The Importance of Checking the Engine Oil Level & Condition
Oil is the lifeblood of the engine in your vehicle. Without oil, your engine would burn up and seize in a matter of seconds. Oil lubricates your engine and fights against the two biggest enemies of any motor: friction and heat. Friction and heat produce wear. Wear will eventually destroy your engine. Friction and heat degrade oil over time. This is the reason the engine oil and filter need to be replaced regularly.
Whether you drive an SUV, truck, or car your vehicle is likely the second biggest investment you will make in your lifetime. If you take good care of your vehicle, it could last 200,000 miles or more. The prices of new and used vehicles are rising every year. Caring for your vehicle should be among your top priorities.
One of the most important and cost effective steps you can take to prolong the life of your vehicle is to change your engine oil and filter every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, or as often as recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer. Inspecting the level and condition of your engine oil will remind you of this important maintenance item and help you become familiar with what happens to the oil in your vehicle's engine. Inspect your engine oil every time you fill your gas tank, or at least once a month. It is also important to have an oil change sticker placed on the inside of your windshield to remind you when your next oil change is due.
In order to inspect the engine oil level correctly, you need to make sure the vehicle is parked on a fairly level location, shut the engine off, open the hood, allow the oil to drain back into the engine oil pan for a few minutes, then locate the engine oil dipstick which usually has a bright yellow handle that reads "engine oil". Pull the dipstick out, wipe it clean with a paper towel or rag, then push the dipstick all the way back in until it is fully seated. Pull it out again and inspect the engine oil level. There is typically a section of cross hatches on the bottom of the dipstick with a line at the bottom and a line at the top. The upper line indicates the maximum full mark. The oil level should not rise above this mark. The lower line represents the minimum mark and usually indicates the engine oil is approximately one-quart low. The engine oil level should be in the cross hatch section and at or slightly below the full mark when the engine is cool. If the engine oil is low, it could indicate the engine is either leaking or consuming oil. It is normal for an engine to consume a small amount of oil during the engine oil change interval, but it should not be excessive.
It is also important to inspect the engine oil condition. The color and consistency of the oil is indicative of its age. Oil will slowly change in color from a golden to brown, and finally to black as particulates from the engine and the internal combustion process get into the oil. Engine oil that is in good condition will look fairly clear like golden honey. Dark brown to black oil indicates the engine oil and oil filter need to be replaced. It is important to inspect the oil for any evidence of contamination and also for any metal particles which would indicate possible internal engine problems.
If engine oil changes have been neglected, there is a good chance carbon deposits and sludge have built up in the engine. An easy way to look for this is to remove the engine oil filler cap and use a flashlight to look into the engine. If the internal engine parts you can see are covered with thick black deposits and sludge, this is an indication the engine oil has not been replaced regularly. If you can see the thick black sludge on top of the engine, it most likely exists in the entire engine. If the car you are checking is one you are considering buying it would be advisable to avoid this car if it shows signs of neglect regarding oil changes.
The next time you fill your vehicle with gas, take a few minutes to inspect the engine oil level and oil condition. Make sure you are aware of your next engine oil and filter change due date, and follow this schedule closely. Refer to your owner's manual to make sure you are using the correct type of engine oil. You will be amazed how long an engine will last if it has had regular engine oil and filter changes.