Oil is essential to running your car, and changing it regularly is a part of general vehicle maintenance that should not be ignored. It's important to keep a schedule, but there are instances where you need to change your oil sooner.
Regardless of what caused the drop in oil level or quality, you need to check your car’s oil to make sure your car's engine stays adequately protected. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to check your engine oil level.
Step 1: Run your car
You can check your oil level while your car isn't running—but that's the wrong method. You need to run your car to operating temperatures, or until the needle in the temperature gauge is in between hot and cold. So start your car and wait for it to warm up.
Once your car is warmed up, proceed with the next step.
Step 2: Pop the hood
For most cars, the hood latch will be located in the bottom left corner of the dashboard near the driver footwell. Pull this latch once or twice depending on your car's design, unlatch the hood, then prop it up or let the dampers do their job.
Once the hood is all the way up, proceed with step 3.
Step 3: Find and pull out the oil dipstick
Usually, the oil dipstick will be colored bright yellow for easy identification. However, this color-coding will depend on the brand of your car. You may find dipsticks that are orange, red, or in other bright colors. There are even some dipsticks that aren't dressed up in bright colors, so best to know what you're looking for.
In general, you want to look for a ring that sticks out of the engine. Before you pull it out, grab a paper towel, tissue, or rag to clean the dipstick then proceed with step 4.
Step 4: Put back and pull out the dipstick
Simply put the dipstick all the way back and then wait a second before you pull it out. Make sure it's all the way down and notched in, before you pull out.
Take the dipstick out once again and then proceed with step 5.
Step 5: Read between the lines… or dots… or whatever the manufacturer uses
There will be a couple of notches, or dots, or lines that will mark how high or how low your oil level is. Ideally, you'd want to be in between the upper and lower levels. You don't want your car to be filled all the way up, nor do you want your oil level to dip below the minimum level. As a rule of thumb, once your oil reaches a quarter of the way on your dipstick, you might want to book an appointment with your service center.
So that's it. Feel free to rinse and repeat this process regularly. Checking your oil properly and regularly is a good habit to maintain, as your oil level will tell you a lot about your car's health. Note that some cars eat oil faster than others, and aggressive driving habits will surely accelerate your next maintenance interval.