Modern cars don’t need a ton of love but do need a little. Checking your engine oil level is one the most important maintenance tasks and without doubt one of the easiest too.
To add oil to your car, follow these 4 steps:
- Park on level ground
- Wait 5 minutes after engine shut down
- Remove dipstick to check level
- Add oil
In this post, you’ll learn how to check your oil level, choose the correct oil type and add your engine oil. You’ll also understand the importance of checking and adjusting the oil level regularly. 5 minutes from now you’ll be a pro!
1 Park On Level Ground
Park your car on level ground, parking on a steep hill will for example cause an inaccurate reading. Many cars are fitted with an oil volume gauge in the oil pan, the system likely won’t make a reading unless parked on a level surface.
2 Wait After Shut Down
After shutting down the engine wait five minutes, that’s about enough time for the oil to make its way back to the oil pan under the forces of gravity. Measuring before all the oil drains back will cause the reading to show a lower oil level.
3 Check Level
Most cars use the traditional dipstick type set up, but more modern higher-end vehicles may not have a dipstick installed. Instead, they rely on an oil pan oil level sensor.
To dip your car for oil, first, locate the dipstick. Most dipstick handles are colored to help with identification. If you can’t find a dipstick under the hood, check your driver’s manual for oil checking procedure.
Your car may not have a dipstick. Instead, your car will be fitted with an oil monitoring system. Checking the oil simply requires accessing the oil check menu through the driver’s information panel.
Most of us will have a regular dipstick, go ahead and remove it and using some kitchen towel, wipe the stick clean before refitting and removing again to obtain an accurate oil read on the stick.
The stick will have an upper and a lower mark. Words, letters, or marks are commonly employed to identify the full and low levels, Full, F, Low, L, or just a dash. An oil level in the hatched area between the full and low mark means the level is OK but at the full mark is obviously better. An engine with an oil level below the hatched area needs oil immediately.
4 Add Oil
Adding oil isn’t difficult, start by locating and removing the oil filler cap. The cap usually has an “Oil” or oil can symbol and usually also specifies the oil type to use.
When filling oil, spillage is common. To help catch any spilled oil, place a clean cloth around the oil filler. Add a little at a time, and re-dip to check. Adding a complete container at once runs the risk of overfilling.
Too much oil isn’t good for your engine, it may cause increased crankcase pressure, oil leaks, burning oil, and misfiring. Overfilling the oil by a little is OK, but if the dip read comes way up the stick well above the full ark, you’ll need to drain some out.
Is All Engine Oil The Same?
Oil is oil, right? No, engine oil is graded by its ability to flow at different temperatures. It’s known as viscosity. Oil has a few important functions, the most important of which is to reduce friction between moving metal components.
Oil does this by forming a layer between the metal components so that they glide across the oil as opposed to making physical contact with each other.
Thick oil offers great protection but doesn’t flow around the engine so well. Thin oil flows great but doesn’t offer a thick enough layer between components.
To add to these problems, oil flows at different rates depending on how warm it is. All oil is at its thickest on a cold start especially if the weather is Burrr, and conversely at its thinnest when the engine is hot and working hard.
The solution to this problem, is blended oil, thin oil mixed with thick. Synthetic man-made oil mixed with traditional petroleum-based oil. The result is known as a multi-grade oil.
The thinner oil protects and flows easily during low-temperature starts and the heavier oils in the mix help protect when the engine is hot.
The blend differs for different types of engines as dictated by the engine manufacturer. Oil types are identified by the numbers you see on the oil can at the gas station.
A common type is 5W-30. The first number and letter “5W” identifies how viscous the oil is at lower temperatures (W for winter). A lower number means the oil is thinner. The second number identifies oil viscosity at higher operating temperatures.
What Oil For My Car?
The oil type for your car is important, however, even the wrong oil type is better than a low oil condition. So if you don’t have the correct type, go ahead and top up with an alternative oil type.
The oil type for your car is usually marked on the oil cap or found inside your driver’s manual.
Oil is as you know graded by its viscosity and the number will look something like 5W-30 or 10W-40 etc.
Oil choice is dictated by 3 basic factors:
- Engine performance
- Age of car
- Ambient temperature
Can I Add Oil To My Car When It’s Hot?
Yes, you can add oil to your engine when it’s hot, but obviously, the engine needs to be turned off and allowed five minutes for the oil to settle before using the dipstick.
Is It OK To Add New Oil To Old Oil?
Yes, you can add new oil to old oil. However, adding new oil isn’t a substitute for changing the engine oil. Old oil will contain acids and metal filings, only draining the oil pan and filter will renew the oil system.
Oil and filter are typically changed every 10 thousand miles.
Why Do I Have To Add Oil To My Car Every Week?
Constantly adding oil to your car is a pain in the ass and it’s expensive. There are two likely reasons you have to add oil to your car every week.
- Burning oil
- Leaks oil
1 Burning Oil
Blowing blue/white smoke out the tailpipe is a sure sign your car is burning oil. A smell of burning oil, smoke when you hit the gas pedal and constant tops are as you know a sign all is not well. Here’s a list of common causes of burning oil starting with the simplest solutions first.
- Overfilled oil level
- Faulty PCV
- Faulty turbo oil seal
- Worn valve stem seals
- Faulty head gasket
- Worn piston rings
A blocked PCV valve is a common problem and will cause the engine to burn oil. Replacing the valve is an easy repair to make and they’re cheap too at about $20.
If your engine only smokes in the morning on startup and when you punch the gas, it’s likely your oil stem valve seals have become hard. This is common on cars at about 10 years old. It will require a trip to the shop, but as repairs go it’s not that big a deal.
A faulty turbo oil seal is a common cause of oil consumption and will require some detective work to diagnose.
Engine wear is obviously common in older cars and a compression test will confirm a weak cylinder(s).
2 Leaking Oil
Old engines leak oil, that’s what they do. Sealers and gaskets break down after years of good service and a leak usually starts with sweat and develops into a flow. Leaks don’t get better by themselves they get worse.
Leaks are very often ignored by owners, after all the car is old and a quart of oil is cheaper the labor to fix the problem. Here’s a list of common areas for oil leaks, I’ll list the easy fix one’s first.
- Loose oil filter
- Oil drain washer worn out
- Oil cap seal worn
- Turbo banjo bolt
- Cam/rocker cover
- Oil filter housing
- Front cover
- Oil pan gasket
- Oil cooler leaking into coolant system
- Head gasket
When oil leaks from an engine the airflow will cause the oil to cover the whole underside of the vehicle and so can be difficult to identify the origin. To successfully identify the source of the leak, begin by washing the engine and underside being careful to avoid the electrics. Continue to drive the vehicle but examine regularly to identify the leak(s).
Many leaks are minor and easily repaired, others may be a ton more complex and uneconomic. Consider trying an engine oil stop leak product, it may not stop the leak completely but if it slows the leak, it will pay for itself.
Why Is There Oil Way Up The Dipstick?
Oil all the way up the dipstick is normal when removing it initially after an engine shutdown. However, if the oil level is reading way up the stick, it suggests your engine crankcase is over full. It may not be oil though.
I often need to remove excessive oil from engines after the customers overfill them accidentally and it’s an easy mistake to make. If you think that’s the problem go ahead and remove the oil, by draining it out or using my favorite mess and hassle-free siphon, you can check it out here on the Mechanics tools page.
If however, you didn’t overfill the oil, the next most likely cause of the high dipstick reading is a coolant to an oil leak. A couple of ways this can happen are through a faulty oil cooler or a failed head gasket.
Check the coolant level, if it’s low or you’ve needed to top it up regularly it’s likely you found the problem. Oil coolers are plumbed to the coolant system and are used to help control oil temperature.
If the internal element ruptures coolant and oil will mix. Replacing the cooler will fix the problem, however, the coolant system and engine will need to be flushed.
A faulty head-gasket is the other likely cause, the gasket keeps the oil and coolant ports separate and any damage between these ports will allow the fluids to mix. To test for this condition, use a coolant system pressure tester and expect to hear pressure escape the crankcase via the dipstick.
Replacing the gasket is a job for a mechanic. Likewise, the engine and coolant systems will need to be flushed.
You might like this post “Worth fixing a blown head gasket”.
Can I Put 5w30 Oil In My Car?
5W-30 is a pretty common grade oil and it won’t hurt your engine and to use it. However, it is best to use the manufacturer’s recommended oil type and grade. Your engine maker has likely made their recommendations based on hours of scientific testing.
You’ll find your car’s recommended oil type and grade either on the oil cap or in the driver’s manual.
Can You Feel The Difference After An Oil Change?
Most owners likely won’t notice much difference after an oil change. However, if your car has a ton of mileage the engine is likely to sound and run a little smoother with an oil change. But be assured, if it sounds different or not your car will run a ton better with fresh oil.
Can too much oil cause Hydro-lock? Too much oil in an engine crankcase can cause the engine to stall a condition known as hydro-locking. Overfilling may also cause engine oil seals to fail and leak oil.
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.