Back to Basics – checking your oil


That yellow oil can indicator light pictured above is often overlooked, but may actually be more important than you realize.  Not all vehicles will of course have this digital display, usually depending on its overall age.  However, whether or not you have an analog arm or a high-tech full color instrument panel, what your engine may be trying to tell you is it needs a drink of oil, among other possible things.

Typically a vehicle will require additional oil between oil changes as it becomes more “seasoned.”  In other words, if you’re having to add up to a quart of oil every now and again prior to your next oil change, it might just be par for the course in older vehicles.  This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to replace the engine, or the vehicle itself.  Engines can operate under these terms for many years and thousands more miles, so long as you don’t mind the potential inconvenience of having to remember to add oil, you’re most likely not going to run into any related concerns.  Disclaimer: your oil pressure level may also be associated with a more significant issue, proper diagnosis is necessary to confirm.
Having said that, we want to make sure you know how to correctly check your vehicle’s oil level.  You will want to do this only after the vehicle has not been in operation for at least 15 minutes, but preferably prior to the first trip of the day, while the engine is cold.

Another installment in our Back to Basics series, this will break down in very simple steps what’s necessary to complete the task at hand.  Tools/items required include the following: a shop rag (old t-shirts work great here, cut them into strips – cloth/rag should be lint free), 1 quart of your preferred oil (see your owners manual if you’re not sure what oil type to use).

First, you want to locate your vehicle’s oil dipstick.  Some European vehicles do not have them, but most others do.  If yours does not, consult your owners manual for detailed instructions on your specific make/model.  Most of you will see a relatively large rubber ring, often yellow in color.  That’s the top end of your dipstick.  If you’re to pull that out (and you will in a moment) you would see a long thin metal stick-like instrument.

Pull the dipstick out of its barrel, and then wipe it completely dry.  Re-insert the dipstick and seat it firmly for a few seconds.  Lastly, you’ll want to pull out the dipstick again, only this time don’t wipe it dry.  Once you have the dipstick removed, use your other hand to hold it level (horizontal with the ground) so you can get an accurate reading.  There are two indicator lines you’ll want to make note of to get a proper reading (usually easily identifiable with “ADD” or “FULL”).  If the oil line on your dipstick is at the full line – wipe it dry, re-insert into barrel and you’re done.  If, however, the oil line is below the full line you will need to add oil.

Oil is not to be added through the dipstick barrel opening.  Usually there’s a rubber or plastic cap somewhere near the top of the engine (manufacturers don’t generally try to hide this one on purpose) labeled Motor Oil, or something of the like.  You’ll unscrew that cap and add motor oil accordingly.  The only thing you want to keep in mind, and this is VERY important, do NOT overfill.  What this means is you should add oil slowly and repeat the oil level check process detailed above until your oil reaches the full line on the dipstick.

Remember, those lights on your dash (where applicable) are usually attempting to communicate with you.  Please take notice of when they’re illuminated.  Check your owners manual for what each might mean, or feel free to contact us with your questions.  We’ll be here when you need us.

Written by cargrandrapids