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Simple Tips for Checking and Changing Your Oil

Published: December 2019

Keeping your car in tip-top shape can help prevent unnecessary repair bills and unexpected trips to the mechanic. One essential car maintenance task is a routine oil change. Oil changes are a must for proper vehicle care, but they can be easy and relatively inexpensive.

Older woman checking a car's oil, under the hood.

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Why You Should Check and Change Your Oil

Your car's engine is complex and contains numerous moving parts. Oil lubricates these moving parts and keeps everything running smoothly, says Angie's List. Over time some of the motor oil burns off — leaving a thick sludge behind. This sludge reduces the oil's ability to lubricate the parts properly, which can lead to engine wear. Checking your oil can help determine if the oil needs to be changed and if there is enough in the car.

According to Cars.com, here are some of the reasons why you should change your car's oil:

  • Oil cools, lubricates and cleans moving parts. Without oil, your engine would stop working.
  • Oil can become dirty and break down, likely reducing engine efficiency and longevity.
  • Regular oil changes can help prevent long-term engine damage, which may help you avoid costly repair bills.

How to Check Your Oil

Consumer Reports suggests that drivers check their oil at every other gas fill-up. Start by consulting your owner's manual. It should contain information on how to check the oil in your vehicle. Once your car is parked on level ground and the engine is off, Consumer Reports recommends these steps for checking your oil:

  • Pop the hood. Locate the oil dipstick and remove it. A graphic of an oil can usually marks its location.
  • Wipe off the dipstick and reinsert it. Clean the oil off the dipstick with a rag, put it back in and remove it again.
  • Determine the oil level. The dipstick is marked to show at what level the oil is full. If the level of the oil is at or below the levels marked "add," "low" or "min," add a little bit of oil (a half-quart) at a time. Then wipe, reinsert and remove the dipstick again for another check.
  • Check oil color. Look for brown or black color. If the oil is a light, milky color, or if you notice tiny metal particles, take your vehicle to a mechanic for further diagnosis.

Which Kind of Oil Should You Use?

Which kind of oil you use in your vehicle depends on your engine's needs and the manufacturer's recommendations in the owner's manual. You can choose synthetic oil, conventional oil or high-mileage oil, depending on your engine's needs and the expected oil life. Also, you'll need to choose the right viscosity for your engine — that information is typically found on your engine's oil cap or in the vehicle's owner's manual.

Related Resources:

Our pages are filled with helpful tips and information about the topics that most of us face in our everyday lives. We focus on safety and maintenance issues with regard to your home, auto, apartment, motorcycle, boat, small business, finances and more. Please recognize that a particular tip may not be effective in every circumstance and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate for you and your property and always consider safety.
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