Keeping your car’s engine adequately lubricated is crucial to its longevity and performance. Regularly checking your engine oil level is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to ensure your engine stays healthy.
I’m John Cunningham, a qualified and experienced auto technician. In this guide, we’ll show you step-by-step how to check engine oil in your car, including where to find the dipstick, how to read the oil level, and what to do if the oil level is low; five minutes from now, you’ll be a pro!
- Why an oil check is important
- Tools you’ll need
- Mistakes to avoid
- Checking oil
- Engine oil FAQs
Why Checking Engine Oil is Important
Oil plays a critical role in your car’s engine by lubricating its moving parts and reducing friction. It also helps to cool the engine, prevent rust and corrosion, and keeps the engine clean by routing the oil through the oil filter removing harmful particles and debris.
Low engine oil can cause severe damage to your car’s engine. Without enough oil, the engine can overheat, the parts can grind against each other, and the engine can seize up. Indeed, it is the most costly mistake a driver can make, as an engine that runs low on oil is typically beyond repair.
Generally, no tools are needed to top up your oil. A clean rag or paper towel is about as toolie as this job gets. Older cars often have the oil filler cap awkwardly located, so we use a funnel for those types of situations; you won’t have any trouble with more modern motors; the engineers have seen the light.
Mistakes To Avoid When Checking Oil
Like any job, oil checking and topping can turn to shit if we don’t follow the rules, and we’ll get to them shortly. Anyhow, here are a few ways I see this chore go wrong, and, for some, it turns into a horror story.
But don’t sweat it; we’ll do the opposite to all of these, and we be just fine.
- Checking oil when parked on a steep hill
- Attempting to check the oil with the engine running
- Putting oil in the wrong place when topping up
- Not using oil to top up
- Fitting the oil cap backways
- Forgetting to fit the oil cap
- Not seating the dipstick all the way when testing or on completion
How to Check Engine Oil
1 Park the Car on a Level Surface
Before checking your engine oil, park your car on a level surface and turn off the engine. This will ensure that the oil settles in the oil pan and gives you an accurate reading.
2 Locate the Dipstick
The dipstick is a long, thin metal rod that is usually located near the front of the engine. It may have a colored handle, such as yellow or red, to make it easy to identify. In addition, it may have an oil symbol.
3 Remove and Wipe the Dipstick
Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean with a rag or paper towel to check the oil level. This will remove any oil or debris on the dipstick and ensure an accurate reading.
5 Check the Oil Level
The dipstick will have two marks or notches on it. The lower mark indicates the minimum oil level, while the upper mark indicates the maximum oil level.
The oil level is deemed Okay anywhere between these two marks, but ideally, we like to have the oil level at the upper mark.
You must add more oil if the oil level is below the minimum mark.
6 Add Oil if Necessary
If the oil level is low, you will need to add more oil. To do this, remove the oil filler cap, usually located on top of the engine, and add the recommended type of oil for your car. (usually marked on filler cap; if not, it will be in your drivers manual)
Be sure not to overfill the engine, which can also cause damage. Now you’ve turned pro!
Engine Oil FAQs:
- How often should I check my engine oil level? A: You should check your engine oil level at least once a month or before any long trip.
- Can I use any engine oil in my car? A: No, you should use the type of oil recommended in your car’s owner’s manual.
- What should I do if the oil level is low? A: You should add more oil immediately to prevent engine damage.
- What should I do if I add too much oil? If the oil level is significantly above the maximum level, it is best to remove the excess. Excess engine oil causes aeration (trapped pockets of air in the oil) and exposes the internal components to excessive friction.
- If I’m in a pinch, can I use a different grade of oil? Ideally, we’d use the recommended engine oil, but yes, so long as the oil is clean and is car engine oil. Wrong-grade oil is a better choice than low or no oil. That said, continued use of unrecommended engine oil will render your car manufacturer’s warranty (if in cover) void should something happen related or unrelated to the oil; just saying!
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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.