How to ... Check Your Oil Level
What does engine oil do?
Oil is pumped around the engine and performs 3 main tasks. Firstly, it is used to lubricate all of the moving parts, reducing friction. Secondly, oil moves heat from hot areas of the engine to cooler parts helping to regulate temperature. Lastly, oil picks up any dust or dirt that may have entered the engine, so also acts as a cleaner.
These actions ensure the engine can work effectively and efficiently, without oil the engine is at great risk of damage and overheating and will likely seize, rendering your vehicle unusable.
It is recommended you check your oil levels around once a week. Here's how ...
How to check your oil level
You will need;
- Kitchen towel or a rag
- The correct engine oil for your vehicle
- Funnel and pair of gloves (optional)
It is advisable to check your oil level when your engine is cold to avoid burning on hot surfaces.
Step 1 : Park on level ground
You will need to be parked on level ground to get a true reading of your oil level.
Step 2 : Locate the dipstick
To do this, release the bonnet and secure in the raised position. The dipstick will usually have a round or t-shaped handle in a bright colour, so it can be easily seen. If the location of the dipstick is not clear to you, refer to your vehicle handbook.
Step 3 : Remove dipstick
Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean using your rag or kitchen towel.
Step 4 : Reinsert the dipstick
Once the dipstick has been wiped clean, reinsert it, then remove it again.
Step 5 : Read oil level
Now you can look at the end of the dipstick furthest from the handle. You should see a minimum and maximum mark. If your oil level is showing as near to, or below the minimum mark you will need to top up the oil.
Step 6 : Top up oil if necessary
If you need to top up the oil, locate the filler cap, which usually has an oil symbol on it. If you need to, refer to your vehicle handbook to find the correct tank. Use your funnel if you wish, then add oil in small amounts, using the dipstick to ensure you do not overfill. Always make sure you have used the correct oil for your vehicle.
Always refer to you vehicle handbook to check the optimal level of our for your car, as recommended levels vary.
How do I know which oil to use?
There are several different types of oil available. Mineral oils are made from naturally occurring crude oil, synthetic oils are chemically synthesised to meet the exact needs of the car, and part synthetic oils are a mixture of mineral and synthetic oils.
Then there are different grades of oil. The grade of oil is shown on the bottle and will be 2 numbers separated by a 'w', for example '10w40'. These numbers relate to how fluid the oil is at different temperatures. The first number relates to winter temperatures and the second number to summer temperatures. If an oil grading read 5w at the beginning it will flow better at low temperatures than an oil grade beginning 15w.
You should always use the oil recommended for your car in your vehicle handbook to ensure optimal performance. You can also check which oil is recommended online;
Oil can be purchased from most garages and car accessory stores.
What should I do if I have overfilled my oil tank?
Overfilling the oil tank can be as disastrous for your car as having little oil. If your level of oil is too high, it will make contact between the crankshaft and oil possible. The crankshaft spins very quickly and will whip up the oil. This creates a foam which is not easily pumped around the engine, reducing the effectiveness of the oil and potentially creating a very large repair bill.
If you have overfilled your oil tank, you will need to have some of the oil drained away. It is best not to drive the car, but contact a professional to come and assess the situation.
How long does engine oil last?
The oil inside your engine will degrade and become less effective over time. The main reasons for this are heat and contamination. Heat from the moving engine parts causes molecular changes to the oil while dust and dirt picked up in the oil reduce viscosity and block the oil filter.
The rate at which oil degrades varies due to the type of vehicle, driving style, how many miles you travel as well as whether the oil is synthetic or mineral. However, oil and the oil filter will be changed as part of any service, so as long as you keep to your manufacturer recommended service schedule the quality of your oil should remain high.
If you are not confident, do not top up your oil yourself - make sure you contact a trained professional
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17 April 2018
Written by Natalie Faughy