Checking your car’s engine oil should be a routine part of maintaining and servicing your car. Ideally, you should lift the dipstick to check the oil at least once a week. That way, you can be sure your engine is always well lubricated and protected, minimising wear and tear no matter how many miles you cover.

If you’re new to driving or need a reminder of how to check your car’s engine oil, we’re here with a complete step-by-step guide to the process. We’ve also included tips on finding the right engine oil, and advice on how to change the oil yourself.​

How to Check Your Car’s Engine Oil

Checking your car’s engine oil is simple, and a lot of drivers will have learnt how to do it during their driving lessons. However, if you need a quick refresher, here’s a basic guide on how to check your car’s engine oil:

  1. Start by getting yourself an old cloth, rag or paper towel; you’ll need this to wipe the oil from the dipstick.
  2. Make sure your car is parked on a flat surface. Run the engine for about five minutes to warm it through and circulate the oil.
  3. Locate the dipstick. It’s normally a small, coloured handle near the oil fill cap. If you can’t find it, check your car’s manual.
  4. Carefully remove the dipstick by pulling it straight upwards. There will be oil on the end, so wipe this off before replacing the stick.
  5. Remove the dipstick for a second time and look at the tip. There should be a patterned area at the end, which shows you the required oil fill level. Make sure the oil is within this target zone. This is also an opportunity to check the condition of the oil. It should be light brown in colour and fairly runny in consistency. Black, sticky oil could be a sign that it’s ready to be changed.

What to Look for When Checking Engine Oil

As well as the oil level, there are other things to look for when checking your car’s oil dipstick. We’ll take a look at these below:

  • Colour – engine oil isn’t black, it’s light brown. When you check the oil, make a note of the colour. The longer the oil is in the system, the blacker it will become due to soot and other deposits. Over time, the oil will become clogged and fail to protect your engine as it should, which is why it’s important to change it every 12 months.
  • Viscosity – how thin and runny is the engine oil on the dipstick? Engine oil resembles other types of oil, like olive oil, in terms of its viscosity. If its black, thick and sticky, it’s time to replace it.
  • Smell – engine oil has a unique smell when it’s brand new. Depending on the brand, it can smell like plastic, pine trees or not very much at all. What it shouldn’t smell like is soot or burning, which indicates that the oil is clogged with particles from within the engine.​

How Often Should You Change Engine Oil?

It’s important to follow the service schedule recommended by the manufacturer when servicing your car; you’ll find all this information in the manual. However, as a rule of thumb, you should look to change the oil as part of your car’s annual full service. By mileage, that’s around every 12,000 miles.

While an oil change is often included as part of a full service, it’s something you can easily do yourself at home. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to change the oil in your car.

You’ll need:

  • An oil pan, drip tray or bucket – for catching the old oil
  • A small wrench – for untightening the drain plug
  • A jack – for raising the car
  • A fresh bottle of oil

How to change the oil:

  1. Raise the front end of your car so there’s room to get beneath the vehicle.
  2. Place the bucket/drain pan beneath the drain plug ready to catch the old oil.
  3. Loosen the bolt on the drain plug slowly, until there’s a steady stream of oil filling the pan.
  4. Leave the oil to drain fully; it should take a couple of minutes to get down to a slow drip. Then, replace the drain plug.
  5. Pour fresh oil into the oil filler cap under the bonnet. You may need to use a funnel here to prevent splashing.
  6. Run the engine for five minutes to let the oil circulate. Then, check the dipstick to see by how much the oil level has dropped. Top it up again as required and repeat the process.

Tip – unsure what to do with your old oil? Pour it into a sealable bottle and take it to your local recycling centre or garage, who will be able to recycle it for you.

How Do You Know Which Type of Oil Your Car Needs?

The car’s manual provides full information about what engine oil your car needs. Alternatively, there are plenty of online tools where you can input your reg number to find the information you’re looking for.

We hope this guide has proved useful in helping you take care of your car. For more motoring news and advice, take a look at the Brindley blog or for our full collection of new and used cars and servicing plans, visit the homepage today.