Filling up engine oil in the car's oil reservoir

MOT

3 mins

When to check your vehicle’s engine oil levels

December 12, 2023

Engine oil is essentially a lubricant that ensures all the engine’s moving parts are working together smoothly and keeping your car’s engine oil at the appropriate level is key to maintaining optimal engine performance.

The question is, when should you check the engine oil level and how do you top up engine oil?

Keep reading to find out when to check your car’s engine oil levels, how to top it up and when it’s time to see a mechanic.

What is the role of engine oil in keeping a car running

Engine oil, also known as motor oil, plays a vital role in maintaining a car’s engine components and improves the overall performance of your car. It cleans dust, reduces friction, and protects the engine against excessive wear and tear.

Additionally, driving with low oil levels can significantly reduce the life of your vehicle and replacing a damaged engine could cost anything between £650 to £6,000, depending on the make of your vehicle and whether you want a new or second hand one.

Keep on top of your car’s engine health by regular servicing and maintenance. Book now in Caura with trusted mechanics near you and get access to exclusive prices.

What are the different types of engine oil

There are four types of engine oil: conventional, synthetic, synthetic blend, and high-mileage oil.

  1. Conventional oil: this is the most basic type of engine oil. It is made from crude oil and is refined to remove impurities. Conventional oil is less expensive than synthetic oil, but it does not provide the same level of protection
  2. Synthetic oil: this is made from synthetic materials and is designed to provide better protection for your engine. It can last longer and can help to improve your engine's fuel economy
  3. Synthetic blend oil: this is a mixture of conventional and synthetic oil. It provides some of the benefits of both types of oil, but it is not as expensive as synthetic oil
  4. High-mileage oil: designed for vehicles with over 75,000 miles, it helps to reduce oil leaks and wear and tear on the engine

The best type of engine oil for your car will depend on your car's make and model, the climate you live in, and your driving habits. You should consult your car's owner's manual to determine the recommended type of oil for your vehicle.

When should you check engine oil level

Driving with low engine oil can seriously damage your car’s engine. Here are some signs that your engine oil needs a top up:

  • Oil pressure warning light: when your engine oil is low, the oil pressure warning light will illuminate on your car’s dashboard. The engine oil warning light is typically red and displays an oil can symbol. When this light comes on, check your vehicle’s oil levels, and top up if necessary. If the issue persists or you suspect an oil leak, consult a mechanic
  • Burning oil smell: when your engine oil level is low, your engine must work harder. The engine’s parts will start to grind against each other causing a burning smell
  • Strange noise: low engine oil can create a “clattering” noise within the engine. Note that this could not only indicate low engine oil, but also that the oil may be too old and needs a full change. If you’re not sure what’s causing the noise, consult a mechanic
  • Weaker performance: if your vehicle is not performing to its full capacity or requires oil top ups more frequently, it could indicate a larger problem with the vehicle’s engine
Cleaning the engine oil dip stick to check engine oil levels

To check if your engine oil is low, follow these steps:

  1. Park your car on level ground
  2. Make sure the car has been off for at least an hour – this is to allow the oil to settle
  3. Locate and pull out the dip stick
  4. Wipe it clean so you can clearly see the minimum and maximum level marks
  5. Replace and remove the dip stick again
  6. If the oil is near or under the minimum mark, it needs a top up

How to top up engine oil

To top up engine oil in your vehicle:

  1. Check what engine oil you need either in your owner manual or by going online and checking your car makers website
  2. Look for the oil filler cap – this will have an oil can symbol on it
  3. Unscrew the cap and pour in the oil, little by little
  4. Wait a few seconds so the oil settles in the engine
  5. Screw the cap back on
  6. Re check the dipstick by pulling it out
  7. If you’re happy with the oil level, replace the dipstick, clear up any oil spills and close the bonnet
  8. If not, repeat the oil filling process until you’re happy with the oil level
Opening the engine oil reservoir cap

Can low engine oil result in MOT failure

Engine oil and coolant levels are the first things MOT testers check before proceeding with the MOT test. If the oil and coolant levels are too low, the tester will refuse to proceed with the MOT test.

So, whilst it doesn’t result in failure, it can cause a lot of inconvenience especially if your MOT is about to expire.

When is it time to see a mechanic

If the oil pressure warning light doesn’t turn off once you’ve topped up engine oil, there could be a larger problem with the vehicle’s engine. Mechanics will be able to check and pinpoint what is causing the light to illuminate.

You will also need to see a mechanic if your vehicle needs an oil change. Here are some signs that point towards an oil change:

  1. Colour: once engine oil loses it transparency and turns black, it’s a good sign that it’s time to change your oil.
  2. Oil level keeps dropping: if you’ve topped up your engine oil but it keeps dropping below the minimum indicator, there may be a serious leak or a complete oil change may be required

Whether you’re after an oil change, oil top up, car service or repair, book all maintenance work in the Caura app and get access to exclusive prices.

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