How to Easily Check Your Car's Oil

father and son checking oil

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Checking your car's oil level is the single most important thing you can do to extend the life of your vehicle's engine. And unlike an oil change, you don't need to hire a professional do to it (although, it's perfectly possible to change out the oil yourself as well). In the time it takes to count to five, a dipstick will tell you if you need to add oil or if you're still running at optimal levels. And you won't even dirty your hands or your clothing.

Vital Fluid

Oil is the lifeblood of your car. Regardless of the weight or the kind of oil, all vehicles need this fluid. Without it, you wouldn't make it down the block. Oil keeps your engine clean inside, helps warm it up, and helps keep it cool. Most importantly, oil will keep your engine's internal parts lubricated so metal never actually touches metal. 

Locating the Dipstick

Because there is no way to peek inside your engine to tell how much oil is or isn't inside, car manufacturers long ago invented a handy measuring tool called a dipstick. This long, thin rod with a looped handle is made from a semi-flexible metal and is usually located on one side of the engine. It's easy to spot because the looped handle will be colored a bright red, orange, or yellow. Most also say OIL on them (or OEL if your car speaks German). Some cars with automatic transmissions also have a dipstick for checking the transmission fluid, so take a minute to be sure you're checking the right one. You can always consult your owner's manual if you can't locate the correct dipstick.

How to Check Your Oil

Before you pop the hood for a routine oil check, be sure you park your car on level ground. You don't want all the oil sloshing to the back or to the front while you're checking, which will give you an inaccurate reading. Also be sure to park someplace well lit. You don't want to spend 10 minutes stabbing your engine over and over with the dipstick because you can't find the hole. If you just ran your car, wait a few minutes for the oil to settle. 

With the hood safely propped, pull the dipstick out and wipe the end clean with a towel or rag. Re-insert the dipstick into the engine, making sure it goes all the way in. Now pull it out, but don't turn it upside down to look at it, this makes the oil run upward and ruins your reading. The dipstick will have two marks at the bottom. They are usually either lines or holes in the stick. The oil level can be read by looking to see where the oily part ends and the dry part begins. If it's between the two marks, you're good to go. If it's below the bottom mark, you need to add a quart of oil, making sure you have the right weight and kind for your car. Never add more than a quart at once without driving and taking a new reading of the oil level. Overfilling the engine can be messy.

That's it! Five minutes of your time and you're good to go. Check your oil as often as you like. Once a month or so is good for a car that is in decent shape.