Motor oil is the blood of the engine. As our tire manager Rubin says, “If there’s no oil, the car won’t run for long.” You need the right amount, the right type, at the right time. If any of these things are off, it could spell trouble.
To achieve peak engine performance and longevity, start by learning how to check your oil like a pro. And since that means paying attention to the details, the following step-by-step overview provides some of those, too.
9 Steps to Check Your Oil like a Pro
1. Park your car on level ground to ensure you get an accurate reading. Turn off the engine and wait 10 to 15 minutes for it to cool down.
Manufacturers used to recommend that you check your oil when the engine was cold, to give the oil a chance to settle in the oil pan. As CarTalk notes, however, many manufacturers have since recalibrated their dipsticks to read correctly even when the engine is warm. Check your owner’s manual for vehicle specific instructions.
2. With the engine off, pop the hood and locate the oil dipstick. It often has a red or orange plastic tab on it. If a quick look around the engine doesn’t help, refer to your owner’s manual. Some newer cars monitor oil levels electronically and don’t allow manual oil checks.
Detail: Make it a habit.
Check your oil once per month. Refer to your owner's manual or rely on your Firestone Complete Auto Care technician for current, engine-specific, oil service interval recommendations.
3. Remove the dipstick. It's not necessary to wear gloves for this part, but you may want to do so to keep your hands clean. Spoiler alert: You’ll get a sneak peek at your oil’s level and consistency, but an oil dipstick reading at this step is unreliable. Keep reading and don't skip step four.
4. Wipe the dipstick (from the handle to the tip) with a clean rag or paper towel. The reading you get from pulling the dipstick out the first time isn't accurate because the motor oil can splash around or wick upward on the dipstick.
Detail: Take car tech with you.
Download a smartphone app that reminds you when it’s time to get your car checked. Free maintenance apps such as aCar, myCARFAX, and Auto Care 1 can help you stay on top of your vehicle's most important service milestones.
5. Reinsert the dipstick. Be sure to push the dipstick all the way back in,
wait for a second, and then remove it again.
6. Review the level of oil on both sides of the dipstick. Indicators toward the bottom of the stick will let you know if the oil is low, good, or high.
Detail: Keep it clean.
Motor oil gets contaminated several ways, including debris introduced through the air, tiny metal shavings from the engine itself, and combustion by-products. A clean oil filter helps fend off these contaminants so that your motor oil can do its job. Every Firestone Complete Auto Care oil change comes with a filter change, but not all oil change providers include this in their standard service.
7. Visually inspect the color and consistency of the oil on the stick. This can help you determine the oil's current effectiveness. If your oil appears black, thick, gritty, or milky, it might be time for an oil change.
8. Wipe the dipstick off again and put it completely back into its tube. Make sure it is fully inserted. Close the hood.
9. If your oil check indicated that oil is low, off-colored, or a strange consistency, visit your local Firestone Complete Auto Care to speak with an oil expert. We'll perform a courtesy checkup and if needed, an expert oil change.
Detail: Turn to the pros to avoid any cons.
Checking your oil and changing it regularly is the number one thing you can do for your engine. Make sure it gets done right, at the right time. Not only will your engine get the care and attention it needs, but you’ll also get peace of mind along with a smooth moving engine!