Oil Level Checking

Every car engine needs oil within it to lubricate all the moving parts. This oil is replaced at every service. But because of the heat and friction within the engine this oil can burn and deteriorate between services, so it’s a great idea to check your oil periodically to gauge the levels and quality.

Depending on the age of your vehicle oil can be lost at a greater rate through leakage. The easiest way of determining if you car leaks oil is to keep an eye on its normal parking spot (as long as it’s the only one that uses the space, of course!). Another way of checking is to look under your car (yep, on your hands and knees) to see if you can see any droplets of oil suspended from the engine.

You should only check the oil after your vehicle has been at rest for some time. This will guarantee that the reservoir that you will be checking is representative of the amount of oil that is in the engine.

Here’s a guide that should help anyone be able to check their oil levels.

Before you commence checking your oils, make sure you have some scrap paper or a clean rag that you can use to clean with.

To check your oil levels you’ll have to lift the bonnet.

To do so, find the lever that is most likely situated in the footwell, under the steering wheel, of the driver’s side of the car. It will have an image of the profile of the car with the bonnet already raised. Once you find it, pull it till you hear the bonnet release.

Secondly, you’ll have to find the safety catch that holds the bonnet down (even though the first lever has been pulled). The easiest way is to look under the front edge of the bonnet (between the headlights at the front of the car). This lever may have to be lifted up in the direction the bonnet would be going as it is opening or it may move from side to side. This depends on the manufacturer and each model is different.

Once you have released the safety catch you then have to secure the bonnet open so it stays up while you are doing your inspection. Some bonnets are on gas struts which means the bonnet will lift easily and will hold itself up. Others have a metal arm that is attached to the engine bay that you can lift and insert into a hole that is identified on the bonnet for this purpose.

After your bonnet is raised and secured you can then look for the Oil ‘Dip Stick’. Some manufacturers are very helpful and colour code the items you may wish to inspect. Most likely it will be somewhere close to the centre of the engine and will have a ring to hook your finger in so you can pull the ‘stick’ out of the engine block. As you’re pulling it out try really hard to remember which hole it is coming from – because you’ll be reinserting it soon.

Clean the ‘stick’ with your scrap paper or rag making sure it’s completely clean. Note at the bottom of the stick is the measuring part. Most manufacturers will have two markings on the stick. The one closest to the tip of the stick represents the ‘minimum level’ and the one closest to the handle represents the ‘maximum’. Reinsert the ‘stick’ back into the engine making sure you push it all the way back in, then remove again. If your oil is in good condition you will only be able to see where the stick has been ‘wet’ by the oil – so you may have to look closely. If your oil is in bad condition it will be much blacker and more obvious. If your oil is very black it may be time for an oil change because this means your oil is burning and deteriorating.

As long as the oil level is between your two markings, you’re fine! If it is lower it’s adviseable to contact your service facility to find out which oil they use so you can go and buy some to top up. It’s always best not to mix oils, so you really should try to match the oil that is already in the car.

If you do need to top up don’t worry! You don’t need to carefully aim for the tiny hole you’ve been removing the ‘stick’ from. On top of the engine there is a large cap. Most likely it will have ‘oil’ marked on it. This is where you put the extra oil.

It’s important that you don’t over fill the engine with oil. So you may have to do several level checks through the process. Try very hard not to spill any oil on the engine. It will later burn and smoke which may cause whoever’s driving the car some panic.

Also, don’t be mistaken with other liquids that may, from time to time, drop from your car. Oil is brown and, well… oily. Water dropping from your air conditioning condenser (which is totally normal and fine) is clear and clean. Coolant is typically a flouro green/yellow and is the sign of something more of an emergency than a few drops of oil. If you see coolant dropping from your car it’s best to call your mechanic or your roadside assistance agent.