DIY: How to Check Your Engine Oil Level

Did you know that most car experts reckon you should check your engine oil at least once a month?

To ensure that your engine remains well lubricated it is very important to check and top up your engine oil regularly. If the engine oil level drops too much there is a real danger of engine components not getting an adequate supply of engine oil, which can lead to catastrophic engine damage. Furthermore, refreshing the engine oil regularly can help limit wear and tear on the engine, and reduce the chance of expensive repairs in future.

Most vehicles will display a warning light to indicate that you need an oil change but it’s recommended that you check the engine oil level regularly using the dipstick method – and it’s so simple and quick to do!

How to check your engine oil level in 4 simple steps:

Step 1: Prepare to check

checking oil level

Be sure your vehicle is parked on level ground with the engine off, the transmission in Park (or the manual transmission in a lower gear) and the hand brake on. Ensure that the engine is cool and it has been off for at least 10 minutes before you check the oil. Things might get messy so have a rag or paper towel handy.

Lift the hood. If you’re not sure how to do this, consult your owner’s manual.

Step 2: Locate the dipstick

checking oil level in car

The dipstick is a long rod that goes deep into the engine to check the oil level and usually has a brightly coloured handle or is marked with an oil can symbol.

Step 3: Pull out the dipstick and check

checking oil level

Pull the dipstick fully out of the tube that it’s stored in and use a rag or paper towel and wipe any oil off of the end of the dipstick.

You should notice two marks on the dipstick itself, identifying the minimum and maximum oil levels.

Step 4: Pull out the dipstick and check

checking oil level

After it’s clean, push the dipstick all the way back into the tube. Let it sit and then remove it again.

If the level is halfway between the minimum and maximum levels on the dipstick you don’t need to add any oil. If it’s below halfway, you may want to add some oil. If it’s below the minimum mark, you need to add oil.

Once done, put back the dipstick and clear up any oil spills before closing the bonnet.

If you need an oil top-up and are not sure about how to do this yourself – we’re here to help. You can book an interim service where a vetted mechanic will carry out a 25-point service on your vehicle including new engine oil and filter as well as topping up your screenwash, antifreeze, brake fluid, power steering fluid & battery fluid.

Do you check engine oil when it is hot or cold?

For an accurate measurement, you should check the oil level before turning on the engine or 5 to 10 minutes after shutting down. Either way, ensure that the engine is cooled down completely before you attempt to check it.

How should I top up engine oil if it is low?

If you find that the engine oil on the dipstick is below the lower line, then you will need an oil top-up:

  • First ensure you have the right oil for your engine. Engine oils are labelled with their viscosity grade on the packaging and will usually look something like 0W-20 or 5W-40 If you’re not sure, check the owner’s manual for more information.
  • Keep a rag handy for any spillage along with a funnel which will be useful while pouring the oil in the oil tank
  • Open the oil filler cap under the bonnet and slowly pour the engine oil.
  • Wait for a few minutes for the oil to settle and do the dipstick check to ensure there is enough oil. If the level is between the two notches, then you’re done! If it’s still below the lower level then fill it up a little more. Be patient with this process and be sure to add the oil slowly as adding too much oil can cause issues with the engine.

How often should I change my car’s engine oil?

Deciding when you should change your engine oil will depend on a number of factors, often it will range between 5,000 miles and 10,000 miles, and in some cases, it may be even more. Keep in mind that the interval for replacing the engine oil that is different for every car.

Normally the manufacturer of your car will tell you in the car’s service book how often you should replace the engine oil in your car. Often the advice given will depend on how you drive and how the car is used. Simply put, the old ‘3000 miles’ doesn’t hold up in today’s world of sophisticated engine oils and modern engines.

How manufacturers determine when you should change your engine oil

Car manufacturers will often base the oil change guidelines on the way the car is driven, recommending when you need to replace the oil based on whether the car is subjected to ‘mild’ or ‘severe’ driving conditions. The factors you’ll need to consider include whether you mainly use your car for short or long distances, whether you do a lot of stop-and-go driving in the city or drive on rough country lanes, and whether you are in a cold or warm climate. Based on that the manufacturer of your car can give a reliable estimation on how often the engine oil needs to be replaced.

The reasons why you should change your engine oil

  1. Engine oil keeps your engine lubricated and makes sure all the components keep running smoothly. Over time engine oil deteriorates and will hold more and more metal particles that have worn off the engine components. The particles will contribute to further abrasion of those components in the engine that the oil actually should be lubricated to protect the engine.
  2. Keep in mind as well that changing the oil filter regularly can also help to limit wear, as a fresh oil filter will help to filter out all those nasty particles and debris.
  3. Changing engine oil at recommended intervals can also improve fuel economy. When engine parts are well-lubricated, they can move more smoothly, which requires less fuel. Over time, engine oil breaks down and becomes less effective at lubricating the engine, which can lead to increased fuel consumption.

Is it OK to change engine oil once a year?

There are a lot of conflicting opinions on this question. Ultimately, the answer depends on the make and model of the car, how you drive the car and in what weather conditions it is driven in. As a general rule, it is recommended to change the engine oil at least once a year and twice a year is even better. Remember, oil degrades over time and the less viscous it becomes, the less effective it will be at running a car engine. The good news is, most modern cars now use synthetic oil which breaks down much slower than conventional engine oil so the older saying of ‘change your oil every 3000 miles’ no longer applies in most situations

Should I change my oil by date or mileage?

While some manufacturers recommend changing the oil based on time (every 6 months) and others recommend changing it based on mileage (every 10,000 miles). If you drive in severe conditions such as hot weather or heavy loads, it is recommended you change your oil more frequently than the manufacturer-recommended interval. Alternatively, if you’re not sure what’s the best oil change interval for your vehicle, speak to a professional mechanic who can give you more details on oil changes depending on your driving habits. It’s important to stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines on changing the engine oil. If for whatever reason, the engine oil has deteriorated prematurely, or if you’re not sure if oil changes have been carried out as recommended then it would be advisable to get an oil change as soon as possible. That way you can stop engine wear and improve the way the engine runs.

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