Your vehicle is one of the biggest investments you will make in your life, and you want to make sure you maintain it for years to come. Regular and quality car maintenance helps you reduce the risk of your car having future issues, and will save you money in the long run. Car oil level checks are an essential part of this process, as the oil can be thought of as the lifeblood of your engine.
Additionally, by lubricating your engine, the oil protects it against friction and heat. Both of these can cause wear and tear that will eventually destroy your engine. However, without oil, your engine could burn up and seize at any point and with no warning. For these reasons, your car oil levels should be checked regularly.
Many car owners are intimidated by the process of checking their car oil levels, and their confusion is understandable. However, it’s a relatively easy process and it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes — if you follow these simple instructions.
When Should You Check the Engine Oil Level?
I would recommend you always check your car’s oil levels before a long trip, or at least once a month. However, not so long ago the usual recommendation was to check the oil levels every time you pour gas in. But most of the newer cars don’t require this much attention. Moreover, there is a difference in the number of oil level checks, depending on the year the car was made.
Oil Level Checks for Older Cars
If you drive a vehicle older than 10 years, you may experience more issues and have to take extra precautions. There are two most common problems that you will likely face at some point. It will either be the oil leaking from the engine, or it burning off during combustion. Either of these will result in a depleted oil tank and can spiral out to cause more serious problems. Moreover, you should be especially vigilant about checking your car oil levels if you have an older car — unless you want to be an unwilling accomplice in destroying it.
Oil Level Checks for Newer Cars
For most newer cars, you can check the oil levels once a month — or every couple of weeks if that gives you more peace of mind. However, don’t take this to mean you should postpone your check-ups. They only take a few minutes and will likely add years to your engine’s lifespan.
Furthermore, keeping track of how often the oil is changed is just as important as checking the car oil levels. Additionally, always keep in mind to change your oil every so often. You will never hurt your engine by changing it too frequently. However, junkyards are full of cars that didn’t have it changed often enough.
How to Check the Oil Level: 5 Simple Steps
The fluids you put in your car are a vital part of your engine — and one of the most important ones to keep track of is your oil level. Checking the oil is something truly anyone can do — and it improves your car’s performance considerably and protects you against sudden breakdowns.
It’s important to check the car oil levels to keep yourself safe, and for your car to function longer. When the oil is under the minimum mark on the dipstick, you risk serious damage to your engine.
However, if you add too much oil, it will foam up and cause engine performance issues.
One of the most common questions people have is should the engine be warm or cold when checking the oil. The answer — it should be cold unless otherwise specified by the car-maker. Just think about it, do you want to risk burning yourself on a hot engine part? However, you should drive your car around and warm it up before checking the oil levels, just give it some time to cool off before opening the hood.
1. Park Your Car on a Flat Surface
In order to get a precise reading, you need to park your car on a flat surface. If it’s at an angle, the oil to slide to one side of the pan and produce an inaccurate reading. Moreover, make sure your car isn’t running when you are adding or checking your oil. Finally, make sure to let your car cool down for 5 to 10 minutes after you’ve turned the engine off.
2. Locate the Dipstick
Dipsticks for oil are usually located under the hood, towards the passenger side and are typically inserted in the dipstick guide. The dipstick guide funnel-shaped guide wrapped around the dipstick tube of your engine. They usually have a yellow, orange or red cap, and are round or rectangular. However, some vehicles, such as Hondas and Fords, have the dipstick pointing out from the top of the valve cover. Moreover, you should always check your car’s manual if you’re having trouble finding the dipstick.
Most vehicles with automatic transmission have two dipsticks — one for the transmission fluid, and another one for the oil. Make sure not to confuse the two, because putting oil in the transmission will cost serious money.
3. Remove the Dipstick
Firstly, you should have a paper towel or rag handy to wipe the dipstick and keep your hands clean.
Slowly pull the dipstick out, while holding a paper towel around the port and wipe the oil off it. Additionally, most dipsticks are from 1 to 3 feet tall, and you have to get to the tip for a correct reading. Furthermore, don’t pull or twist the dipstick too hard — most of them come off easily, and you shouldn’t have to force them out.
When checking the oil, be aware that it can look clean, but still not in be in good shape. If it feels gritty or smells like it’s burning — you need to change it immediately.
4. Examine the Quality and Color of the Oil
It’s very important to regularly inspect the engine’s oil condition, as its color and consistency are indicators of its age. Moreover, you can inspect the quality of the oil in your engine as soon as you remove the dipstick. When you wipe the dipstick with a rag or paper towel, it’s color will indicate the condition of your car.
- When engine oil is in good condition, it will have a clear, golden honey or green color.
- However, dark brown-blackish color indicates that the oil is in poor condition, and the filter needs to be changed.
Additionally, you should inspect the oil and look for clues of the engine being contaminated with metal particles. These particles will damage your engine’s cylinders over time and cause further issues.
5. Dry off the Dipstick and Reinsert It
You can’t inspect the amount of oil the first time you pull the dipstick out, because the oil will already be stuck to it on different points. Once you have examined the color, wipe off the end of the dipstick and dip it in again. After that, pull it out instantly to get an accurate reading. There will be two small dots at the end of your dipstick indicating the minimum and the maximum fill line in the oil pan.
- The “minimum” marker is typically close to the tip of the dipstick. When the oil line is somewhere between the tip and that mark you need to add more oil.
- The oil should never reach the maximum fill point, and if it does, you need to drain it. However, it’s possible to get a false positive. If the oil is still hot, it will likely reach above the maximum fill point — just wait for it to cool down and take the measurement again.
If the dipstick gets stuck when you’re putting it back, don’t panic — just turn it around. The pipe has a curve and will only accept the dipstick one way; just take your time and don’t insert it by force.
Reasons Why It’s Important to Check the Oil Level
The prices of vehicles keep rising; thus, caring for your vehicle should be your top priority. Additionally, a car oil level check is especially important when you’re buying a used car. You should avoid buying a car that shows signs of neglect regarding oil changes, as it is more likely to break down in the future. Checking your car’s oil levels will show you the state of the car’s engine, or if it simply needs a refill.
The engine oil keeps all the moving parts working correctly and sliding smoothly against each other — as opposed to grinding each other down. When your car oil levels are low, the engine will start to grind and seize up — stalling your vehicle and gradually ruining it completely. Furthermore, a lot of drivers will not know that it’s time to check their oil level until it’s too late. For this reason, you want to make sure to have regular checkups and always know what’s going on under the hood of your car.
Additionally, if you don’t check the oil levels regularly, there’s a chance that sludge will build up in your engine and cause it to get blocked up. Furthermore, you can easily check for signs of trouble by simply removing the engine oil filler cap and using a flashlight to look into the engine. Additionally, you should always read the user’s manual before adding and checking your car oil levels as these things vary from one model and to another.
If you aren’t tracking your car’s oil levels regularly, you likely aren’t changing the oil in your car either. However, not changing your oil regularly and correctly can have very serious consequences, such as:
The oil’s protective properties will deteriorate over time because the oil is exposed to extreme heat coming from the engine over a long period of time. Decreased lubrication will cause the engine to wear down more quickly.
Oil Oxidation and Thickening
Once your car’s oil begins to oxidize, it will start to thicken and either clog the engine or make it work harder and cause it to heat up even more. Oil decomposes whenever it comes in contact with oxygen, and it’s impossible to stop this process from happening. However, you can buy additives that will help prolong the decomposition.
As the oil decomposes over time, so do the additives that help flush out the debris from the oil pan. This debris, in turn, sticks to the engine’s walls — clogs it and makes it significantly less efficient.
A Seized Engine
An engine will size when all of the moving parts overheat to the point of expansion and get stuck together inside the engine. It turns your engine into a useless chunk of metal — and it’s rarely worth spending the money to repair it. This malfunction will likely occur if you don’t check and change your car oil levels.
I have also provided a helpful YouTube video on the topic of changing your engine oil.
As I mentioned in the beginning, oil plays a major role in whether you will be driving smoothly for years to come, or running to the repair shop every year or so. Regular oil level checks are one of the best ways to make sure you get the most out of your car, for both performance and longevity.
All of the problems that stem from improper care of your car can be prevented easily and quickly. However, if you don’t feel comfortable doing them yourself — you should consider hiring a professional.
So, the next time you have a few extra minutes or are about to embark on a long trip, take some time to inspect your car oil levels. It’s so simple that you can do it yourself — for free! Moreover, it will ensure your car is in the best possible condition for many miles to come.
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