All drivers know that oil is essential for an engine to run efficiently, but many of us forget to check it regularly. Oil lubricates the engine, increasing fuel efficiency and preventing friction, which can cause costly damage to your vehicle. To prevent damage and overheating, it is important that you check your oil regularly, and don’t just wait for a service. Failure to do so could result in costly and potentially dangerous damage.
When to Check Your Oil
It is a good idea to check your oil once a month, topping up if the oil level is low. Some mechanics recommend checking the oil when the engine is cold, as when your vehicle has been running, oil in the engine will not yet have dripped back into the oil pan, so you will get an inaccurate reading. Your vehicle manufacturer will provide guidance on this - many manufacturers recognise that most drivers check their oil at a garage, when the engine is warm, and adjust the levels accordingly. Check your vehicle manual to see when to check the oil and the correct levels depending on the warmth of the engine.
Checking Your Oil
Usually, the dipstick is located next to the engine block and has a coloured handle with an oil-can icon on it. If you can’t locate your dipstick, check your manual.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean using a clean cloth.
- Place the dipstick back in the oil tray and pull it out – the new oil mark should come up between the minimum and maximum oil levels on the stick.
- If your oil is under the minimum level, gradually add a little oil, checking with the dipstick until you have enough. Be aware that, if the engine is hot, some oil will be in the engine, so don’t fill up all the way to the maximum line.
- Check the colour of the oil by rubbing it between your fingers, or on a clean, light-coloured cloth. The oil should be a dark brown/black – if it is light brown, your radiator may be leaking coolant and you should take your vehicle to a garage to check.
If there is no oil on the dipstick at all, or you notice that you are having to top up your oil very frequently, there may be an issue with your vehicle. If this is the case, take it to a local garage, who will be able to run a few simple tests to diagnose the problem.
It is very important that you don’t run your vehicle on low (or no) oil; this will cause the engine to seize up and will cost a lot more in the long run. If you are in doubt, a quick trip to the garage is relatively inexpensive and could help to save you money.