April 15

How To: Check Your Oil

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A small investment that keeps your car healthy and running smoothly

Your vehicle’s oil is the lifeblood of your engine. Making sure there is always enough oil is one of the easiest ways that you can avoid major repair costs due to engine failure.

Checking your oil only takes a few minutes and can play an important role in keeping your engine running well and getting the most miles you can out of your vehicle. By keeping the correct amount of oil in your engine, you are ensuring the internal parts are lubricated and protected from wearing out prematurely. Not only does the oil lubricate and protect your engine’s parts, it also keeps your engine from overheating and it keeps it clean by preventing debris and sludge buildup. If you want to know how to check your oil, check out the 5 steps we share below. 

5 Steps To Checking Your Engine’s Oil

Before you start, it could be helpful to check your owner's manual to see what your manufacturer’s recommendations are. This is helpful as some newer cars have electronic oil monitors, meaning they would not have a traditional dipstick to check your vehicle’s oil levels manually.

1. Get Your Vehicle Ready to Check

Get ready to check your vehicle’s engine oil by making sure your car is parked on level ground and your engine is turned off. Your engine has internal components that move quickly so it’s important to turn your vehicle off in order for the oil level to read properly. It’s important to note that with many vehicles, the manufacturer recommends that the oil be checked after the engine has been warmed up. If you are checking the oil after your car has been sitting for a while, warm your engine for 30 seconds then turn your vehicle off.  

Find Your Vehicle’s Dipstick 

To find your vehicle’s dipstick, look for a small yellow or orange handle or loop. Some dipsticks will have an oil-can symbol that is easy to spot on it.

Pull The Dipstick Out

Pull the dipstick all the way out of the engine. Then, using a paper towel or a shop rag, wipe the oil off of the dipstick. Look for two lines at the bottom of the dipstick. If the oil is at the lower line, this indicates that the oil level is one quart low. If oil is at the upper line, this indicates that your engine’s oil level, also known as the crankcase, is full and does not need more oil. Dipsticks may also be marked with words like full, add, safe, or even MIN and MAX. Other vehicles could have pinholes, the letters L and H (low and high), or crosshatching.

Check The Oil Level Once

Insert the oil dipstick back into its tube, making sure that you push it all the way back in. It is very important to know that the dipstick will only go in one certain way (in most cases).

After it’s all the way in, pull the dipstick back out again and look closely at both sides near the tip. Make note of where the oil hits on one of the above markers. If the oil level is between the two markings, your vehicle has enough oil. If the oil is at or below the lower marking or there is no oil residue at all, it is time to add some oil. It may even be time for an oil change. Over time, engines will wear out internally and start burning oil and even start to leak oil out through certain gaskets or seals.

If your oil level is good, wipe off the dipstick and put it back into its tube. Always make sure that you push it in all the way. Then close the hood and you’re good to go!

If your engine’s oil is at or below the low mark, then you need to add more oil. Step 5 explains the best way to add oil to your engine.

Pro Tip: While your dipstick is out, it’s also important to take a look at the oil’s color. It should be a black or brown color. If it looks milky, this could be an indication that coolant is leaking into your engine oil. If there are metal particles or the oil is an abnormal color, it is an indication that your engine needs to be inspected by a certified technician. Call an auto repair shop you trust, like Victory Auto Service & Glass, and let them know what your oil looks like. Make sure you get scheduled right away and avoid driving your vehicle.

How to Add Oil

Check your owner’s manual to see what grade of oil your manufacturer recommends. It will say something like 0W-20, 5W-30, 5W-20, etc.. If you want to fill it up yourself, you can buy what you need by the quart at most gas stations, auto parts stores, or supermarkets. Otherwise, you can bring it into your auto repair shop.

To add oil to your engine, start by locating your oil cap. The cap is usually located at the top of your engine. Many oil caps will have an icon of an oil can. Some caps even have the type of oil your vehicle needs printed on it. Once you have located it, remove your oil cap. It’s important to know that overfilling is not good for your engine. To make sure you do not overfill, simply add a small amount of oil at a time using a funnel to avoid spills. Add only half of a quart of oil to start. Wait for 1 or 2 minutes, then go through the process of checking your dipstick again (see above). Many vehicles require you to restart your engine before checking your oil level. If that is the case, start your vehicle and let it run for 30 seconds, then turn your engine off and check your oil again. * Refer to your owner’s manual * 

After you check your oil and the level is still below or near the minimum mark, add another half of a quart. It is rare that you will need to add more than a quart unless your engine has a leak or is burning oil excessively. If you do need to add a second quart to your engine, add the oil in slowly, checking as you go. Once you are done, screw the oil filler cap back on securely and you are set to go!

Getting regular oil changes and making sure your engine never runs low on oil is one of the most important factors to prolonging the life of your engine and your vehicle. Luckily, it is also one of the quickest and cheapest things you can do for your vehicle.

If you want to know more about the benefits of getting an oil change, check out this article! Oil Change: Just Do It!

- Julia M. 


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