Adulting 101: Checking Your Oil Level

First things first, this is not the same thing as an oil change. Your oil needs to be completely changed roughly every three to five thousand miles. This article is just to teach you how to check the oil level in your car.

Oil is an extremely important component of your car’s engine. Car’s Direct informs us that oil is the lubricant for all of the fast moving parts inside the engine that have the potential to create a lot of friction. In this way, the oil also acts as a bit of a cooling system. If you don’t have enough oil then what you do have won’t get enough time to cool down before being pushed through the engine again. This means that there is a higher chance of overheating. Car’s Direct also warns that “If the engine runs out of oil, it will start to grind, and then seize up, stalling the vehicle. Your engine will be damaged and possible ruined.” Once again, this is talking about your oil level. To see some of the ramifications of never getting an actual oil change, you can check out this video by clicking here.

As you can see, there are a lot of dangerous problems that can come from not having enough oil in your car. So let’s take a look at how to make sure that never happens.

Image via author

In order to even get to your engine, you’ll need to open up the hood of your car. This can be done by finding the lever near your steering wheel and pulling it towards you. Do not confuse this with the button that opens your trunk. While the images on them both look very similar, the one to open your hood will probably be closer to the bottom of the dashboard, closer to your pedals (see above).

Depending on your car, you may also have a latch directly under the hood. The lever should have popped it open at least half of an inch. Then you just have to feel around towards the center to find the latch and push it. Once it’s open, there should be a long stand on the side that can be used to prop the hood up while you work.

Before we begin the next part, make sure that you have some sort of rag or paper towel to work with. Really, anything that you don't mind getting dirty will work. Next, find the part that says “Engine Oil” on it (see picture below).

Image via author

This is your dipstick. You’re going to want to carefully pull it out and give it a good wipe with your rag. Then, put the stick back into the hole you just took it out of. Because it is now clean, you’ll be able to get a better measurement of what your oil level is. So, pull it out again, and look at the end to view your oil level.

Image via author

You want it to be between the Full and Add marks on the stick. As you can see in the picture above, the oil level in my car was just below what it should be. If you need to add oil, then look for the big, rectangular, box right above where you got the dipstick. There should be a number written on the cap of it like the one below.

Image via author

This is the type of oil that you’ll need to buy. You can honestly find it just about anywhere. I got mine at Wal-Mart. Just make sure you write the number down so you don’t accidentally get the wrong kind. I was advised that if you’re under the Add line to always start by adding one quart of oil.

Image via author

Just twist and lift to remove the cap and carefully pour the oil in. If you have a smaller opening or are worried about spilling then it may be smart to use a funnel for this step. Return the cap securely to its place, and now it’s time to wait. You always want to give the car around 20 minutes of being cold (not on or running) before you check the oil again. This will allow the oil to settle and for you to get a more accurate reading.

Image via author

NOTE: Do NOT check your oil level if you just drove somewhere/just turned the car off. The car will be still be warm and it will not give you an accurate reading.

And that’s all there is to checking your oil level. As one last reminder, please remember that this is not the same thing as an oil change. This is an important part of keeping your car healthy, but it doesn’t negate the need for and oil change every three to five thousand miles.

Keeping your car healthy is both a step towards keeping you safe and towards cruising into adulthood.

Is there anything in particular that you want to learn more about? Then fill out this short survey to let us know!