How to check your oilCars no longer adhere to that old standby of every vehicle needing an oil change every 3,000 miles or 3 months. Late model vehicles are designed to go as long as 5,000 to 7,000 miles between oil changes. With that much time in between, it is necessary to take on the little maintenance tasks yourself. This includes checking your oil. It may sound daunting, but checking your oil is a rather painless process.

It’s important to know how to check your car’s oil, you can avoid potential problems that could leave you stranded on the side of the road, or worse, purchasing a new engine. Follow this step-by-step process, and checking your oil will be no big deal in no time.

Remember science class? Like most liquids, oil expands when it’s hot. For your most accurate reading, you’ll want to check your oil when your engine is warm.

  1. Park on a level surface. A driveway or parking lot is ideal.
  2. Turn off your engine and allow 10 minutes to pass while the oil drains back into the crankcase. If you check it too soon, you’ll think you’re low on oil when you’re really not.
  3. Open your hood. The lever is usually located on the left side of the driver side dashboard, usually about knee level.
  4. Locate your oil dipstick. If you’ve never used it before, you’re looking for a loop or T handle sticking out of the engine. If you can’t locate the dipstick look under the oil cap, some models have attached it to the cap. If you still can’t find the dipstick, refer to your owner’s manual, they usually provide a handy diagram to make locating it very easy.
  5. Remove the dipstick from the engine.
  6. Using a paper towel or rag, wipe off the dipstick.
  7. Replace the dipstick in the engine, making sure you push it all the way in.
  8. Pull the dipstick back out and hold it horizontally.
  9. Inspect the pointed end of the dipstick. If the oil is below the line marked “full”, you need to add oil. Some dipsticks have two lines with a design between them – on those dipsticks, the oil level should be halfway between the lines. When you check the oil level, note the color of the oil, if it is very dark consider taking your vehicle in for an oil change.
  10. If your oil is low, now is the time to add more. Check your owner’s manual for the correct type of oil. Unscrew the oil cap and use a funnel to avoid spills. When you add oil, do so in small amounts. It’s much easier to add oil than it is to remove excess.
  11. After adding oil, check the oil level with the dipstick again. Add more oil if needed.
  12. Put the oil cap back on securely and replace the dipstick.

Congratulations! You just checked your oil. If you notice that your car is consistently low on oil, it might have a leak. If that is the case, see a mechanic as soon as possible, oil leaks can easily lead to having an engine replaced.