Everyone who drives a vehicle should understand how to read dipsticks. Why? Because engine oil can be likened to blood, you need the right amount and the right type at every point in time. Too little engine oil and the car’s engine gets damaged from increased friction. Too much engine oil and you get frothy oil often, which leads to increased wear and tear of the internal engine components.
What should you do? You need an optimal amount of motor oil in the engine, and the best way to ensure that is to gauge your car’s oil using the dipstick. This article will walk you through the steps of doing that, in addition to providing answers to questions related to maintaining optimal levels of engine oil in your car.
How to read dipstick step by step
Reading your car’s oil dipstick level is not rocket science as it is something that can easily be done once you follow the steps you are about to read. Follow the below steps:
Visit your owner’s booklet
Different car makers have varying requirements to be met before you can effectively gauge your engine oil. So take a look at the owner’s booklet to ascertain the car maker’s position on the best temperature for inspecting the oil.
Park Your Vehicle on a Level Surface
Keep your vehicle parked on a level surface when trying to properly gauge the oil level in the engine. If you park the vehicle in a slanted location, that position will affect the way the oil is situated in the engine. This will affect the amount of oil accessible by the oil dipstick and ultimately affect its reading.
Lift The Vehicle’s Hood
There should be a latch that makes it easy to lift the hood covering the vehicle’s engine bay. Depending on the vehicle, the latch could be anywhere in the vehicle, and you might need to pull or push it to release the catch securing the car’s hood.
You then search for another latch under the hood. Once you find it, you then push/pull it to open the hood to access the engine bay. Some car hoods come with springs that allow the hood to stay up without support. For others, you might need a prop to keep it upright. Regardless of which mechanism is used, keep the hood up so that the next step is easy for you to take.
Find the Dipstick
To undertake this step, you might have to check with your car owner’s booklet to find the oil dipstick. Your car’s oil dipstick is essentially a long (at least a foot long), pencil-thin piece of metal that is fitted with something like a circlet that you grasp to take out the dipstick.
Depending on the vehicle, oil dipsticks often have red, orange, or yellow caps with a sign of an oil can on them. In most cases, it also has circular or rectangular shapes and should be around the engine block.
That said, the dipstick location depends on the vehicle as some vehicles have dipsticks that stick out from the top of the valve cover. However, in most cases, dipsticks are situated near the front of the engine bay.
Take Out the Dipstick
Once you have located the oil dipstick, gently pull it out while holding a paper towel or clean rag around the port where you pull it out from. You could use a paper towel to prevent any oil from spilling out of the port when you have pulled out the dipstick.
Remember not to force the oil dipstick out. Just get a good grip of the loop on top of the cap and pull.
Wipe It Clean
The other reason you need a paper towel when you pull out the dipstick is to wipe it clean. The reason for wiping it clean is for you to immerse it in the port a second time after pulling it out. It is often challenging to accurately gauge the dipstick reading when you pull it out the first time.
That is why you need to wipe it clean before taking a second reading. When wiping the dipstick, start from the top to the tip of the dipstick. However, before wiping the dipstick clean, you want to note the condition of the oil (its color and constituents, for example).
Take Your Oil Reading
Once you have wiped the dipstick clean, you’d need to put it in a second time. You then pull it out a second time to take a critical look at it. Your vehicle’s dipstick should have holes, letters, or lines that indicate the oil level in the engine.
For some vehicles, it is F(Full) and L(Low). For others, just two(or more) small holes or a series of lines mark these spots. You’d need to consult the owners’ booklet again to confirm what it says about the markings on the oil dipstick. Regardless, the lowest marking is often closest to the tip of the dipstick, while the highest should be closer to the cap of the dipstick. So where should oil be on the dipstick?
If the oil is somewhere between these markings (the closer to the top it is, the better), you have optimal engine oil levels. However, if the oil is close to or below the markings at the end of the tip of the dipstick, then you need to add some engine oil. In any case, if the oil is above the upper mark, you’ll need to drain it out and maintain a normal oil level.
Wipe The Dipstick Before Returning It
After taking the dipstick reading, you want to wipe off the oil from the dipstick before returning it to its port.
Q: What do the lines on the dipstick mean?
The lines on a dipstick are measurement lines that indicate the oil level. You might find letters, small holes, or a set of lines on the dipstick. Take a look at your car owner’s manual or talk with a professional if you don’t know how to read a dipstick with dots.
The lines on your car’s dipstick simply indicate how much oil there is in the engine. You can always refer to your car owner’s manual for clarification on these lines.
Q: Is it OK to slightly overfill engine oil?
It depends on the car in question. For most cars, slightly overfilling your engine with about a quart of oil will not cause severe damages to the engine. That said, some engines are more likely to get damaged when there is excess oil. Such cars might not even be able to take as much as an extra quart of oil as oil pressure increases, putting more stress on the seals and gaskets, which prevents prevent oil leaks. This stress increases wear and tear on those seals and gaskets and can ultimately damage your engine. So you want to reduce the oil if you notice that the dipstick oil level is too high.
Q: What do the 4 holes on a dipstick mean?
Knowing how to read a dipstick with 4 dots is not difficult. For dipsticks with 4 holes, the topmost hole stands for the full mark when the oil is hot. The hole right next to it is the maximum point for when the oil is cold. The uppermost of the last two holes(the holes nearest to the tip)refers to the lowest mark when the oil is hot, while the hole closest to the tip of the dipstick means the lowest point of the oil when it is cold.
Q: What does the H stand for on a dipstick?
The letter “H” on a dipstick stands for high or normal oil levels. The car dipsticks have markings that depict optimal and worrisome oil levels. Depending on the car, the markings could be a set of pinholes that indicate MAX (this is short for maximum) and MIN (this stands for minimum). For other vehicles, you might find letters like “H” and “L”.
Q: Do I have to wait for my engine to cool before adding oil?
Not really. It all depends on the car. You might have to consult the owner’s booklet to ascertain this. Different cars have different temperature requirements so it’s best to get confirmation from your owner’s booklet or your mechanic.
You must always check your engine oil regularly if you want to keep your engine in tip-top shape. Your car has been fitted with a component that lets you manually check the level and condition of the oil: the dipstick. To ensure that your engine always has optimal oil levels, you need to know how to read dipsticks.
Thankfully, reading a dipstick is a walk in the park, and this article has described the steps you could take. Follow the steps described above to ensure that your vehicle always has the right amount of engine oil in it. You might want to get professional help if you find that you have followed these steps and the engine oil dipstick is hard to read.