How should I check the level of motor oil in my car?

Checking how much motor oil your engine has is one of the easiest and most important jobs you’ll do as a car owner. An engine relies on its oil to stop the metal parts rubbing together. If there’s not enough oil, parts will wear prematurely and you risk the engine literally grinding to a halt. Here’s how to check you’ve got enough motor oil.

What to do before you check the oil

Make sure the engine is cold and the car is parked on a flat surface. You’ll need a cloth, preferably a clean one about the size of a tissue, to wipe the dipstick. Kitchen roll will do the trick but an old piece of clothing, towel or bedding will work just as well.

What is the dipstick?

motor oil

Located beneath the bonnet, this is a thin metal strip that disappears into the bowels of the engine to the oil reservoir or sump. The dipstick will have two horizontal lines on the bottom for the minimum and maximum levels with a shaded area between the two. Pull the dipstick out and you’re looking for oil to be in this zone. Some premium cars now have an electronic ‘dipstick’ which enables you to see how much oil there is without getting your hands dirty.

How to find the dipstick?

Dipsticks usually have a brightly coloured ring on them. These are generally yellow or orange. The ring is so you can put your finger through it to pull it out. If you can’t see the dipstick, your car’s user manual will show you where it is.

What to do next

Pull the dipstick out and wipe it on your cloth. Then reinsert it before pulling it out again. There should be oil somewhere in the shaded zone between the markers. If there isn’t any on the dipstick, or it’s at the minimum marker or below, that’s not good news.

How to fill your car with oil

motor oil

Find the oil filler cap. These are usually black or metal coloured and feature the same oil can symbol that you see on your dashboard warning lights. If you’re struggling, your user manual will show you where it is. Remove the cap and put the correct oil for your car in. Fill it 50 to 100ml at a time. Check with the dip stick as you go: too much oil can be as bad for an engine as too little so be careful not to overfill it.

Remember, the oil has to travel down to the sump so it’ll take a little time to pool there, particularly in low temperatures. When the oil level is in the middle of the min and max markers your work is done. Replace the oil filler cap, relocate the dipstick, remove your cloth and close the bonnet.

Don’t leave it as long next time!

Checking the oil is something you should do on a regular basis, ideally at least once a month.