Checking your engine oil regularly can help prevent unseen problems from becoming expensive repairs. Knowing what to do, and what to look for can help keep your engine running in better shape.
The necessary ingredient:
Engine oil is the lifeblood of your car’s engine. Checking it regularly keeps your engine running smoothly and extends its life. The oil lubricates the engine’s moving parts to mitigate wear and damage, keep the engine clean, and prevent the engine from overheating.
Checking your oil is easier than you might think. Monitoring your oil ensures there’s enough oil in your engine and that the oil isn’t contaminated. All you’ll need is a rag or paper towel, your vehicle owner manual!
How to check your engine oil:
1. Park your car on level ground. A level surface means the oil will be evenly distributed in the oil pan so you can get a more accurate reading.
2. Turn off your engine and take out the car keys.
3. Wait for 5 to 15 minutes for the engine to cool down and for the oil to settle.
4. Pop the hood. Most vehicles have a hood-release lever under the instrument panel on the left side. There's also a safety catch under the front edge of the hood that you'll have to unlatch before you can raise the hood. If you don’t know how to do this, you can always refer to your owner’s manual.
5. Locate the oil dipstick. Look for a red, yellow, or orange plastic tab, ring, or hook. When you lift on the tab or ring, a long, skinny, metallic rod will come with it.
6. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it off with a rag or paper towel as you go, handle to tip.
7. Insert the dipstick back into the dipstick tube all the way in.
8. Pull the dipstick back out.
9. Read the dipstick. The end of the dipstick has markings near the tip that indicate the safe operating range. Markings might be two pinholes, ‘L’ and ‘H’ (low and high), ‘MIN’ and ‘MAX,’ an area of crosshatching, or something else to demarcate a safe range. If the oil doesn’t reach up to the safe operating range, your oil is too low, and you need an oil change.
10. Put the dipstick back into its place and close the hood. You’re finished inspecting your oil. Now decide on if the next actions need to be taken.
Engine oil characteristics to inspect:
Color: Engine oil is light-colored and transparent but darkens over time. If the oil appears black, you probably need an oil change & filter. If the color is a light brown milky color, this may indicate the radiator is leaking coolant into the engine, and you should have the car towed.
Smell: If the oil smells of gasoline, your engine, fuel system, or ignition might need servicing.
Consistency: If your oil appears off-color, a strange consistency, thick, gritty, or milky–get a checkup. It’s probably time for an oil change!
Engine oil becomes contaminated over time. Debris from the air, tiny metal shavings from the engine, and combustion by-products all contribute. Oil filters try to keep these contaminants at bay, but it’s only a matter of time before the motor oil will go bad.
When should you change your oil:
Oil change frequency is dependent upon the make and model of your vehicle. For that reason, we suggest checking your owner’s manual for oil change recommendations.