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How to Check Oil For Your Car

Checking your car's engine oil can be as easy as opening the hood, locating the dipstick, inserting it in the oil pipe, and pulling it out to see the current level. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans don’t know the basics of car maintenance.

A study of American car owners found that nearly half of them aren’t confident in their ability to change their car’s oil, and 36% of them don’t know how to fix a flat tire. Cars need regular maintenance to run safely and efficiently on the road.

Knowing how to check oil is an essential part of car care. Checking your engine oil is a few-minute investment that can help your vehicle running smoothly and keep it healthy. In this article, we’ll go over the steps involved in checking your car’s engine oil, how often you should do it, and more.

Why You Should Check Your Engine Oil

Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle’s engine. Without fresh oil, your car engine can burn up and seize anytime. Not only will it cost you repairs and replacements, but it can lead to dangerous engine failures while on the road.

Checking your oil allows you to monitor the condition of your vehicle and tells you when you need the engine oil replaced. Neglected oil changes can cause sludge and other carbon deposits to build up, slowly damaging the engine.

Regular oil checks and changes are a simple routine that makes your vehicle last longer. When your engine is running at optimal levels, you can expect an increase in gas mileage, which can help you save some money.

Checking your engine’s oil level is a quick and straightforward process.

How To Check Oil Level

Checking your engine’s oil level is a quick and straightforward process. There are currently two ways to check your oil: through the manual use of a dipstick or electronically through a digital display on the dashboard.

Here’s a guide on how to check the oil level using a dipstick:

1.  Park the car on a flat surface.

Parking your car on a flat surface will prevent the oil from building up to one side of the pan and giving you an inaccurate reading. For a reliable reading, be sure to find a flat, even surface to park on before checking your oil.

2. Turn off the engine and let it cool.

After parking the vehicle, turn off the engine and let it cool down for 15 minutes. Oil travels around the engine while you’re driving. Allowing it cool down will let the oil settle down evenly into the oil pan and give you a more accurate reading later.

  • During cold weather, it may be better to take your car for a drive first to loosen up the oil so it could be less viscous during your inspection. After driving, park your car and let it cold down for at least 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Synthetic oil tends to expand when it is heated compared to regular oil. Experts suggest that synthetic oil has to be slightly colder than usual before checking the oil levels. Waiting for at least 30 minutes after turning off the engine is the best time to check the oil.

3. Pop open the hood.

Once the engine cooled down, you can open the hood. Refer to your car’s manual on how to unlock your vehicle’s hood properly. Some hoods can stay up, while others may require a prop rod which can be found folded up on the front or side of the engine compartment. You can use the prop rod to hold the hood in place as you inspect the engine.

4. Locate the dipstick

A dipstick is a measuring device used to measure the oil levels of a car’s engine. They are usually in bright red, orange, or yellow. The dipstick could be rectangular or circular. They are often placed towards the passenger side or closer to the front of the compartment.

Some Ford and Honda car models have their dipstick pointing out directly from the valve cover. If you are driving an automatic transmission vehicle, it’s possible to find two dipsticks. One is for the transmission dipstick, located at the back of the compartment and closer to the driver’s side.

Avoid being confused about the two and never use one to measure a different fluid. Please refer to your car’s manual to know the proper location of your vehicle’s dipsticks.

5. Get some paper towels or a white rag. 

Having a couple of paper towels or a white rag can help wipe off the oil from the dipstick. A clean and white paper towel or rag works best because the white backdrop allows you to examine the oil’s color easily.

6. Remove the dipstick

Slowly pull out the dipstick while holding a paper towel or a cloth around the port to catch any oil drips. Pulling the dipstick should require too much force. Once you can get the cap off, the dipstick should be easy to pull free.

Never forcefully remove anything from the engine, especially if you are unsure if it’s the correct dipstick.

7. Examine the quality and the color of the oil

You won’t get an accurate reading when you first pull out the dipstick because oil splashes around when you’re driving. However, it’s an excellent opportunity to check the quality of the oil.

Engine oil’s consistency and color can indicate its age or possible engine issues that need to be addressed. After removing the dipstick, wipe it on a paper towel or rag and examine the oil.

Good engine oil will have a yellow-greenish color on the paper towel or rag. Over time it changes its color to amber, brown, and eventually black. The color change is caused by metal filings and particulates, which build up over time.

You can also wipe some oil on two of your fingers and rub them together. Good oil should feel smooth, while an aging one could feel rough and coarse. Dark and rough-textured oil needs to be changed.

8. Wipe off the dipstick, re-insert back, and pull it out.   

After the initial inspection, completely dry off the dipstick with the paper towel or cloth and insert it again into the hole. Once the dipstick is fully inserted, immediately pull it back out to get a proper reading. Slowing pulling the dipstick might cause the oil to splash around and provide inaccurate readings.

How To Read A Dipstick

There should at least be two indicators at the end of a dipstick. These indicators could be two lines or two holes. The “minimum” marker should be the one close to the very tip of the dipstick. The “maximum” marker should be around an inch or so above the other marker.

  • If the oil line is between the tip of the dipstick and the minimum marker, you need to have your oil changed.
  • If the oil line is beyond the maximum marker, you may need to drain some of the oil from your vehicle. Too much oil can cause damage to the engine and the crankshaft. 
  • An adequately filled vehicle should show a line in between the two markers.

How To Check Oil Level Without A Dipstick

Some modern cars no longer have dipsticks and instead relies on sensors in the engine that reads the oil level and displays it on the dashboard.

If your car doesn’t have a dipstick, look for a digital oil level display on your dashboard’s gauge cluster or the infotainment screen. Sometimes, the oil level data can be hidden from the driver and found in a sub-menu.

Depending on the model of your car, the oil level display may not show up if the engine is too cold or too warm. Some Porsche models like the 2005 Porche Boxster needed to be cooled down for at least 30 minutes before it shows a reading. BMW models like the 2008 BMW M5 have to be at normal operating temperature to provide an accurate reading.

Check the driver’s manual on finding the location for the oil level display and when it can provide an accurate reading.

it’s best practice to have the oil level checked at least once a month and before a long journey.

How Often Should You Check The Engine Oil Level

If you’re wondering when to check the oil, it’s best practice to have the oil level checked at least once a month and before a long journey. Older cars and models may need to be checked at even shorter intervals because they may be using higher amounts of oil.

Some factors like fuel quality, stop-and-go driving, and high temperatures can also increase oil usage. If you’ve been driving more frequently, you can check the oil every couple of weeks.  

Proper Maintenance Is Key

Checking the oil and regularly changing it are the best things you can do to take care of your car’s engine. Proper maintenance will keep your vehicle running smoothly and efficiently on the road while providing you peace of mind behind the wheel.

Auto Works of Brandon offers high-quality auto repair and maintenance. Our company also has highly trained technicians specializing in European and import vehicles from Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW.

Feel free to check out the reviews page to read about what our clients think about our work. If you plan to have your engine oils checked or changed, please visit our contact us page to schedule an appointment and have your vehicle inspected.

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Oil Change
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