, shielding it from the cold weather.

Does Oil Freeze: In Conclusion…

So, does oil freeze? Technically yes, but at a temperature so low that you’re unlikely to experience it. However, the engine oil will still thicken to a gel-like substance when it’s really cold. Essentially rendering it unusable for your engine, it might as well be frozen.

If you live or are about to travel to a colder climate, using engine oil that has a low viscosity rating in cold weather is probably a good idea. The low rating means the oil remains thin even in cold weather, allowing your engine to effectively pump and use the oil during operation.

Does Oil Freeze

However, you should always check the owner’s manual to find the lowest rating the manufacturer recommends. Using oil that’s too thin means it won’t create a protective layer for your engine, causing excess friction between the components, and will result in engine damage.

In a nutshell, oil can freeze. But as long as you use engine oil with a low winter viscosity rating that’s still within the manufacturer’s recommended range, then you don’t need to worry. Just park indoors whenever possible to minimize the chance.

Hopefully, this has been a helpful guide to engine oil and winter driving for you. Good luck!

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