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How to Check Your Car's Oil

Follow these few easy steps to keep your engine humming and to avoid spending thousands in repairs.

Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle's engine. Making sure there's always enough oil is the easiest way to ensure that you avoid catastrophic engine failure and the huge repair costs that go with it. This is especially important if you're driving an older vehicle. When a car's odometer rolls past the 100,000-mile mark, wear on the engine can cause it burn off small amounts of oil every time you drive. That loss adds up, which can make the oil level go down too far between oil changes. High-mileage vehicles are also more prone to oil leaks. Both of those issues are reasons to check your oil regularly to gauge just how often you need to top it up. Check your oil once a week for a month and you'll know how quickly it gets depleted—or if it gets depleted at all. Once you know that, you can check it less frequently—say, once a month. Here's how to check your oil: Step 1: Prepare to Check Be sure your vehicle is parked on level ground with the engine off, the transmission in Park (or the manual transmission in a lower gear) and the parking brake on. Lift the hood. If you don't know how to do this, consult your owner's manual. RELATED STORY No Snake Oil Here: Top Synthetic Oils Most vehicles have a hood-release lever under the instrument panel on the left side. There's also a safety catch under the front edge of the hood that you'll have to unlatch before you can raise the hood. Step 2: Locate the Dipstick

The dipstick on most vehicles is easy to spot, as it has a small colored handle—usually yellow or orange—marked with an oil-can symbol. RELATED STORY How Much Does an Oil Change Cost? Step 3: Pull the Dipstick Pull the dipstick fully out of the tube that it's housed in. It's like pulling a sword from a sheath. Have a rag or paper towel ready and wipe any oil off of the end of the dipstick. At the tip of the dipstick you will see two lines: the lower one indicates that the oil level is one quart low. The upper line denotes that the crankcase (the car's oil tank) is full. Some dipsticks are also marked with words like "full" and "add."

Step 4: Note Oil Level Insert the dipstick into the tube slowly and push it all the way down. Now withdraw it and look closely at the tip, which should have oil on it. If the level of the oil is between the two lines, your vehicle has enough oil. If it's at the low mark or below, it's time to add a quart. ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW RELATED STORY When Should You Change Your Oil? Step 5: Wait and Re-check

Once you've added a quart of oil, wait several minutes for the oil to drain down into the crankcase and and then check it again to ensure that the level is at least between the high and low marks. The oil level does not have to be at the high mark for your engine to have enough lubrication to run safely.

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