How To Check your engine oil levels

Oil lubricates and cools your engine; without enough oil of good quality, your engine will fail. Letting it get low or stale is asking for trouble, so regular oil checks are routine for any motorist who knows what they are doing. Monthly is a sensible routine, and before and after long journeys.


If your vehicle is going for an MOT and you turn up with low oil, you should expect to be turned away and forfeit your fee. The emissions test cannot be conducted without enough oil; conversely, you do not want an emissions test if you have over-filled it.
 

Where is it?

Your access point to the oil is usually easy to find. There may be a cap that says 'oil' and a handle close by that pulls out the dipstick. If you have an automatic, do not confuse the engine oil with the differential oil, which looks similar in some cars. If in any doubt, consult a manual or mechanic.

In a front-wheel drive, the oil dipstick is usually near the front; in rear-wheel drives, it is often at the back. A handful of cars have no dipstick; in this case, you will need the manual to tell you what to do.
 

How to check

Your engine should be cold. If you have been driving, let it rest for at least ten minutes. There are a small number of models for which the manuals recommend checking the oil while the vehicle is still warm, before the oil can settle. Ford got the strange notion that most drivers would check their oil after running their car, so recalibrated the dipsticks; fortunately, it came to its senses. We recommend you test cold unless told otherwise by your manual. Some dipsticks have marks for both hot and cold testing.

Raise the dipstick and inspect it. You will see marks for maximum and minimum levels and the current level of oil up the stick. The marks may just be crosshatching or may be labelled L and H for low and high. If you can't clearly see the oil level, wipe it with a rag, reinsert and repeat.

Only add oil if you are close to minimum or lower. If you overfill, it will cause smoke and oil splutter from your exhaust.

Also assess its quality. Oil is brown when added. Black oil is not necessarily bad - be more concerned if there are dirty particles in it and it is no longer the right consistency. If you need to add oil, locate the filling cap. A funnel is sensible, as spilled oil will cause both fumes and fire risk.
 

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Types of oil

It is not a ploy to get you to buy a specific brand; instead, using the oil recommended for your vehicle is important for its performance and wellbeing. The right type may even be written on the oil cap. If not, check the manual or a motoring shop.

Designations such as 10W20 or 5W30 refer to the viscosity; if it looks more like 80W90, you probably bought gear oil! There are often choices of oil for better performance, mileage or emissions.

If any of these steps prove difficult, a quick visit to any Protyre garage will solve your problem cheaply and safely.

About the author

Dean Richardson

Dean is a Regional Director for Protyre who is also responsible for the running of our Protech Academy. The Protech Academy is a centre of excellence where the Protyre team learn the latest mechanical knowledge and skills, gain qualifications and develop their expertise to share with our customers at their local garage. The Academy is also designed to help us stay ahead of the ever changing automotive market by ensuring we have the best skills available to deal with advanced driver assist systems, hybrid/ electric vehicles in addition to all the new technology finding their way into our vehicles. During Dean's career he has worked for some of the biggest names in the fast-fit and mechanical aftermarket and as the man responsible for developing our people and their mechanical skills he is ideally suited to help provide advice in the latest in car technology and ongoing maintenance of your vehicle no matter how new or old it maybe.

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