Checking your oil can be tricky if you’ve never done so before. Let’s face it; most of us don’t know an exhaust pipe from an intake manifold. Most modern cars can go 30,000 miles or more before needing a tune-up, so keeping up with the little maintenance tasks that will keep your car running is up to you. The old adage that a car should get its oil changed every 3000 miles or 3 months is no longer true. Modern cars can usually go much longer, sometimes up to 5,000 or even 7,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual to know how long your car is expected to go in between changes.

It’s important to know how to check your car’s oil. You can avoid potential problems that could leave you purchasing a new engine, or worse, a new car. Follow this step-by-step guide and soon checking your oil will be no big deal.

  1. Park on a level surface
  2. Turn off your engine. We advise waiting about 10 minutes to allow the engine to cool and the oil to drain back down into the crankcase (otherwise, you might think you’re low when you’re really not).
  3. Pop your hood
  4. Locate your oil dipstick. If you’ve never used it before, you’ll usually find it near the sparkplugs – it will either look like a loop or a T handle sticking out of the engine. If you can’t find it, look under your oil cap, some are attached to the fill cap. If all else fails, check your owner’s manual, there are often images to assist in locating the dipstick.
  5. Pull the dipstick all the way out of the engine.
  6. Use a paper towel or rag to clean the oil off of the dipstick.
  7. Put the dipstick back into the engine, making sure you push it all the way in. Sometimes it’s difficult to locate where the dipstick came from, it’s a good idea to have a flashlight available in case you run into this problem.
  8. Pull the dipstick back out and hold it horizontally.
  9. Look at the pointed end of the dipstick. If the oil is below the line marked “full”, you’ll need to add some oil. Some dipsticks have two lines with a design between them – on those dipsticks, the oil level should be halfway between the lines.
  10. Add any oil that you need to add. Unscrew the oil cap and use a funnel. Add oil in small amounts – it’s much easier to add more than it is to remove oil if you add too much. Wipe up any oil that drips onto the engine, otherwise it will smoke when the engine heats up.
  11. After adding oil, check the oil level with the dipstick again.
  12. Put the oil cap back on securely and replace the dipstick.

Your engine’s oil lubricating system is a closed system, so if you’re consistently low, you probably have a leak. If that’s the case, you should consider getting it serviced as soon as possible. Checking your oil regularly can save you a lot in service bills, and isn’t it nice to learn something new?