Did you know the color of oil in car engines changes? For the most part, brand new oil will go into the engine looking almost amber in color. When it is old and needs to be replaced it will be much darker and dirty looking. However, colors can be different given the oil being used, additives used, and even the weather can make the colors look slightly different. Let’s take a look at the differences in motor oil color and what it means.

What Color Should Your Car Oil Be?
What Color Should Your Car Oil Be?


  • New Oil - Generally, new oil is amber in color. However, depending on the type of oil and the additives in the new oil, this color can be slightly different
  • Milky or Cream-Colored Oil -Typically, the cream colored oil tends to be a leak in the head gasket. In addition to the change in oil, you should also notice white smoke coming from the vehicle.
  • Frothy and Creamy Colored Oil - This is similar to the head gasket leak oil color, however if there is no white smoke coming out of the vehicle and your coolant levels are low, this indicates water contamination.
  • Dark Oil - Dark oil typically means that it has been cycled through your engine too many times and it is time to get it changed. However, if you are using an oil with lots of additives, this could result in a dark oil as well. Keep in mind that dark motor oil is not necessarily dirty oil. So, what does dirty oil look like? If your oil is dark and thick, it could mean that there is dirt in your oil. This is typical with off road vehicles.
  • Black Oil - If you are seeing black motor oil, not just a dark brown, this is a bad engine oil color and you should take your vehicle to an ASE certified mechanic to get it looked at.

By checking your oil frequently, you will be able to get a better understanding of what your oil looks like. In the beginning you’ll notice the lighter amber color and, depending on the oil you use, around 3,000 to 5,000 miles you’ll see a darkening of the oil. Try not to switch up the types of oil you put into your vehicle as this can cause issues. If you use synthetic oil, you’ll start to understand the synthetic oil color ranges that happen in your vehicle. You’ll get familiar quickly with the color of your oil by checking frequently. This should become a regular part of your routine maintenance along with inspecting your brakes and checking your transmission fluid level.

Check Your Oil Frequently
Check Your Oil Frequently

More on Oil

What color should oil be on the dipstick?

  1. Motor oil color changes depending on the time it has been in the engine and any problems happening in your vehicle. As a general rule, new oil will be amber in color while old oil will be darker.

What color should used oil be?

  1. Generally, used oil will be a dark brown color.

What color is bad engine oil?

  1. Bad engine oil color will vary depending on the problem. Milky colored oil can be a leak in the head gasket while frothy, creamy colored oil may be indicating water contamination.

What does it mean if my oil is brown?

  1. Brown oil can just mean that the oil has cycled through the engine too many times and needs to be replaced. If the oil hasn’t been in too long, it could mean that the oil had a lot of additives in it.

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