Keeping your car in tip-top condition is essential to ensuring it remains reliable and runs smoothly for many years. One of the most important steps you should take when taking care of your car is checking its oil.
Checking the oil level in your vehicle can help identify potential issues while they’re still minor, allowing you to address them before they become bigger (not to mention more expensive) problems. In this blog post, we’ll explore how and why regularly checking your vehicle’s oil level is so important — plus, tips on how to do it properly!
How To Check Oil In Car
Oil is often referred to as the lifeblood of your vehicle’s engine. Ensuring there’s always enough oil is the simplest way to avoid catastrophic engine failure and the accompanying hefty repair costs. This is particularly crucial if you’re driving an older vehicle.
Once a car’s odometer passes the 100,000-mile mark, wear on the engine can cause it to burn off small quantities of oil each time you drive. This loss accumulates, potentially causing the oil level to drop too low between oil changes.
High-mileage vehicles are also more susceptible to oil leaks. Both these issues highlight the importance of routinely checking your oil to understand how often you need to top it up.
Monitor your oil once a week for a month to determine the rate of depletion—if it depletes at all. Once you have this knowledge, you can check it less frequently, perhaps once a month. Here’s how to check your oil:
Step 1: Prepare to Check
Make sure your vehicle is parked on level ground with the engine turned off. The transmission should be in Park or, if you have a manual transmission, in a lower gear. The parking brake should be engaged.
Lift the hood. If you’re unsure how to do this, refer to your owner’s manual. Most vehicles have a hood-release lever located under the instrument panel on the left side. There’s also a safety catch under the front edge of the hood that you’ll need to unlatch before you can raise the hood.
Step 2: Locate the Dipstick
Once you have successfully raised the hood, your next task is to locate the dipstick. The dipstick is a long, thin metal rod with a plastic handle, typically marked with the word ‘oil’. In most vehicles, it’s colored brightly— often orange or yellow— to make it easy to identify.
Its location can vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle, but it’s usually found near the engine. If you’re having trouble locating it, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific guidance. Once you’ve found the dipstick, gently pull it out from its tube, ensuring not to spill any oil.
Step 3: Pull the Dipstick
Pull the dipstick fully out of the tube that it’s housed in, much like pulling a sword from a sheath. Have a rag or paper towel ready and wipe any oil off of the end of the dipstick.
On the tip of the dipstick, you will see two lines: the lower one indicates that the oil level is one quart low, and the upper line denotes that the crankcase (the car’s oil tank) is full. Some dipsticks are additionally marked with words such as “full” and “add”.
Step 4: Note the Oil Level
To determine the oil level, you need to reinsert the dipstick into its tube. Do this slowly and push it all the way down until it is fully seated. Now, withdraw the dipstick again and closely examine the tip. There should be oil on it, showing the current oil level in your car’s engine.
If the oil level is between the two lines marked on the dipstick, your vehicle has the right amount of oil. However, if the oil reaches only the lower line or doesn’t reach it at all, it indicates that the oil level is low.
In this case, you need to add oil until the level reaches the upper line. Usually, it takes one quart of oil to move the level from the lower line to the upper one. Be mindful not to overfill as this can also cause problems to your engine. Keep a regular check on your oil level to ensure the smooth operation of your vehicle.
Step 5: Wait and Re-check
After you’ve added a quart of oil, it’s essential to wait a few minutes for the oil to drain down into the crankcase. This allows time for the oil to settle and provides a more accurate reading.
Once the oil has settled, re-check the level using your dipstick. The oil level should now be somewhere between the high and low marks. It’s important to note that the oil level does not have to be exactly at the high mark for your engine to have adequate lubrication to run safely.
Ensuring that it falls within this range is sufficient to maintain the health and smooth operation of your vehicle’s engine. Take the time to regularly repeat this step as part of your car maintenance routine to ensure longevity and optimal performance.
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While the above steps may seem straightforward, there are often questions and concerns that arise when it comes to checking your car’s oil. Here are some common questions and their corresponding answers to help you understand the process better.
How often should I check my car’s oil?
While the frequency of checking your car’s oil can depend on factors such as the age and make of your vehicle, a good rule of thumb is to check it once a month. This allows you to catch any potential issues or abnormalities early on.
For older vehicles, or those that have passed the 100,000-mile mark, it may be wise to check the oil more frequently, perhaps even once a week for a month. This is because older engines can burn off oil or be more prone to leaks, causing the oil level to drop more quickly. Regular checks can help you understand how rapidly your oil level depletes, and you can adjust your frequency accordingly.
Why is the oil level low even though I just added oil?
There may be several reasons for this. Firstly, your engine might be burning oil due to worn-out parts, which is common in high-mileage vehicles.
Secondly, there could be an oil leak. Check for oil spots under where your car is parked. Also, check for visible signs of leakage around the engine. If you notice oil leaking, it is advisable to take your car to a mechanic for an inspection.
Lastly, you might have a bad oil pump. If it’s not working correctly, it may not be pushing enough oil to the top of the engine, causing low oil levels. Again, consider consulting a mechanic if you suspect this is the case.
Why does my oil look dirty or dark?
Oil tends to darken and look dirty over time because it picks up particles and debris from the engine. This is a normal process and usually an indication that the oil is doing its job.
However, if the oil looks too dirty or has a strong burnt smell, it might be time for an oil change. Also, if the oil has a milky color, it could indicate a coolant leak, and you should consult a mechanic.
What type of oil should I use for my car?
The type of oil your car needs largely depends on its make, model, and age. Generally, modern cars require synthetic oil, which provides better protection and performance.
However, older vehicles might require conventional oil, as synthetic oil might be too thin for the worn parts. You can find the manufacturer’s recommended oil type in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If all else fails, consult a professional for advice.
Regularly checking your car’s oil level is a small task that can have a huge impact on the longevity and health of your vehicle. It’s a simple habit that requires only a few minutes of your time but offers significant benefits. It can help prevent costly repairs, maintain optimal engine performance, and provide peace of mind.
Proper car maintenance, including routine oil checks, is an essential part of being a responsible car owner. By doing so, you can catch minor issues before they escalate into larger, more costly problems. In addition, you can also improve the fuel efficiency of your car, contributing to environmental sustainability.
In conclusion, knowing how to check your car’s oil level is a vital skill that every driver should possess. It equips you with the firsthand knowledge about the health of your vehicle and allows you to make informed decisions about its maintenance and care. Remember, a well-maintained car is a safe and reliable car.