How often do you check your oil? Do you ever check your oil? Do you even know how to check your oil? According to motoring experts, neglecting this key part of car maintenance could ruin your engine and slash the value of your car.
According to a new study from Mobil1 and the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), one in five UK motorists are putting their engines at risk by not checking their oil levels until a warning light flashes on the dashboard – at which point the lasting damage that could easily lead to a worn-out engine might already have been done.
Even if you do check your oil levels more regularly, this might not be enough – and even monthly or fortnightly checks might not be sufficient to avoid higher running costs and knock hundreds of pounds off your car’s value. So how frequently should you be checking your oil? And how often does it need changing?
Let’s get under the bonnet and take a look…
Weekly spot check
Advances in engine technology means modern cars are becoming increasingly reliable and usually require less frequent trips to the workshop. However, this doesn’t mean that you should neglect your regular car maintenance routine, and an oil check should be carried out once a week, along with tyre tread and pressure checks, and level checks on coolant and screen wash reservoirs.
If the oil level has dropped it could be because of an engine leak, so you should also check on the ground for any signs of oil spotting – this isn’t just your car marking its territory! If the level has dropped but there is no spotting, it could be because the engine oil is finding its way into the combustion process, which could be a sign of something as serious as a head gasket problem.
Trust me, you don’t want a head gasket problem. Whatever the cause of the leak, it means that the remaining engine oil has to work harder, becomes dirtier and has a shorter useful life, all of which can result in increased engine wear, greater fuel consumption, and a loss in vehicle performance.
And that’s the best case scenario – if you run your car with low engine oil levels, then it could lead to complete mechanical seizure and a quite dramatic, smoke-filled breakdown. Even if your oil levels are fine, you should make sure you have the oil changed as part of a regular servicing regime in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, which you should be able to find in the vehicle handbook, or online.
How to check and top up your engine oil
Although 52% of motorists admit to leaving the oil level check to someone else, it’s important that you do it yourself and get to know what you’re looking at when you lift the lid on the engine. So here’s what you need to do…
- Step one: Park on a level surface, turn off the engine and wait for about five minutes to let the engine cool down and the oil to settle. Ideally though, you should check the oil level when the engine is cold.
- Step two: Lift the bonnet lid, secure it in place and find the dipstick – it’ll most likely have a small yellow handle, like one pictured above.
- Step three: Pull the dipstick out, wipe it and familiarise yourself with the minimum and maximum level markings before re-dipping it and taking a reading.
- Step four: If it’s below the minimum level, check the fill guide in the vehicle handbook to find out which oil grade and viscosity is required and how much you need to add.
- Step five: Locate the oil filler cap on the top of your engine, remove it and add the right amount of oil before replacing the cap.
- Step six: Wait a couple of minutes to allow the oil to drain into your engine, then go back to step two and add more oil if necessary.
- Step seven: Once your engine has the right amount of oil – take care not overfill it with oil as this can bring its own set of problems – close the bonnet lid and get back on the road. Smug smile optional.