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How to check and top up your engine oil

Checking and topping up your engine oil is crucial for keeping your car running smoothly and efficiently. It also helps to minimise the effects of car depreciation.

The good news is, you don’t need to pay a mechanic to check and top up your oil. This is a quick, easy job that you can do yourself at home.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process for checking and topping up your engine oil. We’ll also cover how to select the right engine oil, how often you should top up – and what to do if your car runs out of oil.

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How to check your oil (step-by-step)

To check and top up your oil, you’ll need the following:

  • A clean cloth or some kitchen roll (to wipe off any excess oil or drips).

  • A plastic funnel to help you top up without spills.

  • The correct engine oil for your car. Your car’s handbook should tell you which type to use.

We’ve broken down all the steps for checking your oil below:

  • Step 1: Make sure your car is parked on flat ground, as a slope can give you an inaccurate reading.

  • Step 2: Switch the engine off and leave it to cool for at least 10 minutes.

  • Step 3: Open the bonnet and find the dipstick. (It usually has a brightly coloured handle.)

  • Step 4: Pull the dipstick out, wipe it clean, then push it back in until it clicks.

  • Step 5: Pull the dipstick out again and check where the oil level sits against the ‘high’ and ‘low’ marks on the stick.

  • Step 6: If the oil is close to or below the ‘low’ mark, you’ll need to top it up. If it’s at the midway point or above, there’s no need to top up just yet. Replace the dipstick, making sure you’ve wiped up any drips.

How to top up your engine oil (step-by-step)

  • Step 1: Find and remove the oil filler cap. This usually has a picture of an oil can or the word ‘oil’ on it.

  • Step 2: Grab the funnel and place the end into the oil filter.

  • Step 3: Start pouring oil into the funnel. Do this a bit at a time and leave it to settle for 10 minutes or so before adding more, checking the level with the dipstick each time.

  • Step 4: Once the oil has reached the desired level, replace the oil filler cap and the dipstick, making sure you wipe everything down, then close the bonnet. That’s it, you’re all done!

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What engine oil do I use for my car?

When it comes to engine oil, it isn’t a case of ‘one size fits all’.

There are many different types - and it’s important to use the right type for your car. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of damaging the engine.

The easiest way to find out what type of engine oil you need is to check your car’s handbook. If the handbook is unavailable, don’t leave anything to chance; you can utilise an online oil matching service.

How often should you top up your engine oil?

How often you should top up your engine oil will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • Your car’s make and model.

  • Your driving style and how often you drive.

  • The condition of your car.

These are just some of the variables that affect how quickly your oil levels deplete.

Your car’s handbook may tell your roughly how often you should top up. However, as a general rule, you should check your oil level every couple of weeks, every 1,000 miles - and before any long journeys.

What should I do if the ‘check oil’ light stays on?

If your ‘check oil’ light illuminates, don’t ignore it. Find a safe place to pull over as soon as you can, switch the engine off and get out of your car.

Leave the engine to cool, then follow the steps highlighted above to check and top up your engine oil, if you have everything you need to hand. Otherwise, call for roadside assistance.

What happens when you run out of oil?

Oil is necessary for keeping your car’s engine lubricated; it helps all the separate components work together smoothly. Without enough oil, these parts will start to grind together, overheat, and eventually, seize up and break down.

Driving with low oil will quickly wear down your engine and expedite your car’s depreciation. Therefore, you should top up your oil promptly when it’s running low!

How long does engine oil last?

Once again, this depends on how often you drive, your car’s make, model and condition, and other variable factors.

At the very least, your engine oil should be changed once a year during your annual service. However, it might need changing more often than that.

Here are some of the telltale signs that you need fresh oil:

  • The ‘oil change’ light on your dashboard appears.

  • You notice dirty, gritty oil on the dipstick whilst checking your oil.

  • You notice unusual engine noises and/or a burning smell whilst driving.