Car oil

How to Change or Top Up Your Car’s Oil

Without oil, your engine would struggle to do much, so it’s incredibly important to make sure that you know what’s going on under the bonnet of your car. Not only do you need to make sure that the car has the correct amount of oil, but you’ll also need to keep on top of the quality of oil flowing through your engine. 

How to check your engine oil levels

Checking the oil in your car is incredibly easy, and potentially one of the easiest pieces of car maintenance you can carry out. Before you go about the actual checking of the oil, make sure you have what you need to hand, which is nothing more than a couple of paper towels or old rags. You also want to make sure the engine has been warmed up as this will help bring some heat to the oil and give you an easier readout – obviously wait for it to cool a little, between 5-10 minutes, before you start putting your hands in the engine bay. Let us talk you through the steps to checking your oil levels.

  1. Park up on a flat surface
  2. Open the bonnet and locate the dipstick (usually with a yellow handle)
  3. Pull out dipstick and wipe clean
  4. Reinsert the cleaned dipstick
  5. Remove again, and look at the level on the readout at the bottom of the stick

Upon inspecting the dipstick, you’ll notice there are several notches on the bottom end of it. Many of these should be fairly faint and perhaps even hard to make out, but that’s ok; the top and bottom notches will be much more pronounced and visible. Your oil level should register somewhere between these major notches. If the level is above the top one, you have too much oil in your vehicle. If it’s below the bottom one, you need to top up as soon as possible.

How to add more oil to your car

If having checked your oil you find it is below halfway then it is recommended to top up with a little extra oil. To do this simply find the oil filler cap (usually conveniently labelled with the word ‘oil’ or the image of an oil can) and then, using a funnel to avoid any spillages, pour your oil into the filler cap carefully. To check the levels again, wait a couple of minutes to allow the oil to run into the bottom of the engine and then repeat the steps outlined above. Be aware not to overfill it, however, as too much oil can be just as dangerous as having too much.

How do I know if I need an oil change?

There a number of indicators that it’s time for an oil change, all of which can be identified by even the least mechanically-minded driver:

  • Oil colour – The colour of your car’s oil should be a fairly light brown with an almost clear appearance. If the colour has transformed into a darker brown or even black shade, then it’s almost certainly time to get it cleared out and replaced with fresh oil.
  • Oil consistency – In a similar fashion, the consistency of the oil can tell a tale of poor maintenance. That light brown fluid should be smooth and loose, whereas bad oil will be thicker, stodgy and gloopy.
  • Noisy engine – If your engine seems to be making more noise than usual, it could be an indicator of poor lubrication and a grinding of metal on metal. This is a very bad thing for any vehicle.
  • Warning light – Your car might even have a simple light on the dashboard that indicates when your oil level is low or the quality of the oil is not good enough to do what you need it to do. This is likely to show up after you’ve travelled a significant number of miles since your previous oil top-up.

How to drain the oil from a car

  • To drain your oil you’ll need to make sure you have a suitable plastic or metal container to hand to collect the oil and dispose of it correctly, otherwise you’ll not only be finding yourself in a bit of a mess, but also at risk of penalties. 
  • For an easier drain, it’s best to run your car for a couple of minutes, allowing the engine oil to warm up and resulting in a smoother draining process. You can also remove the oil filler cap to make the drain quicker. As always, ensure you are parked on a flat surface and take a look under the car – if you need to jack it up make sure you use a jack stand, and never get under a car only supported with a jack.
  • Once underneath the car, find the oil pan and drain plug and, making sure your container and spill kits are in place, loosen the plug with a socket wrench, turning it anticlockwise and slowly remove by hand, taking care as the oil could be hot.
  • After the stream of oil has slowed to the occasional drip, you are okay to put the drain plug back in. Reinsert the plug by hand and then tighten it with one clockwise quarter turn of the socket wrench.

Motor oil can be dangerous and it is not good for the environment at all, so you should make sure you have the necessary spill kits around to ensure any accidental spills are caught and that the old oil is stored safely in the container. Pouring oil down the drain is illegal, so you must make sure you take your waste oil to the nearest hazardous waste recycling point, which can be located on the Recycle Now website.

Can I change my car’s oil myself?

Yes, it’s definitely possible to change your vehicle’s oil yourself at home, but it’s not the most pleasant of jobs. If you’re just topping up, it’s as simple as pouring some into the tank and checking the dipstick to ensure the level is adequate, but even that will leave you with dirty with blackened hands. A full-on oil change could be far more messy and could also require replacing the car’s oil filter to make it really worthwhile too.

To do this, you may need to jack the car up in order to access the oil reservoir, which you can open via a plug to drain the oil inside away. This in itself could be very dangerous if you’re not entirely sure of the safety procedures. Of course, unless you want to pollute your driveway with filthy oil, you’ll also need a pan or some other type of container to capture it as it drains out.

All in all, while it is possible (and relatively simple) to change your own oil, it’s probably better to let somebody more experience and who has the proper equipment do it for you.

How much oil does your car need?

The amount of oil that you’ll need to put in your car will depend on the size of your engine, however, there is a way you can estimate how much you should expect to put into your engine by counting the cylinders.

  • Four-cylinder engines will take approximately 3.5-4.5 litres of oil
  • Six-cylinder engines will take approximately 4.5-5.5 litres of oil
  • Eight-cylinder engines will take approximately 5.5-7.5 litres of oil

It is important to remember that the figures above are only an estimate, and for a detailed rundown of the amount of oil your specific car needs, you’ll need to check your owner’s manual. Alternatively, if you can’t find out exactly how much to put in your car via a manual or handbook, don’t forget to use the dipstick when topping up or change the oil.

What oil should I use for my car?

There are a wide range of oils and knowing which one your car needs can seem like quite a daunting prospect. However, as always, a swift check of your owner’s manual will help you to know exactly which grade of oil your engine is craving. For a full rundown of oil grades and specifications, read our previous post here.

Can you put too much oil in your car?

Overfilling your engine with oil can be just as dangerous as not having enough oil in your car at all. Too much oil can put greater pressure on your crankshaft head and tails, which can cause oil to contaminate and damage your clutch. It can also cause more friction on the crankshaft itself and cause damage, as well as cause oil to run into the areas of the engine it’s not supposed to get to, which can cause terminal engine damage.

If you think you’ve put too much oil in your car then you should drain the excess as soon as possible, and if you’re not confident in doing this yourself then you should get it towed to a mechanic as driving, no matter how short the journey, could end up as a very expensive trip. Warning signs that you have overfilled your car with oil include thick white smoke coming out of the exhaust, or if you see a pool of oil underneath your car – although this could just be a loose oil drain plug.

How often should you change the oil in your car?

Making sure your oil is in a good condition is just as important as keeping on top of your oil levels. Previous recommendations were to change your oil every 3,000 miles, but it is unlikely you will need to change your oil this regularly following the advanced technologies of synthetic oils. For the most accurate suggestion, it is best to consult your owner’s manual as Toyota, for example, recommends 5,000 miles between oil changes, whereas Ford says you can go 10,000 miles before a change.

Is it possible to run out of engine oil?

Yes, it is absolutely possible to run out of engine oil and when this happens it can have catastrophic effects on your vehicle. The parts inside the engine need to remain lubricated at all times or else the moving metal components will start to rub together rather than gliding passed each other.

Even with oil, wear and tear from this gliding motion will eventually damage the components, but without oil, these parts will suffer much more extreme damage in a significantly quicker period of time. Take into account that the engine is the heart of any vehicle and one of the most difficult and most expensive parts to replace, and it certainly pays to keep your oil levels topped up.

How long does engine oil last?

There’s no concrete answer to this question, since different vehicles and different types of oil will work together better than others and last longer before the oil pan runs dry and you need to top up. However, the general rule of thumb is that your oil should last between 5,000 and 7,500 miles. Alternatively, if you opt for fully-synthetic oil, you might even get 15,000 miles out of one dipsticks worth of fluid, meaning you’ll rarely ever need to even replace the bottle!

It is possible, however, for oil to run out much faster than expected, but typically this only happens when something is wrong. For example, if you’ve got an oil leak – a very common problem that can occur with any kind of vehicle – your oil reservoir will be gradually draining, wasting the precious fluid onto the road. Make sure you know how to spot signs of a leak in order to prevent this.

Where can I buy oil for my car

Luckily, buying oil is incredibly easy, and you don’t even need to go to specialist places to get them. While you’ll find a bigger selection and more knowledgeable staff if you were to go to a specialist outlet such as Euro Car Parts or Halfords, you can even buy oils at most large supermarkets, with most not only selling oil, but stocking their own branded range of oils.

Bear in mind though, that you might not be able to find enough specialised information on each kind of the oil available in order to identify the correct type for your car. Whether you need oil for a Vauxhall or a Peugeot or any other vehicle, it’s crucial that you get the right one for your vehicle.

Is it OK to use different engine oils?

Using the wrong type of engine oil or mixing multiple kinds could cause major problems with your vehicle, but it’s not a guarantee, meaning you could suffer no complications whatsoever. The reason for any issues that do arise is likely to be down the viscosity of the oil, with thicker fluids not able to pass easily through the inner workings of some car’s engines.

For more hints, tips and guides on how to keep your car running smoothly and within the letter of the law, check out our Car Care hub, where we talk you through everything from driving lessons to speeding fines, and give advice on a range of mechanical questions you may have.

If your car has recently had a terminal engine issue as a result of poor oil practices, then perhaps it’s time to let it go and put some cash towards a newer car. Scrapping your car with Scrap Car Comparison is quick, easy and guarantees you the very best offer for your vehicle, meaning you’ll be back on the road in something newer and more reliable before you know it.

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