Car maintenance can be overwhelming, but your first step towards it shouldn’t be so.
Start with checking the engine oil level — an easy test you can do yourself.
But how to read the oil level on a dipstick?
Here, we’ll walk you through the steps for reading an engine oil dipstick and what you can do if the oil level isn’t optimum. You’ll also get to know how often you should check your car’s engine oil level and learn about the different motor oil types.
This Article Contains:
- How to Read Oil Level on Dipstick?
- How to Maintain the Right Engine Oil Quality and Level?
- How Often Should You Check the Engine Oil Level?
- Why Is It Important to Maintain the Right Oil Level?
- What Are the Different Types of Motor Oils?
Let’s get going.
How to Read Oil Level on Dipstick?
A dipstick is a long, thin metal component housed inside a tube in the engine block. The dipstick tube runs through the crankcase into the oil pan and holds the dipstick partly submerged in oil. This allows the motor oil to cover a part of the dipstick’s surface according to its present level.
Here are the steps to perform an oil check using the dipstick:
1. Park the vehicle on a level surface. Being on level ground will allow a more accurate reading.
2. Wait for about 15 minutes for the oil to settle and the engine to cool if you’ve been driving around.
Note: You can look up the owners manual to see if the manufacturer recommends checking the oil level on a cold or warm engine.
3. Open the hood of your car.
4. Locate the oil dipstick in the engine bay. You can consult the owners manual for it.
5. Pull out the dipstick from its tube and wipe it using a clean rag or a thick paper towel.
6. Slowly insert the dipstick back completely into its tube and pull it out once again.
7. Note the marks or holes near the lower end of the dipstick. Some may have “add” and “safe,” “L” and “H,” or “max” and “min” oil symbol on them in addition to the markings.
Here’s what these markings mean:
- Sufficient oil: If the oil level is between the two perforations or markings
- Low oil: If the oil level is at or below the lower line or hole (towards the end of the dipstick)
- Excess oil: If the oil level is above the upper mark or hole on the dipstick
Tip: If you find the engine oil dipstick hard to read, try rubbing it with a fine-grit sandpaper. This can help the dipstick pick up oil more easily. Remember to wipe the dipstick with a clean rag before inserting it back into the dipstick tube.
Now that you’ve read the oil level, let’s get it in the right range.
How to Maintain the Right Engine Oil Quality and Level?
The motor oil level indicated by your dipstick should be in the optimum range, as both low and high oil levels point to a problem with the engine.
In addition to the oil level, consider checking its color and viscosity.
Here’s how the quality and level of motor oil impact your vehicle, and what to do about it:
A. Oil Quality
Fresh oil is golden and translucent but will darken over time as it circulates through the engine. Oil degradation and contamination cause it to get thicker. Thicker oil is harder to pump, leading to increased friction and poor fuel economy.
Oil with very low or high viscosity causes low oil pressure, triggering the oil pressure warning light (the dashboard oil symbol). If the oil has a thick consistency and a black or dark brown color, you’ll need an oil change soon.
B. Low Oil Level
Low motor oil level can result from worn piston rings and leaks in your vehicles engine (eg. an oil leak from the drain plug.) Driving a car with a low oil level may cause engine damage.
There’s some inherent oil consumption by engines, but it shouldn’t be more than a quart for every 2000 miles (for a car having done less than 50,000 miles.) A 4-cylinder engine generally holds about 5 quarts of oil. However, aged engines tend to burn motor oil faster, accelerating oil consumption.
If your oil level is close to the lower mark, your first step should be to top it up to a safe level before heading to a mechanic for an oil change.
Note: Topping up engine oil, in this case, will contaminate the fresh oil and shouldn’t be taken as a substitute for an oil change.
Here’s how to add oil to get it above the lower mark:
- Park your vehicle on level ground.
- Ensure you have the right motor oil type and grade.
- Locate the oil filler cap in the engine bay. The oil cap may also have the motor oil grade written on it.
- Open the oil filler cap and put a funnel in its place.
- Slowly add a small amount of oil and wait a few minutes for it to settle down through the crankcase into the oil pan.
- Do the engine oil dipstick test again and repeat the process until you achieve the correct level.
- Remove the funnel and screw the oil cap back in its place.
If you think you’re losing oil faster than you should or spot an oil leak, get an auto repair shop to diagnose and fix the cause.
C. High Oil Level
If the level indicated by the oil dipstick goes beyond the upper mark, there could be multiple factors at play.
Motor oil level can rise due to water condensation inside the crankcase. This usually happens when the vehicle is driven only for short distances daily, and the engine remains relatively cooler. Engine oil levels can also increase due to fuel or coolant leakages.
Here are some signs you should look for:
- Fuel leak: You may notice the smell of petrol or diesel on the oil dipstick. This indicates fuel dilution in engine oil, resulting from worn sealing rings, leaking fuel injectors, or idling for too long.
- Coolant leak: It can lead to brown bubbles or a dried brown residue above the dip stick oil line. The oil on the dip stick may also have a chocolate milk-like appearance. A damaged head gasket or a crack in the cylinder head generally causes a coolant leak, producing white smoke and a sweet odor from the exhaust.
A suspected fuel or coolant leak in your car’s engine oil calls for a mechanic ASAP, as contamination of the motor oil can negatively impact its lubricating quality.
If you mistakenly overfilled your cars oil, you can drain the excess oil through the oil pan drain plug to achieve the correct level.
Let’s discuss how often to perform an oil level check on your car.
How Often Should You Check the Engine Oil Level?
You should check your car’s oil level every 1000 miles or after a couple of weeks. Always perform an oil check before going on a long trip.
Some modern cars can tell you when your oil tank needs attention, but you shouldn’t wait for that oil symbol to come up on the dashboard. You should also stick to the manufacturer-specified engine oil change interval — which can range from every 1000 miles – 10,000 miles.
Next, we’ll cover why your car needs engine oil to run smoothly.
Why Is It Important to Maintain the Right Oil Level?
Engine oil is vital for the safe and efficient operation of any internal combustion engine, be it that of your lawn mower or car. Having a sufficient amount of good motor oil helps with:
- Lubrication: Engine oil forms a thin film over the moving parts in an engine, reducing frictional wear and tear.
- Cooling: Motor oil helps dissipate the heat generated during normal engine operation, preventing overheating.
- Cleaning: Detergent additives in the oil keep the cars engine clean and prevent corrosion.
As automobiles have gotten more advanced with time, so have motor oils.
Let’s explore the available options.
What Are the Different Types of Motor Oils?
There are four categories of engine oils:
1. Conventional oils: These are produced from refined petroleum and are generally more cost-effective than synthetic oil.
2. Synthetic oils: These are produced from artificial chemical compounds derived from petroleum products. Synthetic oil performs better in:
- Low-temperature cold starts
- High operating temperature conditions
- High load conditions
It produces lower amounts of engine sludge, is more resistant to oxidation, better protects the engine from corrosion, and lasts longer than conventional oils.
3. Synthetic-blend oils: These are prepared using conventional and synthetic base oils. Synthetic blend oils offer similar properties to fully synthetic oils at a relatively economical price.
4. High-mileage oils: High-mileage oils are recommended for vehicles clocking over 75,000 miles. These contain additives that help reduce leaks from seals, gaskets, and o-rings in older engines. They also contain detergents that help remove engine sludge.
Motor oils are further categorized into grades depending on their viscosity at a cold start and at the engine’s operating temperature, e.g., 5W-30, 10W-40, etc.
Periodically checking the engine oil level using the dipstick can help you avoid engine damage. It’s best to include this in your arsenal of DIY car maintenance activities.
And, if the test points to bad oil quality or a problematic oil level, get professional assistance from AutoNation Mobile Service!
We’re a mobile auto repair service company that you can reach out to for an oil change, engine inspection, and other automotive repairs right in your driveway.