Checking the engine oil level is the most important action to prevent car engine wear. The oil lubricates the engine, and an insufficient amount of oil can seriously shorten its life. The main role of engine oil is to create a fine film between the engine components to avoid metal-to-metal friction.
Most cars have an on-board indicator that lights up if the oil level is too low. It is not advisable to wait for this warning light to come on, and to check the oil level periodically to ensure that the engine components are optimally lubricated.
Should the Engine be Warm or Cold when Checking the Oil Level?
The engine oil level is checked as specified in the car’s user manual and not according to personal opinions. Most manufacturers recommend measuring the oil level when the engine is warm, regardless of whether we are talking about cars from the VAG group, BMW, Mercedes, Opel, Ford, Honda, Toyota, etc.
There are opinions that claim that the correct way to check the oil level should is when the engine is cold, at a difference of at least 4-5 hours after the engine was stopped, in order for the oil to completely drain in the oil bath.
This opinion is all the more strange as most manufacturers recommend in the car user manual to check the oil 5-10 minutes after stopping the engine.
Newer cars that come with electronic oil level check that measure the amount of oil after the car has stopped and the engine is still hot, while others can measure it while you are driving although the results are not as accurate.
Quality Oil Properties
Although they come with a higher price, quality oils fully justify their value, as long as they meet two main properties.
First of all, a good oil must maintain its degree of fluidity regardless of the recorded temperatures.
The oil must operate in optimal parameters both when the engine is running in full load as well as when starting the car, especially in cold or hot temperatures.
Also, a good engine oil must retain its original characteristics for as long as possible and successfully withstand wear and tear. An oil that retains its properties will not need to be replaced as often, even if the engine is used in difficult operating conditions (heavy urban traffic, highways, off-road, etc.).
Signs That You Need to Check The Engine Oil Level
There are many exceptional situations, in which oil must be checked or changed earlier than the manufacturer’s instructions.
Therefore, it is important to pay attention to all the signals that could warn you when it is necessary to pay a visit to the service.
When the engine makes strange noises that you have never heard before, it may be a sign that the oil has lost its properties due to age.
Even if you check the oil and it looks okay, still pay a visit to the service, because these noises could hide a more serious problem, that need to be addressed urgently.
Make sure you check the dipstick constantly, and if you don’t know how, ask someone to do it for you. When the lubricant loses its viscosity and has visible particles, it should be changed.
Checking the dipstick is also important to know exactly what the oil level is. If it has dropped below the optimum indicated level, you should not make the change and just top it up to the recommended level, by using the same oil that you currently have in the engine, or with one that meet the car’s manufacture’s indication but with the same viscosity.
You should also change the oil when the warning light tells you so or when more than a year has passed since the last change.
Myths about engine oil
Over time, people have formed opinions about engine oil, some true, some false.
The main ones are:
- The engine has become accustomed to a certain type of engine oil and that’s why you can’t use another brand.
Fake! As long as you use the recommended oil by the manufacturer your engine will run just fine regardless of the oil brand you choose.
- You do not have to mix two different brands of oil.
Partly true! Although the combination of two brands of oil does not normally cause engine damage, it should be noted that each brand of oil contains certain additives, due to which the two types of lubricants will not be able to mix. Therefore, when changing the oil, it is recommended to completely empty the oil bath.
- The oil filter must be replaced at each oil change.
Totally true! During engine operation, the oil filter accumulates all the impurities in the oil and ensures its proper operation. During this period, the part will become clogged, and this can lead to broken gaskets, increased fuel consumption or insufficient lubrication.
Therefore, it is very important to change the oil filter to a maximum of 20,000 kilometers.
To ensure the proper operation of your car, it is very important not to neglect the engine oil and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the period after which the oil change must be made and the type of lubricant you must use.
Checking Your Car Engine Oil Level: Tips For Beginners
While some cars consume extremely little engine oil, others require regular refilling.
That is why we recommend that you check the oil level frequently between replacement intervals, as a low oil level can significantly reduce the life of your engine.
Some modern cars are equipped with an electronic oil sensor, which alerts you when the oil approaches the minimum safety level.
Whether or not your car is equipped with this sensor, we recommend that you check the engine oil manually on a regular basis, especially when planning a long trip. After all, the sensors and lights on the dashboard may malfunction without your knowledge.
The engine oil level can be checked after the engine has reached its optimum operating temperature.
To properly measure the oil level, the car must be parked on a flat surface, and never when the car parked on a slope. After you turn off the engine, wait between 5-10 minutes, after which you can check the engine oil level. Although this is the universal wisdom on how to check the oil level, always consult the car user’s manual to make sure that what you are doing is the proper way of doing it.
To check the engine oil level, you need the following:
- A clean cloth or paper towel
- Disposable gloves (optional)
- First, make sure you park the car on a smooth surface, then wait at least 10 minutes for the oil to drain back into the manifold.
2. Lift and secure the hood, then locate the dipstick, which is usually easy to find and access.
3. Remove and use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the end of the dipstick.
Then put it back in, making sure it fits completely, and remove it again after 3-5 seconds by lifting it and holding it in a horizontal position.
Be careful, the engine oil is quite hot, so fold the napkin several times when wiping the dipstick so you don’t burn your fingers. Remove again and read the oil level according to the mark on the dipstick.
Near the end of the dipstick you should see two lines, sometimes with a hatched area between them.
Ideally, the oil level should be at or near the top line, but it’s okay if it’s anywhere above the bottom line.
Depending on what the dipstick indicates regarding the oil level, there are 3 possibilities:
- 1. The oil level is good and does not require refilling. This is the best case scenario and indicates that the car does not consume oil.
- 2. The level is low and requires topping-up. It is recommended to use the same type of oil for filling. If you do not have the same oil and the indicated level is too low, you can fill it with another oil that meets the specifications of the car but make sure it has the same viscosity.
It is recommended that when you change the engine oil, to buy an extra 1 liter to refill when/if necessary.
- Unscrew the oil cap and fill it. Do not pour oil on the dipstick.
It is advisable to use a clean funnel when pouring oil. In case you don’t have one, pour it carefully without skipping.
If you have spilled oil on top, wipe quickly. Do not spill too much oil as it will damage the engine.
Usually the difference between the minimum and maximum on the dipstick is around 1 liter of oil. This difference is specified in the car user’s manual manual.
It is recommended to start adding about 300-400 ml and recheck the level after a few minutes.
If the level is somewhere bellow the max level you are good to go. It is never a good idea to add oil above the max level but if that happens you must visit the nearest service as soon as possible to drain the excess oil. Having to much oil can create extra pressure and damage the engine.
Do not refill the oil without a proper measurement that follows the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you put too much oil in the engine, you are doing more harm than good.
- 3. The oil level has risen and it is to high
If you notice that the oil level has risen there is a problem.
It means that the oil is most likely contaminated with fuel. It could be the tandem pump, the o-rings from the injectors or something more serious like a cracked cylinder head.
If the oil level has risen after the last measurement, the car must be serviced. The oil is always measured according to the specifications in the manual.
Engine oil changes its viscosity depending on the temperature, so a hot and cold measurement will not be the same. If it says in the car book to check the oil 5 minutes after you stop the engine, you should do so.
I recommend checking the oil regularly. In this way we can figure out if the engine consumes oil and how much.
Depending on the driving style, it is normal for the engine to consume some oil. You can reach up to 1 liter of oil per 10,000 km in sports cars or even more for some models.
Always consult the car user’s manual to find out the normal oil consumption for your engine. If the car consumes too much oil, a visit to a car service is indicated to identify the problem that leads to increased consumption.