… Even if Someone Else Changes It For You

Even if you’re good about getting your oil changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles (or every 10,000 miles for newer cars using synthetic), you should still be checking it regularly. You never know when a seal or gasket is going to wear out, you could end up leaking a significant amount of oil long before you’re due for your next change. Checking for wet spots under your vehicle won’t necessarily tell you enough information. Don’t worry: It’s easy, quick, and not very messy. Here’s what you need to know.

Checking Your Oil

First, get a roll of paper towel and add it to the driver’s kit in your trunk. (You’ll see what it’s for in a moment.)

Next, consult your owner’s manual to determine the location of your oil dipstick. Most vehicles have a number of different dipsticks, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right one. It’s usually brightly colored and located in an easy to reach location.

Once you know where your dipstick is, start your engine and drive for a few minutes until it’s warmed up. The volume of a liquid can change depending on the temperature, so you won’t get an accurate measurement if you pull the dipstick with a cold engine.

Finally, park somewhere safe, well-lit, and level. Retrieve a piece of paper towel from your roll and prop open your hood. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean. Take note of the two marks near the end. Re-dip the dipstick entirely, then pull it out again. Take care not to rotate the stick or you’ll get an inaccurate reading. If the level is between the marks, you’re all set. If it’s at or below the bottom mark, you’ll need to add some oil.

How to Top Off

Locate and remove your oil cap. It is usually marked with the word “oil” or an oil canister symbol. Take note of the size of the opening and buy a medium-sized funnel that will fit. A funnel will make the difference between a mess-free experience and being covered in oil. Add only a quart at a time. In between additions, drive a short distance and recheck the dipstick. Too much oil can cause just as many problems as not having enough oil.

What Oil Should You Use?

Generally, you should consult your owner’s manual to determine the proper viscosity for your engine. Viscosity ratings are made up of two numbers: one rating at low temperature and one rating at high temperature. For example, 5W-20 oil is more viscous at a low temperature than 0W-20 oil, but they’re the same at high temperatures.

The next question to ask yourself is whether to use conventional, synthetic or high-mileage oil. Synthetic oil is processed more than conventional oil and contains fewer impurities. There’s no doubt it performs better than conventional oil. However, conventional is usually much cheaper.

A somewhat more recent trend is high-mileage oil. Oil manufacturers have recognized that many vehicles on the road have more than 75,000 miles on them. They’ve responded with oils containing additives that increase the longevity of seals and gaskets to help prevent leaks.

It’s a good idea to keep a quart of the proper oil in your trunk along with your funnel and paper towel. Before any long drives (or just once a week), make sure to check your oil.

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