Think of motor oil as the life’s blood of your car’s engine. Checking it on a regular basis is a key part of keeping your engine running well and getting the most miles out of it. The oil lubricates the engine’s internal moving parts, keeping them from wearing too quickly. It also helps keep the engine clean, by preventing dirt buildup, and helps keep it from overheating.
Checking the oil level is a quick, easy job that we recommend you do at every other gas fill-up. All you’ll need is a rag or paper towel, and your car’s owner’s manual if you have questions.
To check your oil:
- First, make sure your engine is off (no matter which temperature you’re after).
- Open your hood and find the dipstick.
- Pull out the dipstick and wipe off the oil.
- Reinsert the dipstick into its tube. Be sure to push it all the way in.
- Pull the dipstick out again and check the oil level, looking at both sides. If the top of the oil streak is between the upper/lower (maximum/minimum) marks, then the level is good. However, if the oil is below the minimum mark, it’s time to add some oil.
How to Check Your Car’s Engine Oil- Step by Step
Follow these simple steps to check your vehicle’s engine oil:
Step 1: Prepare to Check
Be sure your vehicle is parked on level ground with the engine off, the transmission in Park (or the manual transmission in a lower gear), and the parking brake on. Lift the hood. If you don’t know how to do this, consult your owner’s manual.
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.
Step 2: Locate the Dipstick
The dipstick on most vehicles is easy to spot, as it has a small colored handle—usually yellow or orange—marked with an oil-can symbol.
Step 3: Pull the Dipstick
Pull the dipstick fully out of the tube that it’s housed in. It’s 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. At the tip of the dipstick, you will see two lines: the lower one indicates that the oil level is one quart low. The upper line denotes that the crankcase (the car’s oil tank) is full. Some dipsticks are also marked with words like “full” and “add.”
Step 4: Note Oil Level
Insert the dipstick into the tube slowly and push it all the way down. Now withdraw it and look closely at the tip, which should have oil on it. If the level of the oil is between the two lines, your vehicle has enough oil. If it’s at the low mark or below, it’s time to add a quart.
Step 5: Wait and Re-check
Once you’ve added a quart of oil, wait several minutes for the oil to drain down into the crankcase, and then check it again to ensure that the level is at least between the high and low marks. The oil level does not have to be at the high mark for your engine to have enough lubrication to run safely.
Should I check my oil when the engine is hot or cold?
Oil is a very important part of an automobile, as it lubricates the machinery inside so that everything can stay in healthy motion. In order to ensure your vehicle has enough of this precious slippery juice in its system, it’s a good idea to check one’s oil from time to time.
But different opinions abound on the exact conditions that oil should be checked in. One area that seems “hotly” debated is the ideal engine temperature. Should you check your oil with a hot or cold engine?
With most cars, it’s recommended that drivers check their oil when the engine is cold. However, some automakers recommend checking when the engine is warm for certain vehicles. To determine for sure which one applies to your car, check your Owner’s Manual. If you’ve misplaced your physical copy, a digital Owner’s Manual can likely be found online with a little digging.
Other factors affecting the ideal engine temperature for oil-checking include the type of oil used and the current outside temperature at your location. The details regarding these additional elements should also be available in your Owner’s Manual.
Note that if you are checking when the machinery is hot, be very careful not to burn yourself on the engine.