What Is Your Engine Oil Trying to Tell You?

You can learn a lot about the state of your engine oil simply by popping the hood and looking at the dipstick. The color and consistency of the oil is all you need to determine whether your Volkswagen needs an oil change or if there’s any funky business going on under the hood.

There are four common oil colors and consistencies you’d find on your dipstick. Which ones are good, and which ones are bad?

Engine oil quality

Amber Colored Oil

Amber is the color you want to see each and every time. It’s what clean, fresh oil looks like and it signifies no problems. Keep in mind that seeing amber on your dipstick doesn’t mean that you don’t need to check your oil again until the next oil change. Something could go wrong between now and then, so it’s smart to check your oil on a regular basis, perhaps every two weeks.

Dark Brown or Black Colored Oil – Thin Consistency

If you find thin and runny dark brown or black oil on your dipstick, don’t be alarmed. Your oil is likely fine. The dark color may be attributed to additives that darken oil without affecting the quality. Also, fresh oil tends to turn dark from excessive heat after a long trip.

However, there’s a small chance that your oil is dark because it’s in the beginning stages of contamination. That’s why we suggest checking your oil again in a week, and pay special attention to the consistency. If it’s still just as thin and runny, then you don’t have to worry. If it's turning thick...

Dark Brown or Black Colored Oil – Thick Consistency

Dark-colored thick and sludgy oil always means one thing: your car needs an oil change as soon as possible. It could just mean that your car’s running on old oil that should’ve been changed a while ago, or it could mean that a lot of dirt, dust, and grime somehow got into your motor and contaminated your oil.

Cream Colored Oil

Cream colored oil

Cream-colored oil is always bad news, via Scott

If you see milky, frothy cream-colored oil on your dipstick, we have bad news for you: the oil is contaminated with either coolant or water. To narrow down the problem, turn on your car and let it run for a few minutes.

Do you see white smoke coming out of the exhaust? If so, the culprit is likely a broken head gasket leaking coolant into the oil. Call your local repair shop and have them look at it as soon as possible. Letting this go unchecked for too long can lead to serious engine problems that will set you back thousands of dollars.

If you have to drive your Volkswagen before bringing it to the shop, watch the temperature gauge like a hawk. If the engine gets too hot, pull over right away and let it cool down.

If there’s no white smoke coming out of the exhaust, it’s likely that your oil is contaminated with water. Change the oil, and you’ll be good to go.

The Key to an Accurate Reading

Check your oil a couple times a week. That way, you can gauge how quickly your oil changes color and, after some time of doing this, you’ll be able to detect problems and determine whether your car needs an oil change with a quick eyeball test.

Every car handles oil differently. In some cars, dark brown oil means that an oil change is needed. In other cars, dark brown oil is fine. A good way to figure out which category your Volkswagen falls into is to make a note of the oil color when your car’s due for an oil change (according to the owner’s manual).

The more you observe your oil over a long period of time, the better you’ll understand how your car handles oil and the more likely you’ll catch problems before it’s too late.