How To Read Oil Level on Dipstick?

The importance of having an optimal oil level in a car must be emphasized more. Hence, when you perform routine maintenance, checking the oil level should be at the top of your to-do list. While many vehicles come with a low oil indicator on the dashboard, ideally, you shouldn't wait till the light comes on before topping it.

The easiest way to know the quantity of oil left in your vehicle is with the dipstick. The dipstick is a long rod that extends deep into the oil reserve in your car's engine. If you have never used the dipstick before, keep reading to learn how it works.

How To Read Oil Dipsticks?

It’s pretty straightforward to use the dipstick. Imagine when you stick a rod in a can of oil to the bottom and pull it out; the stained part of the rod tells you the quantity of oil in the can. Similarly, the dipstick works with the same principle. The steps below explain more.

  1. Park your car

    First and foremost, ensure your car is well parked. Parking on a slope will give a false reading. Also, power down your vehicle and let the car sit before taking a reading.

  2. Find the dipstick

    Different car manufacturers have different schematics in the design of their cars. So the position of the dipstick will vary slightly across different car manufacturers and models. But in general, the dipstick is often under the hood. Usually, the dipstick is coloured orange or yellow and may come with an oil-can symbol.

  3. Draw the dipstick out

    Draw the dipstick out carefully when you find it. Note that the initial reading you get on it is not necessarily correct. So, the best practice is to clean the rod with a clean rag and pack it in the tube.

  4. Note the oil level

    On the dipstick are two lines; if the oil level 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. On some dipsticks, the lines are replaced with letters like H and L. So, when you pull the dipstick out, take note of the level.

  5. Wait and recheck

    It is a good practice to check the level multiple times. So, after noting it, clean the dipstick and place it back in the tube. Wait a few minutes, and pull it out again.

How To Top Up the Oil Level?

Contrary to your opinion, you don't top the oil level through the dipstick top. Instead, you can top the oil by removing and topping the oil filter cap when the oil is low. The oil filter cap is often located on top or at the side of the engine block. And most times, you will find the word oil or a symbol on it. Ensure you use the correct oil type when topping the oil. And when topping the oil, use a funnel to reduce the mess you cause.

Why Does Your Engine Need the Proper Level of Oil?

The engine is made up of several moving parts. As such, it must be adequately lubricated to prevent wear and tear. When there is insufficient oil in the engine, it means poor lubrication, which can use friction and heat build-up. Hence, when the oil is not at the proper level, it reduces the engine's lifespan and causes you to need a maintenance or repair service sooner.


What do the lines on the dipstick mean?

The line indicates the level of oil. The bottom line indicates a low oil level, whereas the top line indicates a sufficient level.

Is it OK to slightly overfill the engine oil?

Generally, it's not ideal for overfilling engine oil. While some cars can handle the extra oil pressure, others can’t, causing severe engine damage.

Is it OK to Be a Quart Low?

In most cars, it does not cause immediate concern if the oil is a quart low. But it does indicate you top the oil as soon as possible.

What to do if the oil level is too high?

In such cases, remove some of the excesses by draining them out. Use a drain pan to catch and dispose of the oil properly.

Signs of an Aged Oil

The dark colour of the oil is often a telltale sign it is aged. Also, if the oil has a thick consistency and burnt smell, it's old. Old oil reduces engine performance and causes an increase in engine noise.

Signs of a coolant leak

Overheating is a common sign of a coolant leak. Also, seeing white smoke or a sweet smell from your car exhaust pipe can indicate a coolant leak.

What do the 4 holes on the dipstick mean?

In dipsticks with four holes, the topmost hole indicates the full oil level when it's hot, while the next hole indicates the full oil level when cold. For the next two oil closest to the tip, the uppermost hole indicates a low oil level when it's hot, while the hole closest to the end indicates a low oil level when cold.

What does the H on the dipstick mean?

The H on dipsticks indicates a high or standard level. At this point, it means the oil is at an optimal level.

Do I have to wait for my engine to cool before adding oil?

In most cases, it does not matter whether the engine is hot or cold when adding oil. But it's best to refer to the manufacturer's manual for your specific car's temperature requirement.

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