While the work it does goes largely unnoticed, engine oil is one of the most important components of a car’s mechanics. It’s essentially the lifeblood of the engine, lubricating the moving parts and making sure they all move smoothly together. It also transfers heat away from the engine to stop it from overheating and holds the nasty by-products of combustion, which are then removed when the oil is changed. Without engine oil, your car would quickly come screeching to a halt due to an engine failure.
Despite all of this, oil is an often overlooked component in our car maintenance routines. With this guide, we’re hoping to put a stop to that. In it, you’ll find everything you need to know about engine oil, including:
- How to check your engine oil level
- How to change your engine oil
- What type of engine oil your car needs
- How often you should change engine oil
- How to remove engine oil from your driveway or garage floor
Armed with this information, you’ll be able to keep your car running smoothly and performing at its best all year round, as well as prolong the lifespan of your car’s engine. Read on to find out everything you need to know.
How often should I check my engine oil level?
One of the most important maintenance tasks you can perform on your car is checking the level of your engine oil regularly. If your engine is running on an insufficient amount of oil, friction will increase between its moving parts, which can lead to them grinding together and often being permanently damaged.
Thankfully, you can easily prevent this from happening by simply checking the level of your engine oil about once a month. This task only takes five minutes and requires no technical expertise, but can save you thousands of pounds and a lot of inconvenience by preventing an engine failure. Here’s how to do it:
How to check and your engine oil
Image — Licence
1. Park you car on a flat surface
If it isn’t already, park your car on a flat surface so you get a true reading from your oil tank. If you do have to move your car to get it on a level surface, wait ten minutes for the oil to cool before going on to the next step.
2. Locate your car’s dipstick
In rear-wheel-drive cars, the dipstick (pictured above) will always be near the back of the engine, and it will be near the front in front-wheel-drive cars.
3. Remove the dipstick
Remove the dipstick from the engine and wipe it clean with a cloth or paper towel.
4. Re-insert the dipstick
Push the dipstick back into the engine until it clicks into place. If it gets stuck on the way down, rotate it — it will go in easily if it’s inserted the same way it came out.
5. Remove the dipstick again
This time, you’ll get an accurate reading of your car’s oil level. There will be two notches in the dipstick — your oil level should always be between the two of them. If it’s below or approaching the halfway point between the two notches, or if there is no oil on the dipstick at all, you should refill the tank immediately.
How to top up your engine oil
Image — Licence
To top up your engine oil, you first need to locate the oil filler cap on your engine. This will usually be marked with the word ‘OIL’. If you aren’t absolutely sure which cap it is, consult your car’s manual before going any further, as you can cause serious damage to your car if you pour engine oil into the coolant or brake fluid tank.
Once you’ve located the oil filler cap, pour the new oil into your tank using a funnel. Bear in mind that it’s standard practice for the gap between the two notches on the dipstick to represent one litre of engine oil. Therefore, if your oil level was below the lowest notch, you should add approximately one litre of oil to your tank; if it was halfway between the notches, half a litre will suffice. It’s important that you do this in stages, regularly checking your oil level as you go, as putting too much oil into your tank can be just harmful to your engine as having too little.
What you should look out for when checking your engine oil
When you check your engine oil level, it may appear anywhere between inky black and a light golden colour on the dipstick. However, the oil’s colour is no indication of its quality, and you should only be concerned if it’s a totally unexpected colour or contains small, cream-coloured specks. If this is the case, then you should call into a garage and get the opinion of a professional as soon as possible.
Every time you change your engine oil, you should check its quality. You can do this by taking a small amount from the dipstick and simply rubbing it between your thumb and index finger — if it leaves a dirty smudge, then you should change it.
How often should you change engine oil?
While it used to be gospel that you should change your engine oil every 3,000 miles, that advice is now outdated, and should only be followed by drivers with classic cars. Due to improvements in engine oil formulations and the engines themselves, many of today’s cars only need to have their oil changed every 7,500–10,000 miles. Check your car’s manual for guidance on your particular model.
What oil does my car need?
The type of oil your car needs will be specified in your car’s users’ manual. Before you refill your engine oil, you need to be absolutely sure which type your model of car needs. While this wasn’t as important in the past, it’s now absolutely crucial, as there are different engine oils for diesel, petrol, turbocharged and non-turbocharged engines. These oils are designed specifically for use with the appropriate engine, and the margins are so fine in this sophisticated modern equipment that using the wrong oil can seriously damage your car’s mechanics.
You can look up the type of engine oil your car requires in your car’s handbook. Alternatively, you can use our parts finder to find the oil your model of car needs in an instant.
What are oil grades?
When buying oil for your engine, the most important thing to look out for it the oil grade. The grade of an engine oil represents its viscosity (essentially its thickness).
Different grades of engine oils are represented by an initially confusing set of numbers and letters. You should check your car’s manual to find out which oil your car requires. It will be represented by a set of numbers and letters such as 5W30 (sometimes written as 5W/30 or 5W-30). This simply represents the oil’s viscosity in both winter and summer — ‘5W’ shows that the oil will have a viscosity of 5 when the temperatures drop in the winter, and ‘30’ shows that it will have a viscosity of 30 when it’s at the hottest in the summer.
Your engine is only designed to function with an oil with a viscosity between the two grades listed in its manual, so it’s crucial that you this purchase grade of oil. Never risk using a similar but not exact grade of oil, as this can have serious repercussions.
How to change engine oil
There’s no need to take your car to a garage to have its oil replaced, as it’s an easy job as long as you have the right tools, and will only take about half an hour of your time. Here’s how to change your engine oil:
1. Prepare your tools and equipment
Before you begin, you should get all of the tools and equipment together so you’re prepared for every stage of the job. You’re going to need:
- An oil filter wrench to remove your car’s oil filter safely and with the minimum of fuss. We recommend the Sealey band-type model, which is available to fit both 65–105mm and 105–155mm Find out which type you need by checking the size of the filter you require in your car’s users’ manual.
- An oil catcher/recycling container, such as this one from Sealey.
- A funnel.
- The amount and type of oil your car’s users’ manual recommends. If you’re unsure which oil your car takes, find out through our easy-to-use car parts finder.
- A replacement oil filter. Find the exact oil filter your make and model of car requires in an instant with our parts finding tool.
- A jack and two wheel chocks. Take a look at our wide range of scissor jacks, trolley jacks, and transmission jacks if you don’t already own any lifting equipment.
- Safety glasses and work gloves. If you don’t already own these, you can pick them up from our body protection
- Cleaning cloths and/or paper towels.
If you don’t have any of these items, you should pick them up before you attempt to change your car’s oil.
2. Run your engine
As oil warms up, it becomes thinner, so run your engine for a few minutes to heat your engine oil up so it drains out of your car faster. However, do this for no longer than a few minutes, as you don’t want the oil to be too hot to work with.
3. Suspend your car with a jack
After you’ve turned your engine off and left your car to cool for a few minutes, lift your car from the front to give you access to the engine. Put your weight on the bonnet when you’re done to make sure that it’s secure before getting under your car.
4. Locate the oil drain plug and place an oil pan below it
Use your car’s owners’ manual to locate the oil drain plug, and place an oil pan underneath it ready to catch the drained oil.
5. Remove the oil plug
Loosen the oil plug from the underside of the engine with an appropriately sized wrench, and then remove it with your hands. The oil will begin to empty into the oil pan.
6. Wait for the oil to drain
It should take several minutes for the oil to drain. While you’re waiting, clean the oil plug with a cloth and replace its old washer with a new one. When oil has stopped running from the engine, put the oil plug back on.
7. Unscrew the old oil filter
Locate the oil filter, which you should be able to locate using your car’s handbook, and then remove it using your oil filter wrench. Some oil will spill out of the filter when you remove it, so make sure the oil pan is underneath it.
8. Prepare the new filter
Pour a small amount of fresh oil into the new filter to reduce the amount of time your car takes to regain proper oil pressure. Get some of the new oil on your finger and run it along the gasket ring of the replacement filter to ensure a tight seal when you attach it to your car.
9. Attach the new filter
The instructions on the filter’s box will instruct you on how tight to fasten it — generally, this will be when the gasket touches the engine, and then a quarter-turn more.
10. Add the new oil
Unscrew the fill cap on the top of the engine and then fill the engine with the amount and type of oil your car’s handbook specifies. Replace the fill cap, and check underneath your car for any leaks — if you find any, make sure the oil plug and filter are on tight enough.
11. Start your engine
Allow your car to run in idle for a few minutes to get the oil pressure back up and make sure that you’ve set everything up correctly. Check underneath your car for leaks — if there are any, they’re most likely to be due to the oil plug or filter being too loose. Turn your car off and tighten them both before testing again.
12. Lower your car
Lower the jack to return all four of your car’s wheels to the ground.
13. Dispose of the used oil
Used engine oil and your car’s old oil filters should always be recycled, as purifying used oil is much more environmentally friendly than removing fresh oil form the earth. Check the Oil Care website to find your nearest oil bank and dispose of your waste oil responsibly.
How to remove engine oil from your driveway or garage floor
When changing engine oil, it’s not uncommon for some to be spilled on to the floor where you’re working, no matter how carefully you work. While oil is difficult to clean out of any surface, it’s by no means impossible.
You can remove small oil stains with baking soda and a hard-bristled brush. Simply pour baking soda over the affected area and then pour hot water straight from a kettle on top. Scrub vigorously with a hard-bristled brush, and if the stain remains, repeat the process a few more times. Check the next day, as more oil may have risen to the surface — if that is the case, simply repeat the process until it is completely gone.
For more stubborn stains or larger spills, pick up some degreaser from our online store. Simply apply the recommended amount of degreaser to the affected area, leave it to sink in for the time indicated on the label, and then scrub it off with a hard-bristled brush. This should remove the oil completely.
Make checking, topping up, and replacing your car’s engine oil part of your car maintenance routine and you’ll go a long way to getting your car running its best, as well as expanding its lifespan. Shop our full range of engine oil here and contact a member of staff today if you have any questions about our range of products.