How To: Check Your Oil


You may remember an article I wrote a little while back about a flat tire fiasco I had recently, and the epiphany it gave me. The idea of performing a bit of a check-up on your things, in this case your vehicle, and the amount of headache you could save by doing so, inspired me to go through this simple maintenance exercise everyone who drives a car should know.

It Doesn’t Take Long to Save Your Butt

Seriously. Before your next long trip, or, better yet, now, taking five minutes to check your oil level could save you tens of thousands of dollars and the hassle of having to buy a replacement car.

An engine running without enough lubricant, which is the role oil plays in your car, will rapidly overheat and seize up, never to run again.

The Oily Boid Catches the Woim

3 stooges

Now that I have sufficiently scared you into this most minor of DIY maintenance projects, let’s go over how it is done. All you are going to need is a rag or paper towel, and a cold engine. In other words, do this before you start your car in the morning.

Start off by popping the hood. You know, the trunk up front that you never open because you’re pretty sure the gremlins that live under there will get out and attack you in your sleep.

Now, everybody’s car is going to look a little bit different under the hood. For example, under the hood of my car is a little hamster wheel-type device in which I place my children when it’s time to go somewhere. Instead of pressing a gas pedal, I simply say, “go faster” when I want to speed up, “go slower” when I want to slow down, and “OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!” when it’s time to stop. The kids love this, and they’re definitely not going to have any psychological disorders pop up later in life.

In your case, you’re probably going to see an engine, which will look something like this:


What you want to do now is make sure someone sees you getting into the hood of your car so that you can add a little street cred to your reputation. Don’t worry, you don’t really have to know what you’re looking at, you just have to look like you do. This is accomplished by energetically looking all over the engine and pointing at things while nodding. Keeping a very straight face during this procedure also helps.

Time to Get Down to Business

Once you have sufficiently impressed your neighbors and/or spouse, it’s time to actually get something done. We’ll start by finding the Oil Tank Dipstick. It will look something like this:


By the way, it’s ok to call it a dipstick. It has come to terms with its name and has moved on.

You found it, now it’s time to pull that sucker out and give it a good rubdown, er, wipe down. You want to get all of the oil off of it so it is easier to read accurately.

Once it’s clean, stick it back where it came from, making sure to go all the way down until it clicks into place. Pull it back out, then put it back, then… Wait, stop! This is getting weird.

Forget that last part. Once you have put it back in all the way, carefully pull it out and take a close look at it. You’ll see a couple of dots or lines on it that look something like this:


The oil level should be somewhere in between those lines. If it’s lower than the bottom line, you need to add some oil. Check the owner’s manual to see what type of oil is recommended, and go out and grab some. Unless the dipstick is dry, in which case you should take someone else’s car, as your car might not survive the trip.

How to Add Oil

If you’re a little bit low, you need to top it off. Don’t grab the nearest quart and dump it in all willy-nilly, however. The last thing you want to do is overfill the reservoir.

Hopefully you have a funnel for this, but if not, a steady hand and a confident pour will get the job done just as well. A bag of kitty litter nearby for absorption purposes is also not a bad idea.

Where the oil goes

Dump a little bit of oil in, let it settle for a few minutes, then check the dipstick again, following all of the aforementioned steps. Keep going a little bit at a time until you are satisfied that your car is no longer in danger of blowing up.

Bring it on Home

Now that you have successfully checked and topped off your oil, you can give yourself a nice big pat on the back. Be sure to tell everyone at the next party you attend how you have developed these incredible mechanical skills, and don’t forget to let them know how much better than them those skills make you. After all, you’ve earned it!

There a few reasons this job is a great starter DIY project: It’s easy, doesn’t require any tools, and it’s important and productive. Plus it could really save your butt (and your wallet).

So give it a try, now that you’ve finished this important article/lesson/incredible gift. Just remember, be sure you close the hood up tight after; don’t want those little beasties in there getting out!

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Well hello there

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