How to check engine oil level in a car? A 6-step guide

Team AckodriveJun 6, 2022

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Engine oil is one of the essential fluids in a car. It is responsible for the smooth functioning of the engine. Generally, modern vehicles come with an engine oil replacement interval of over 10,000 km. However, it's better to regularly check your car's engine oil level as there may be increased oil consumption or some leakage that you may overlook. Read ahead to know how to check engine oil level in a car.

How to check the engine oil level in a car

How to check the engine oil level in a car? A step-by-step guide

Checking the car engine oil level is a quick and straightforward DIY (Do it yourself) task. One can quickly check the oil level without any special tools. 

Follow the below steps to check the engine oil level of your car.

Step 1. Prepare to check

  • If you are checking the engine oil level for the first time, you may want to go through the owner's manual.

  • Park the car on a levelled ground and turn off the engine. 

  • Parking on uneven surfaces can tilt the car, resulting in the inaccurate reading of the oil level. So, ensure that you park on a levelled surface.

Step 2. Let the engine cool down

  • Let the engine cool down for at least 10 minutes after you park the car. It allows the engine oil to flow to the oil pan. It also reduces the oil temperature.

  • It is not recommended to check the oil level when the engine is hot. However, refer to the owner’s manual for the exact instructions.

Step 3. Locate the dipstick

  • Open your car's bonnet. Ensure that the hand brake is engaged before doing so.

  • Look out for the oil dipstick in the engine bay. Generally, it is yellow/orange in colour and located in the centre of the engine compartment.

Step 4. Pull out the dipstick

  • Pull out the dipstick and wipe off the end of it with a clean piece of cloth.

  • You will see two makings at the tip of the dipstick. The lower line is the ‘low oil level’ marking, and the upper line is the ‘full’ marking. Some dipsticks will have written markings as ‘Full’ and ‘Low’.

  •  Next, insert the dipstick into the tube.

Step 5. Check oil level

  • Remove the dipstick, and you should be able to see oil at the tip.

  • If the oil level is between the two lines, your car has enough engine oil.

  • If the oil level is at the low mark or below the low marking, it’s time to top up the oil.

Step 6. Wait and re-check

  • Once you are done with the top-up, wait for a few minutes. Let the oil flow into the crankcase.

  • Next, repeat the 5th step and re-check the oil level.

  • If the oil level is between the full and low markings, the job is done.

  • Note that the oil level need not be at or above the full mark. If the oil level is between the two markings, the engine has got sufficient oil.

Importance of engine oil in a car

After reading about the steps involved in checking engine oil level in a car, you may want to understand why maintaining the correct engine oil level is so important. The below points will give you a better understanding of the role of engine oil in a car.

  • The engine oil lubricates the moving parts of an engine and minimises friction and wear and tear.

  • It keeps the engine parts cool.

  • It keeps the engine components clean and prevents rusting/corrosion.

  • It forms a seal between certain parts of the engine.

A low engine oil level or a bad quality engine oil can result in poor lubrication. It may also result in overheating of the engine due to increased friction. In worst cases, low engine oil can damage the engine's internal parts and may cause a major breakdown. Hence, it's essential to check the engine oil level and the quality of the oil.

How to check engine oil quality?

It’s not only the quantity of the oil that affects the engine. The quality of oil also plays a vital role in engine performance. A good quality engine oil translates to optimal performance and fuel efficiency. The lower the quality of oil, the sluggish the performance of the engine. A low-quality oil may also result in reduced fuel efficiency.

So, how to check whether the engine oil is good or bad? It is a tricky task as there is no specific way to determine the quality of the oil by just looking at it. For precise results, you may have to send the sample of oil to a laboratory for tests. However, here are a few tips to identify the quality of the oil by yourself.

  • Observe the colour of the engine oil present in the dipstick. If it has turned black, the oil needs to be changed.

  • If the engine oil is white/milky in colour, there is excessive moisture in the oil. In that case, change the oil immediately.

  • Smear the oil between your fingers and check if there are any particulates. Suppose you find impurities; it's time to change the oil.

  • Check the viscosity (thickness) of the oil by smearing the oil between your fingers. If it's too thick, your car needs an oil change.

Also, read: Drum Brakes vs Disc Brakes

How to know if engine oil needs to be changed?

Engine oil is the lifeline of a car, and if you don’t check and top-up the oil, you may run into serious problems. Regular engine oil check is a must if you drive a car. You also need to keep an eye on warning signs that indicate that the engine oil needs to be changed.

Below are some of the warning signs that signal an oil change is required.

  • Check engine light: There are a few warning lights on your car’s dashboard, and the check engine/oil change light is one of them. If the warning light illuminates, check the engine oil level.

  • Engine noise: If you hear knocking sounds from the engine, the oil level may not be optimal. The knocking sound comes from the engine due to a lack of lubrication. Hence, the possibilities are that the engine oil level is low.

  • Oil smell: If you smell engine oil inside the car, you need to check the oil level. The smell could be due to leakage. When the engine runs at a low oil level, it overheats and leads to the smell of fumes inside the car.

  • Exhaust smoke: If you notice smoke coming out from the exhaust, you must immediately check the oil level.

  • Driving distance: It is necessary to change the engine oil after covering a certain distance as recommended by the manufacturer. So, check the mileage and change the oil within the regular interval.

Checking the engine oil level at regular intervals is one of the essential preventive measures to save yourself from an engine failure. If you are preparing for a long road trip, an engine oil check is a must. The best part is that you do not need any special tools to check the oil level. All you need is a few minutes to spare!

Also, read: How to handle and prevent car brake failure

Frequently asked questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions related to car engine oil.

How do I check if my car’s engine oil has been changed?

It’s a straightforward procedure. Take out the oil dipstick and check the oil level and colour of the oil. You can easily identify fresh engine oil due to its amber colour and viscosity.

How do I know the quantity of engine oil required for my car?

Refer to the owner’s manual to know the exact quantity of engine oil required for your car. Alternatively, you can contact the authorised service centre to find out the required amount of oil.

Can I check the oil level when the engine is running?

No, never check the oil level with the engine running. Swift off the engine and engage the handbrake before checking the oil level.

Can I mix old and new oil during an engine oil change?

No, it is not recommended to mix new and old engine oil. It results in a change in viscosity (thickness), and the oil may not do its job efficiently. Moreover, there may be particulates in the old engine oil, and you don’t want it inside the engine.

Do I need any special tools to check the engine oil of my car?

No, there is no need for tools to check the oil level. All you have to do is open the bonnet and pull the dipstick and wipe it with a clean piece of cloth.

How do I know if the engine oil is good?

One of the easiest ways to identify a good engine oil is by its colour. Fresh engine oil is amber in colour. The darker the colour, the older the oil. Another way is to smear the oil into your fingers and check the thickness. If it’s too thick, the oil is not good.

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