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How to check your car oil level

Running low on engine oil is a prospect that most car owners face at one time or another, and if it’s not addressed, it can result in long-term engine damage which can be costly to put right.

Engine oil levels vary from vehicle to vehicle and are dependent on the type of engine your car is fitted with. The correct level is determined by your vehicle’s dipstick, which features two marks: minimum and maximum.

How frequently should I check oil levels?

It’s recommended you change your car’s engine oil every 12 months or 9,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Nevertheless, it’s wise to make regular checks, if only to ensure your vehicle is safe to drive. In any case, keeping your car’s oil levels correctly topped-up is easy to do.

Checking engine oil levels

  1. Make sure your car is parked on a level surface and the engine has cooled down sufficiently (after use, this normally takes about 10 minutes). This will ensure that you achieve an accurate reading while minimising the risk of burning yourself on the engine.
  2. Once you’ve opened the bonnet, locate the dipstick (check your user manual for details). Some modern cars don’t have a dipstick and are instead fitted with an electronic oil monitor.
  3. Assuming your vehicle has a dipstick, pull it out and wipe it with a rag so that you’re able to see the minimum and maximum oil level marks.
  4. Push the dipstick all the way back in, leaving it to settle for a few moments before removing it once more.
  5. Provided the level is between minimum and maximum, you won’t need to add fresh oil. If the level is below the halfway point, you can add oil if you wish. If it’s at minimum or below, you will definitely need to add more oil.

Adding oil to your engine

Before you top up your engine, make sure you have the correct oil (check your user handbook or contact the manufacturer if you’re unsure). Using the wrong oil can cause expensive engine damage.

  1. Locate the car’s oil cap (typically, this is marked with an oil-can symbol).
  2. Remove the cap, pour in the oil slowly and in stages, continually checking the dipstick until you’ve achieved the right level. Important: don’t go over the maximum level as this might damage the engine. (Please note: while in the container, engine oil has a light golden colour. In the engine, the colour changes to dark brown, which is entirely normal.)
  3. Once completed, replace the cap, return the dipstick to its normal position and wipe away any spills before dropping the bonnet.