In order to run properly, a car needs oil. Without oil, with too little of it, or with old and worn out oil, the engine can be severely damaged or destroyed. Oil is responsible for lubricating all major components of the engine, reducing the wear and tear on the engine, and helping dissipate the heat generated by the engine.
The oil should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that there is enough oil in the engine and that it hasn’t become contaminated. It is a good idea to check the oil level about once a month and if the levels are low, you should add oil to the vehicle. Checking the oil and adding oil to a car are pretty simple operations that most people can handle on their own.
Here is an overview of how to check the oil in your car:
How to check the oil
Allow the car to cool - Let the vehicle cool down before attempting to check the oil.
_**Warning**: Never check the oil when the engine is hot. It is best to check the oil in the morning before the car has run, as all of the oil will have run back down into the oil pan. If this is not an option, let the car cool down for at least 10 minutes._ _**Note**: The vehicle should be parked on a flat surface so the oil is evenly distributed in the oil pan. A car parked on a hill can give a false reading._
Open the hood - In most vehicles the hood release lever is located on the left hand side of the steering column, under the dash.
Release the hood - Feel under the hood for the release latch to get the hood completely open.
Prop the hood - Once the hood is open, use the hood prop stick to keep the hood up.
Locate the oil dipstick - In most vehicles the handle of the dipstick is yellow. In a front wheel drive vehicle the dipstick will be located near the front of the engine, whereas the dipstick on a rear wheel drive vehicle will be towards the center of the engine.
Remove and reinsert the dipstick - Pull the dipstick out and wipe if off with a clean towel. This ensures the correct measurement. Reinsert the dipstick all the way and then pull it out again to examine the film of oil on the dipstick.
Tip: If the dipstick gets stuck on the way back in, turn it around. The pipe it fits into is curved and the dipstick bends in the direction of the pipe. If you have any issues getting the dipstick back in, pull it out and wipe it clean again.
Inspect oil level - There should be two marks on the dipstick indicating “add” and “full levels. The film of oil should fall between these two marks. If it is close to the “add” mark or lower than the “add” mark, the vehicle needs more oil.
Tip: If your vehicle is consistently indicating a need for oil, there is probably a leak in the system, which should be inspected and repaired as soon as possible.
Note: Certain vehicles, especially newer European vehicles, do not use a dipstick. If you cannot find the dipstick, consult your owner’s manual for instructions on how to check the oil in your specific vehicle.
Determine the color of the oil - Rub some of the oil between your fingers and look at the color. If the oil is black or brown in color, then this is normal. If the color is a lighter milky color, this may indicate the radiator is leaking coolant into the oil and is in need of repair.
Note: If you feel any particles in the oil, this could indicate damage to the engine, so you should have a certified mechanic inspect the car as soon as possible.
Checking your oil is a painless and easy task that is essential to properly maintaining your car. It is a part of car maintenance that the average car owner can perform with little hassle and that will help keep your vehicle in top condition. When you are completed, you can then add oil to your car.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Check Your Oil and was authored by Mark Vallet.