How to Check Your Oil in a Few Quick Steps
For some people, checking the oil can be a daunting task. This is not because it’s so technical that requires a textbook full of knowledge to complete, but because many owners feel intimidated by an engine, or they have questions that haven’t been answered. When should you check your oil? Should the engine be hot or cold? How do you read a dipstick, anyway?
These are legitimate questions because the answers do matter. Checking the oil at the wrong time, or reading the dipstick improperly can cause you more than just a headache. A false reading of your dipstick will give your false confidence, and you may end up with terminal engine damage. The following are a few tips that you can use to learn how to check your oil and prevent unnecessary engine wear.
Timing is Everything
The first step in checking your oil is doing so regularly. If you put a lot of miles on your engine, check it every other time you fill your tank. Otherwise, check it at least once a month, regardless of how little you may drive. Make it a habit, because checking your oil on a regular basis is part of being a responsible car owner.
Keep It Level
To get a proper reading, make sure that you are parked on level ground. Angled driveways and street-sides will never give you the right result because gravity will pull the oil to one side.
Open Your Owner’s Manual
Some people think that the only purpose for an owner’s manual is to take up space in the glove compartment. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The longer you own your car, the more often you will have to refer to it. When it comes to checking your oil, these are the things you need find (unless you already know):
- Front or rear-wheel drive
- A warm or cold engine for an oil check
- Location of dipstick
Note that most owner’s manuals will suggest that you check your oil when the engine is cold, but this isn’t always the case. Also, some European models don’t have dipsticks. If this is the case, the owner’s manual will instruct you on how to check the oil.
Get Under the Hood
Once you open the hood, locate the dipstick handle. In front-wheel-drive cars, it is usually located near the front of the engine. In rear-wheel drives, it will be found further back. The handle is usually yellow, ring-shaped, and marked ENGINE OIL.
Pull out the dipstick and then wipe away any fluid collected at its end. Re-insert the dipstick and push it all the way back in. If it doesn’t come out or go in easily, give the handle a slight turn. Once the handle is back in, pull it out once again.
Look at the end of the dipstick. You will find a streak of oil and a pair of markings. Depending on the car’s model, you will find one of four types of markings with which to read the results:
- Two pin holes
- MIN and MAX
- L and H
- A crosshatched area
If the top of the streak of oil ends anywhere between these two markings, then your engine has the proper amount of oil. If the streak is BELOW the bottom marking, then you’ll need to add more oil. You can find out more about choosing the right oil in a previous post.
Appearances are Everything
If the oil on the end of the dipstick is dark brown, black, or smells like gas, it’s probably a sign that you’re due for an oil change. However, if it looks like chocolate milk, or has metal shavings, then you need to have your car inspected by a mechanic immediately. If you put it off for any length of time, you may find yourself in need of a new engine.