Introduction: How to Check Oil

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a degree in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mar…

Checking the oil level in your car is something that is so quick and easy to do and can save your car a lot of misery (and you a lot of $$) when done on a regular basis.

Although experts recommend checking your oil 10 min after you've shut off the engine, I only ever think to do it when I'm driving. Which means if I tried to stick to the 10 minute rule, I would never check my oil!!

That's why I recommend doing it at a gas station after a fill up. Just make it the last thing you do (fill up first!), so the oil has some time to drip down off the crankshaft (the reason for the above mentioned 10 min wait), allowing for the truest level reading possible. A 3-5 minute wait and doing it is sure better than not doing it at all!

Try and check your oil twice a month.

Let's get started!

Step 1: Pop Your Hood

The first thing you need to do is open your hood. In most cars there are three steps involved in doing this:

1. Pull the hood release latch on the drivers side of the car interior. It is usually down under the far left side of the dash board, half way towards the floor. If you are having trouble locating yours, see your vehicle's manual.

2. Move to the front of the car and find the latch that is just under the front of the hood. It can be hard to feel it's location at first, but it will be either a latch that you push up or sideways. Again, refer to your manual if your fingers can't find it.

3. Once you've found the latch and have lifted the hood, hold it up with one arm and locate the hood prop rod with the other. This can be found either parallel to the front of the hood or to one side. Unclip the rod, lift it up and insert the top end into the corresponding holes on the underside of the hood. (like pictured)

Step 2: Locate the Dipstick

If you're not familiar with what goes on under the hood, it may seem overwhelming at first glance. But not to worry, the handle of the dipstick is designed to stand out and look like something you should grab, so just scan for one of the following:

  • a brightly colored circle or ovular handle
  • a brightly colored and circular 'T' shaped handle
  • a plain metal hook shape, like an upside-down 'J'

It will generally be towards the front of the engine, slightly to one side.

Step 3: Supplies

Or rather, supply.

The only thing you'll need to check your oil level is a paper towel. Most gas stations have these at their window washing stations. If not, go inside and ask for one. I've never been turned down.

Step 4: Pull & Wipe

Now you're going to grab onto the handle of the dipstick and pull it all the way out, being careful to keep it over the engine so you don't drip oil on your clothes or shoes.

Use your paper towel to wipe down the stick, starting at the top by the handle and going all the way to the tip.

Fold your paper towel in half and wipe the stick one more time.

The dipstick should now be oil free. This makes it easy to see that there are dots or notches on the tip (sometimes accompanied by the words 'min' and 'max') that are used to read the oil level. Have a look at your dipstick tip and get familiar with the markings. Note that the dot closest to the tip/end represents the minimum desired (low) level.

Step 5: The Big Move

Here's where we find out what we need to know: How much oil is in there anyway?

Put the tip of the stick back into the hole you pulled it out of and push it all the way in, until it won't go any further. Then pull it slowly back out again.

You should now be able to see the level of your oil by locating where it stops in relation to the two indicator dots. If the oil is halfway to the 'max' dot or higher, your levels are good for now. Just check it again in a couple of weeks. If it's at the low dot or just slightly above, add oil*.

*Check with your vehicle manual for the recommended oil and quantity to use in your particular vehicle.

Step 6: Danger!

This is an example of a potential problem. The level shouldn't ever be above the 'max' dot as it could cause problems for the engine. If this has happened to you, check your level again 3 minutes after you turn your engine off and if there are bubbles or foam in the oil on the stick, then it's time to take it to the professionals.

Take care of your car and it will take care of you!