How to Check Your Oil

One of the staples of car care basics is checking your oil level. It should be a rather simple task, but it’s one that many people do incorrectly. Here are some simple tips to make sure you get a correct reading every time.

We always recommend that you have rag – or other implement – to wipe the oil from the dipstick. Oil is messy and hard to get out of clothes, so you want to make sure you’re prepared. Your vehicle should be parked on a level surface. Oil doesn’t stay put in your vehicle – being a fluid, it’ll drain to one side or the other if you happened to have parked on a hill or other incline. So always make sure your vehicle is level. That way you can get an accurate reading on your dip stick.

You should also make sure that your engine is cold. When your engine runs, your oil pump pushes oil all throughout your engine. If you try to check your oil when your engine is warm, you’ll find that your oil is low. This is because the oil isn’t in the oil pan where you expect it to be. It’s in the engine instead. If you drove somewhere – say your local parts store – to purchase oil, and you want to check your levels to determine how much to buy, you can do one of two things. A) Check your oil before you leave home. This way your engine is completely cold, and oil will be in the oil pan. You’ll get an accurate reading then. Or B) wait for your engine too cool off. Though, this can take some time. So be prepared to wait!

Next is locating your dipstick.

Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, the dipstick can be in any number of places. However, the dipstick handle is almost always brightly colored, so it can be easily located.

Now that you’ve located your dipstick and have your rag in hand, let’s get to checking your oil. Withdraw the oil dipstick from the oil tube. Wipe the oil dipstick clean and place it back inside the tube. Now that the dipstick is clean, you’ll get an accurate reading that won’t be obscured by any oil residue. Make sure the dipstick is completely reinserted into the oil tube before you remove it again! You want to make sure that the dipstick reaches as far down into the oil pan as it’s designed to reach.

You can now pull the dipstick out to read the level. Dipsticks vary by manufacturer, but this graphic will give you a general idea of what you’re looking for.

The rest is easy – if the reading is below the hash marks, add a little oil!