Automobile Repair/Checking the oil level

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Cars, light vans and trucks have similar engines so the oil level verification procedures are very similar.

The correct oil level is important for the engine life time. Not enough oil will cause damage to the engine from overheating and excessive wear resulting in possible destruction of the engine. Too much oil can seriously damage the engine because oil is incompressible and a large volume of it can stop the motor components from rotating correctly.

Check oil level[edit]

The oil dipstick is the main indicator of oil level. To check the level:

  1. Hot or cold? Consult the vehicles manual wether to check the oil level with a warm or cold motor
  2. Turn off engine. Ensure that the motor is turned off
  3. Vehicle leveled. Ensure that the vehicle is roughly leveled (e.g. not standing at a decline)
  4. Wait a while. If the engine was running before or you just filled up oil, wait half a minute for the oil to "gravitate"
  5. Pull dip stick. Locate the dip stick and pull the stick out of the housing. This stick will be quite long because it needs to reach down to the bottom of the engine.
  6. Clean dip stick. Usually the end of the dip stick will be covered in oil. You need to clean it with a clean rag or kitchen paper. Do not use a dirty rag because this may allow dirt to enter the engine and damage the motor.
  7. Reinsert dip stick. Reinsert and remove the dip stick to get a proper reading
  8. Check marks. The dipstick will have marks that indicate the lower, upper and possibly the ideal oil levels.

Remark on "warm or cold motor": Most engines have a "wet sump", where there is no real difference between warm or cold motor (the oil extend due to temp is negligable). Some engine have a "dry sump" where the check of a cold motor is misleading. Therefore: Check your vehicles manual.

Fill-Up[edit]

An engine will have an oil filler cap, usually on the very top of the engine and easily accessible from the hood or bonnet of the vehicle.

If you need to add engine oil:

  1. Remove filler cap. Locate the oil filler cap and remove it
  2. Add oil. Add enough oil to the motor to ensure that the level is between the two level indicator marks. Add the oil about half a pint or quarter of a liter at a time and check the level by using the dip-stick.
  3. Avoid adding too much! More oil is easily added, removing oil is pretty hard!
  4. Reattach filler cap

How often?[edit]

Oil consumption usually increases over the vehicles age and mileage. Modern cars may not need an oil fill-up between oil changes at all, older cars may consume half a liter for 1000 km and still running perfect. Manufacturers often state that up to 1l per 1000 km is within normal operation (but that's already quite a lot).

With an unknown car, I would start with an oil check every fuel refill and extend this period according to the actual oil consumption - you'll quickly get a feeling for it :-)