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How to Check a Car's Oil Level

Updated on March 25, 2013
How to check your car's oil
How to check your car's oil | Source

Checking your car’s engine oil level is a very easy thing to do: In fact it used to be done every single time you filled up your gas tank. It is recommended that you check your oil very frequently, up to several times a month. People generally check their oil only when they get a tune up at their mechanic or if there is a problem with their vehicle, but checking your oil can be the easiest thing you can do for preventative maintenance of your car.

Driving in Winter Conditions?

If you plan on driving in winter conditions, check out my article on Snow Driving, to brush up on winter driving techniques!

Why Is It Important to Check Your Car’s Oil?

It’s important to check your car’s oil because in the instance when there is something wrong with the oil, or if there is not enough oil in your car, this can damage the engine of your vehicle. The oil in your car is used for lubrication of the many parts of your engine. Oil is also used as an aid for cooling the engine. If the oil level is low, your car runs the risk of overheating.

How to Check Your Car's Oil

Step One: Pop the hood of your vehicle from within your vehicle. This is either a button or a latch found inside of the car.

To open your hood, first pull the latch or press the button located inside your car
To open your hood, first pull the latch or press the button located inside your car | Source

Step Two: Go to the front of your vehicle and open the hood. There should be a latch or a catch that you might have to disengage. Once this is opened, put the post or rod up to keep your hood open if your hood does not automatically stay open by itself.

If your car has a latch in the front of the hood, slide the latch open.
If your car has a latch in the front of the hood, slide the latch open. | Source
Prop your hood open with the stick if you car has one
Prop your hood open with the stick if you car has one | Source

Step Three: Locate the engine oil dipstick. Take a cloth and remove the oil dipstick: wipe down the dipstick with the cloth.

Some cars don’t have a dipstick. If this is the case you should check you manual for instructions.

Locate the engine oil dipstick
Locate the engine oil dipstick | Source
Wipe down the oil dipstick with a cloth or with some paper towels
Wipe down the oil dipstick with a cloth or with some paper towels | Source

Step Four: Replace the oil dipstick and then remove it again, and check to see where the oil falls on the dipstick. There should be 2 markings on the dipstick, near the bottom. One indicating the high level of the oil and one indicating the lowest level. The oil should be about midway between those two points. If the oil exceeds either one of these points it can cause issues for your car.

While checking the oil, see if there are any particles, metal shavings or any other type of debris in the oil itself. It should be relatively homogenous and free of particles.

Checking the engine oil level
Checking the engine oil level | Source

Step Five: Replace the dipstick, close the hood, make sure it’s latched and you're done!

What If Your Car's Oil Is Low?

If your oil is low, it could indicate one of four problems.

  1. Your engine is burning/consuming oil (some older cars tend to do this more). There are many reasons why your car could be burning oil and this should be discussed with your mechanic.
  2. Your car could be leaking oil. Check underneath your car for oil spots and/or stains underneath your driveway or anywhere that you park your car.
  3. Your car might be required to be running when checking the oil and you need to check your car manual for details.
  4. The oil wasn’t changed correctly or insufficient oil was used.

What To Do If You Have Particles In Your Car’s Oil

If you have particles in your oil, you should change the oil yourself or bring it to a mechanic to have them change it. It is normal for oil to begin accumulating particles, so a small amount of debris shouldn’t be a problem. If you have small particles it simply means that you are due for an oil change in the near future. Keep in mind however, that metal shavings or larger particles would indicate a problem and it should be brought to a mechanic immediately.


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    • profile image

      Nora Santos 3 years ago

      I know it is important to keep tabs on your cars oil, but I have never know how to check it. I love the step by step process with pictures, this has been a huge help to me. I am glad I know how to check my oil now.

    • TheKatsMeow profile image

      TheKatsMeow 4 years ago from Canada

      @wilderness: Thanks for the comment! Some engines require the engine to be on, some it needs to be warm...all depends on the vehicle. The important thing to do is check your owner's manual, because every car is different.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      A very good tutorial, with great photos. I might add, though, that the engine should be warm but turned off. Checking the oil with the engine running will give a very erroneous result.

    • aziza786 profile image

      Zia Uddin 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing. Very simple information and good advice too, voted up.

    • flash167 profile image

      Marty Andersen 5 years ago from Salina, Utah

      I think everyone should know how to do this. It's so easy to ruin an engine if it's not done periodically and it's so easy!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      This is a four star hub from a simple, everyday act we all need. Your pictures are great and step by step so anyone can follow! I think every new driver should read this hub!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.