The gas station ritual has changed over the years. Today we tend to fill the tank, clear trash out of the door pockets and under the seats, and get going.
One important task has fallen by the wayside – checking the engine oil level.
Oil is the lifeblood of your engine and too little or too much of it can cause serious and expensive damage. Also, regular checking lets you see if the level is falling unexpectedly, an early sign that service is needed.
Checking engine oil is easy and can be done while filling the gasoline tank. You’ll even earn respect from other drivers who see you pop the hood and work the dipstick with authority.
We find it handy to keep a roll of shop towels or paper towels in the car. Not every fuel station puts them out anymore. A shop rag works too. Or, in a pinch, a couple of leftover fast food napkins.
Let the engine sit for a couple of minutes before you check the oil, so go ahead and start the fuel pump and clean out the door pockets. Then pop the hood – the release is usually located on the left edge of the driver’s footwell. Then slide your hand under the front edge of the hood and release the secondary latch to open the hood all the way, using the prop rod to hold it open if your car has one.
The handle for the dip stick is usually topped in yellow plastic and labeled Engine Oil. If you’re not sure, check the owner’s manual for a diagram of its location.
Pull the dipstick out of the tube, grasping the end of the stick with the towel and wiping it clean. Look at the end of the stick and see the high and low marks that define the safe zone for the oil level.
Slide the dipstick back into the tube and push it all the way in until the handle seats. Now pull the dipstick out, again grab toward the end with the towel and look at where the oil level shows:
- If it’s inside the safe zone, between the marks, all is good so put the dipstick fully back into the tube, close the hood and wipe your hands clean.
- If the oil level is at or below the bottom mark of the safe zone, it’s time to add a quart of oil. Check the oil fill cap or the owner’s manual for the correct grade, such as 5W-20, and use that oil.
- If the oil level is above the top mark of the safe zone you should take your vehicle in for service as soon as possible.
Many of today’s vehicles also have an oil life monitor that lets you know when it’s time to change the oil. When you get the signal, have the oil changed – old, dirty oil can lead to engine damage.
It’s easy and quick to check your engine oil. You’ll drive with confidence knowing your engine is maintained to perform as designed.