Close up of a car engine and oil dip stick

How to check and top up your car engine oil

Being aware of how to and how often to check your car’s engine oil can save your car problems in the future. This is our complete guide to engine oil.

28 March 2024

How to check and top up your car engine oil

In this guide, we discuss how to check and top up your car engine oil. It’s a task that every driver has to do. While your engine oil level will be looked at during your car's service, it won't need to be changed completely every single time. In fact, a simple top-up should be fine until you are due an oil change. That’s why it’s important to be able to do this yourself!

Why should you check your car engine oil? – the science behind it

A closeup of a dipstick being inserted into the oil chamber of a car engine

A study by the University of Leeds in 2021 [1] concluded that engine oil degradation is impacted significantly by carbon black soot particles. These particles come from partially burnt fuel, dust, dirt and even metal from the car.

These particles contaminate the engine oil and cause increased or premature wear of your engine’s components. Therefore, checking your vehicle’s engine oil regularly can actually extend the lifetime of the engine.

Checking and maintaining the oil level and quality can save you money in the long term. You can avoid the problems associated with neglecting engine oil. Ultimately, checking engine oil is essential for keeping cars running smoothly and efficiently.

When should you check the engine oil level?

Even though manufacturers recommend changing your engine oil every 12 months or 9,000 miles, whatever comes first, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be checking it on a much more regular basis.

We encourage drivers to check their engine oil level once every couple of weeks, or at least every 1,000 miles. It is also good to check your car’s engine oil, along with other things such as a tyre thread check before a long road trip.

What will I need to check my engine oil level?

We recommend using the following four items to help check and top up your engine oil: rubber gloves, paper or kitchen towel, a funnel and of course, engine oil. Oil can stain your hands, so gloves can keep them clean and protected.

A kitchen towel is great for wiping the dipstick after you’ve used it. The funnel will help ensure the oil doesn’t spill everywhere when you’re pouring it. It’s best to check your owner’s manual to make sure you have the correct oil for your car.

How to check your engine oil

You’ll know it’s time to change your engine oil when you notice the colour of your current oil is black and it has become gritty. Your engine may become louder than usual, and your check engine light may appear on your vehicle’s dashboard screen. Also, if you keep topping up your oil and the level keeps dropping quickly, then your oil is probably too old and needs to be changed.

  1. Step 1

    Firstly, before you check, top up or change your engine oil, make sure your car is parked safely and correctly on flat ground. If the car is on a slope, the readings won’t be accurate. Make sure your engine is cold before you begin to check your oil levels. You’ll want your engine to have cooled down, so wait at least 10 minutes after use to save yourself from being on the end of an accidental burn.

  2. Step 2

    Next, open your car’s bonnet and look for the dipstick, which is usually brightly coloured with a round or T-shaped handle.

  3. Step 3

    Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean, making sure no dirty oil has been left stuck to it.

  4. Step 4

    Once you’ve fully cleaned the dipstick, re-insert it until it clicks back into place.

What should my engine oil level be?

Remove your cleaned dipstick again to check the engine oil level. There will be two marks on the dipstick to show the optimum level that your oil should be at. Your oil level should be somewhere between the two.

If your oil level is below the bottom line, or if there isn’t any oil on the dipstick at all, you should immediately top up your engine oil. To fill up your oil, you first need to locate the oil filler cap in your engine bay. This should have the word ‘oil’ marked on it, or an outline of an oil can.

Then, position your funnel at the top of the spout and pour your oil in. Make sure that you are using the correct oil for your car.

How much engine oil do I need?

To get an idea of how much oil you need, the gap between the marks on the dipstick usually represents around one litre of oil, so you know that if your oil mark was at the minimum, you need around a litre to top it up. If it’s only halfway down, you probably need around half a litre. Overfilled engine oil can result in significant damage to the engine’s components. Try not to overfill by pouring in only a small bit at a time. As always, if you need help come, book an appointment at your local Arnold Clark. Our dedicated Service department can do all the above without you having to worry!

What colour should my engine oil be?

The colour of new oil is golden and amber. It can quickly turn to a dark brown colour as soon as it’s in use, which is normal and nothing to worry about it. However, if your engine oil is black and becomes viscous or sludgy in texture, then it will need to be replaced.

If your oil begins to have a milky, creamy or foamy appearance, then it most likely means that coolant or water is leaking into it.

The best engine oil for my car

Different engines require different oil, so consult your vehicle’s handbook. Only use the correct oil, and do not use water.

The 2019 academic study, Fuel economy optimization from the interaction between engine oil and driving conditions [1], confirmed that lower High Temperature High Shear (HTHS) viscosity engine oils can reduce fuel consumption and emissions. See the table below for a breakdown of what is considered to be high, low and ultra-low HTHS:

Level of HTHS Centipoise (cP) unit measure of dynamic viscosity
High >3.5 cP
Low 2.9-3.2 cP
Ultra-low <2.9 cP

These low-viscosity engine oils can help to extend the life of your engine, while also offering enhanced performance out on the roads. We sell a variety of different engine oils at Arnold Clark Autoparts.

Where can I go to get my engine oil checked?

With expert technicians and branches across the UK, Arnold Clark can help make sure your car is looked after. Get in touch today, if you have any queries or would like to book your car in to your nearest branch.



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