Keeping your car in tip-top shape comes down to knowing how to read the dipstick. If you want to ensure there is enough motor oil—which is essential to your car—then you need to know the oil level. Over time, your vehicle will lose engine oil; that’s guaranteed. However, if you let the oil get too depleted, then you end up with an engine without any lubrication, and that spells trouble for you. So to make your life easier here is how to read the oil level on the dipstick of your vehicle.

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Preparing For The Oil Check

To begin, you will need to have your vehicle parked on level ground. The engine must be turned off, and the car put into Park or have the parking brake engaged. Pop and lift the hood. If you are unsure how to lift the hood, consult the owner’s manual.

Do note that it is best to wait for the engine to cool slightly—about 5-15 minutes after use. That gives the oil time to drain into the pan.

Typically, there is a hood release button or lever on the left-hand side of the steering wheel or passenger side footwell. There is also a safety latch to unhook prior to lifting the hood up. On either the left or right side of the engine bay, you will see a stick that can be used to prop up the hood, leaving your hands free to do other things.

Locating The Dipstick

Now that you have a view of the engine, search for the dipstick. Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, the dipstick will be connected to either an orange, red, or yellow cap. In some newer models from many manufacturers, there may be no dipstick at all, so double-check your owner’s manual. Otherwise, you may end up searching for something that isn’t there!

You will know it is for the oil because it will have the oil sign on it. Commonly, engines have the dipstick near the front of the bay, close to you. Open the cap. The dipstick looks a bit like a metal stalk with either a loop or gripper on the end.

Lifting The Dipstick

Pull the dipstick from its housing. Have a lint-free paper towel or rag close by, because you are going to need it to wipe the oil off the end of the dipstick. Keep in mind that fresh oil is light gold or amber in color, while oil that needs to be changed is darker, nearly black. If you see black oil on the dipstick, you know right then that you need an oil change.

Checking The Oil Level

Once the oil level is cleaned off, take a long look at it. There are usually two lines, the one closest to the tip of the dipstick indicates that the oil is low. The uppermost line means that the engine is full of oil or at a “safe” level.

You may see the lower line designated as “Add” or “L,” depending on the car. Similarly, the upper line may be “Full,” “Safe,” or “F.”

Next put the dipstick back in the engine, making sure it’s fully in. When you dip the dipstick back into the oil reservoir and lift it, take note of which line the oil hits. If the oil is near the full mark, your oil level is fine. Any time the oil level is between Low and Full, it is safe. This is a normal range. However, if your car is known for guzzling oil, you may want to top off the oil before a long drive. Should the oil be at or under the Low mark, you need motor oil.

And what happens if you see no oil? Well, then you have a serious problem. Do not drive around when your car has low or zero oil in the engine.

Rechecking Your Reading

If you have checked the oil while the engine is still relatively warm, then it is suggested that you come back for a recheck several minutes later. Double-check that the oil level is at least between the Low and Full marks.

What Happens If The Oil Is Too High on The Dipstick?

Knowing how to read the oil level on the dipstick also means knowing when something is amiss. There are some cases when you may go to check the oil level and find that the oil level is above the Full line. This is not good. Oil levels may increase when there is condensed water or fuel in the engine. It could also mean you are dealing with a coolant leak.

You do not want diluted oil in your engine, as it will not have the appropriate amount of viscosity for your engine to run safely.

Another reason your engine may be swimming in oil is from overfilling. You want to avoid overfilling your car with engine oil. As the crankshaft turns through the oil, it will churn it, adding air that produces a thick, insulating foam. Since the heat from the engine cannot dissipate, you may lose performance or even damage the engine.

Final Thoughts on Reading a Dipstick

Now you know how to read the oil level on the dipstick and why it is important. Checking the oil level is easy enough and does not consume much time, but it does give you a snapshot of your engine’s health. Should the oil be too low, too high, or too dark, you know it is time to do maintenance work on your vehicle. Delaying an oil change can be the end of your vehicle.

Not sure if you want to handle an oil change on your own? Read up on how much an oil change costs.


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