How to Check and Top Up Your Car’s Engine Oil

engine oil


5 Steps and 5 Minutes to help your car run smoothly 

It’s important to regularly check oil levels in your car. The oil lubricates all the moving parts of the engine. It also helps keep the engine clean, by preventing dirt buildup. If oil levels get too low the engine can overheat, moving parts can start to wear out and the engine could seize – potentially resulting in some costly repairs!

Checking the oil level is quick and easy to do. By spending a few minutes on a regular basis to check our oil you’ll help keep it healthy.

What You Will Need

  1. A pair of gloves – as oil can stain your hands.
  2. Paper towel, rag or old cloth – to wipe the dipstick.
  3. Engine oil – in case you need a top up.
  4. A Funnel – to save spilling oil.

Step 1 Prepare Your Vehicle

  • Park on flat ground – In order to get an accurate reading  make sure your car is parked on level ground. 
  • Ensure the engine is cool. Wait at least 30 minutes after switching the engine off so that the engine is cold and the engine oil has time to drain down into the sump (reservoir). 

Step 2 Locate the Dipstick

Some newer cars have electronic oil monitors and don’t have traditional dipsticks for manual inspection.

dipstick
  • Put on your gloves and open the car’s bonnet.
  • Locate the dipstick at the side of the engine. The lid of the dipstick is usually brightly coloured to help you find it with a hook or a loop on the end.

Step 3 Clean the Dipstick

  • Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean on your cloth, rag or paper towel.
  • Once it’s clean reinsert it until you hear it click back into place.

Step 4 Check the Oil Level

  • Remove the dipstick again to check the oil level.
  • Every dipstick has some way of showing the proper oil level usually a lower line and a higher line.  If the oil sits between these 2 lines the oil is fine. If the oil is below the lowest marker or there is no oil at all you need to top up immediately.
  • Instead of 2 lines it could be 2 pinholes, 2 notches,  min/max or the letters L for low and H for high or cross hatch markings.
  • Once you’ve finished checking the levels re-insert the dipstick until it clicks.

Step 5 Fill up your oil

engine oil cap

Before you start check that you’ve got the right engine oil for your car. You can refer to your car owner’s manual.

  • Locate the oil filler cap which  should have the word ‘oil’ marked on it, or an outline of an oil can as in the image above. . It’s usually located on top of the engine.  
  • Place the  funnel at the top of the spout and add oil a little at a time so you don’t over-fill – which isn’t good for the engine.
  • Give it a minute and then check the oil dipstick again so you don’t exceed maximum levels.
  • Screw the oil filler cap back on securely, and you’re done.

TIP   To get an idea of how much oil you need; the gap between the marks on the dipstick usually represents around 1 litre of oil, so you know that if your oil mark was at the minimum, you need around a litre to top it up. If it’s only halfway down, you probably need around half a litre.

How do I know when I need to change my oil?

There are three indications that can show you if you need to change the oil:

  1. Your engine is noisy – Oil lubricates your engine and keeps it running smoothly.  If you hear grinding noises or the car seems a bit shaky it may be time to change the oil.
  2. Your oil has turned black. When you do a regular oil check if the oil appears black and gritty it’s overdue for a change.  New oil is honey brown in colour, but gets darker as it filters unwanted particles out of the engine giving it a gritty texture.
  3. Your “Check Engine” Light (or “Check Oil” light) comes on. When the “Check Engine” light comes on in your car, it can be a good indicator that you’re past due for an oil change. Some newer cars may come equipped with an oil-specific light that will come on when it’s time for a change. If you see either of these lights, give your oil a quick check. If it looks dark and/or low in level, that may be what’s prompting the warning message.

Summary

  1. Check your engine oil regularly when the car is cool and on level ground. 
  2. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. 
  3. Push the dipstick all the way in, wait a second, and then withdraw it and check the level. The oil should be between the two marks.  Remember to push the dipstick fully in when refitting.
  4. Top-up oil if needed

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