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DipstickInformative story with car care tips: Check Your Engine Oil


How to check, what to look for and how to top it up?


What happens when you don’t check it regularly?

Previous TaleTown Story: Caring For Car Batteries

“What’s that beside the battery, Pa?” asked Hosh, “near the engine.”

“It is a dipstick,” replied Rosh. “You use it to check whether your engine oil is low.”

“How do you do that?” Hosh was curious.

“Simple,” answered Rosh. “To find out whether your vehicle needs oil, just follow these steps:”

“Be sure that the engine is cold (or has been off for at least ten minutes) before you check the oil. It’s also best that your car is parked on flat terrain when you are checking oil.”

“With some cars though, the automakers recommend that the oil be checked after the engine has been warmed up. Google up your car, or refer to your car manual to check that.”

“Open your bonnet (or hood) and pull out the dip stick. Wipe it clean on a lint-free rag or paper towel. Then fully insert the dipstick back into its tube and wait for a couple of seconds.”

“If the dipstick gets stuck on the way in, turn it around. The pipe it fits into is curved, and the metal stick bends naturally in the direction of the curve if you put it back in the way it came out.”

“Now pull the dipstick out again. Look at the film of oil between the markers on the end of the stick. Note how high the oil film reaches on the dipstick and the condition of the oil.”

“Every dipstick has some way of indicating the proper oil level, whether it be two pinholes, the letters L and H (low and high), the words MIN and MAX, or simply an area of crosshatching.”

“Where the oil reaches between the markers indicates your current engine oil level. If it is around the Full Mark and brown or slightly black, your oil is fine.”

“If it is not too black but near the Empty Mark, a top-up is needed. If it is quite black, then regardless of where it is up to, an oil change is needed.”

“If the oil has a light, milky appearance, this could mean coolant is leaking into the engine. If you suspect a coolant leak, have the car towed.”

“Look closely for any metal particles too in the oil, as this could mean there is internal engine damage. If you see either of these two conditions, get the car to a mechanic promptly.”

“Generally, the oil level mustn’t be below the minimum mark or above the maximum mark. Since over-filling with oil is also bad for the engine, you should add oil a little at a time.”

“Isn’t it a bit difficult to add oil in that tiny tube in which the dipstick sits?” asked Hosh.

“You don’t add oil in that,” laughed Rosh. “Look for a screw-off cap on top of the largest part of the engine.”

“It could be blank, have an oil drop on its cap as a symbol, or it could be labeled 'Oil' or something similar.”

“It might even indicate which grade of oil you ought to be using in your car. Numbers like 5W 30 or 10W 40 are oil grades. Unscrew that cap and add the appropriate oil as needed.”

“Start by adding about half a quart. Using a funnel helps avoid spills. Wait a minute or so and check the dipstick again. If the level is still below or near the minimum mark, add the rest of the quart.”

“Unless your engine is leaking, burning oil, or if you haven’t checked it for a while, you will rarely need to add more than a quart.”

“Once the oil is topped up, screw the oil filler cap back on securely. Put the dipstick all the way back into its sheath. You’re done!”

“How frequently should I check the engine oil, Pa?” asked Hosh.

“Once a month is good,” answered Rosh, “unless you have a leak, in which case you should check it a lot more regularly. You should regularly be looking to see if there’s enough oil and that it isn’t contaminated.”

“Oil reduces the friction in your engine and keeps it running smoothly. When you check your oil, if it is too dirty or smells of gasoline, it should be changed.”

“Some European vehicles don’t have an oil dipstick. If you can’t find one on your vehicle, check the owner’s manual for the proper way to check your oil.”

“Location of the dipstick also depends on whether your vehicle is a rear-wheel drive or a front-wheel drive. For example, your dipstick should be near the front of the engine in a front-wheel drive.”

“How black is too black, Pa?” interrupted Hosh. “How would I know if it is dirty enough to change?”

“Oil turns black pretty quickly,” Rosh smiled at his intelligent question, “but that doesn’t affect its quality. Rub a little between your thumb and index finger. If it leaves a dirty smudge, it probably needs to be changed.”

“And where can I get engine oil from?” asked Hosh.

“You can buy it at the service station when you next stop there to fill up gas,” Rosh replied. “Or you can find it at auto supply stores, supermarkets, discount stores, and large drugstores.”

“What happens if I forget to check or change oil?” said Hosh.

“Think of motor oil as the lifeblood of your car’s engine. Oil lubricates the engine’s internal moving parts, keeping them from wearing too quickly. It also helps keep the engine clean, by preventing dirt buildup, and prevents it from overheating."

"Checking it on a regular basis keeps your car healthy and running smoothly and gets more miles out of the engine. You can save a lot of money just by doing this quick monthly check yourself.”

Next TaleTown Story: Permission To Drive Car

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