Checking Your Oil

Check the oil cold. If you want to check the oil and have been driving it, wait five or ten minutes to let it settle into the oil pan before checking it. In very cold weather, it may be appropriate to drive the car around a bit first to get the oil loosened up and less vicious before checking it. Let the engine run for a few minutes, then let it cool down for five before you check it.

Park the car on a flat even surface. To get an accurate reading, you'll also need to make sure the oil isn't sloshed to one side of the pan, which can give you a slightly inaccurate reading. Try and find a relatively flat surface on which to park and check your oil.

Pop the hood. Usually, there will be a latch somewhere at the foot of the driver side door that looks like the front of your car opening up. You'll pull or push this latch, depending on the make and model of the vehicle. Then, you'll need to exit the car and look under the front of the hood for a latch, usually at the center but sometimes slightly off-center. Pull this and raise the hood to examine the engine.

Locate the dipstick. On most cars, the oil dipstick will have a red, orange, or yellow cap. It's in a circular or rectangular shape, and should be pointing out directly from the engine block, to one side or the other. Oil dipsticks are typically located towards the passenger side or near the front and are usually inserted into a dipstick guide about the size of a pencil.

Get some paper towels or an old rag. When you check your oil, it's important that you have a couple of paper towels or some other cloth that you can use to wipe it off and check the consistency of the oil.

Remove the dipstick. Most dipsticks are about a foot long, and you'll need to check the very tip to get the reading you're looking for. Slowly pull the dipstick out, holding a paper towel around the port as you pull, to wipe the oil off and keep it from flipping up and out.

Examine the color and quality of the oil. The color and the consistency of engine oil is indicative of the age, and possibly of other engine efficiency issues that you might need to address. As soon as you remove the dipstick, you can get a good sense of the quality of the oil in your engine. Engine oil that's in good condition should look slightly yellow-greenish on the rag, and shouldn't be super-dark. Wipe the oil off the end of the dipstick and examine it on the rag.

Dry off the dipstick and dip it once more into the hole. The first time you pull the dipstick out, you can't learn much about the amount of oil, since the dipstick will have oil stuck on it at many different points. Once you pull out the dipstick and examine the color, wipe off the end and reinsert it into the hole, then pull it back out immediately to get a good reading on the amount.

Check the amount of oil. There should be two small dots or lines on the end of most dipsticks, and one corresponds to the maximum fill line in the oil pan and the other refers to the minimum. The minimum dot should be close to the tip, and the maximum should be about an inch or so up from that on the dipstick. In a properly filled car that's cool, the line should be at the fill mark.

Check your user manual. Before you try to add oil, you need to find out what kind of oil your car requires. It's important to always check, because the types vary, even from one model and season to another. It's generally unwise to mix different grades of oil, so check carefully with the manual or your local mechanic before you add oil to the car.

To Fill Oil

Locate the oil fill cap located on top of your engine. These caps are typically well marked with the words "Oil Fill" and sometimes with the grade of engine oil your vehicle uses. If you see 5w30, for example, written on the cap, you'll know what kind of oil you need to add. Remove the cap, wipe it off with a paper towel or the rag you've been using, and insert a clean funnel.

Add the appropriate oil in small increments. It's important to allow time for the additional oil to drain down into the oil pan. It should fill it up the funnel suddenly and then glug down slowly. Avoid overfilling the funnel.

  • If you spill a little bit of oil on the engine compartment, don't panic. Spilled oil tends not to be super-dangerous, though it will smell bad and may smoke some. Try and wipe it up as best you can with a rag or a towel.

Check the oil again. Remove the dipstick and check the level. Repeat this process until the appropriate amount of oil is showing on the dipstick. Wipe the stick off after each read. Once you have finished, double check that the dipstick is fully seated and the oil fill cap has been tightened. Double check any other locations you have checked, remove any rags, paper towels or oil bottles. Lower the hood prop and close the hood.