A handy guide to car engine oil for beginners

Jun 5, 2019

A handy guide to car engine oil for beginners

Mark Barclay, Ecommerce Manager at GSF Car Parts gives us his handy guide for maintaining your car’s engine oil.

Research conducted by Mobil 1, as reported by Arnold Clark, found that 75% of British drivers don’t know how to check their engine oil levels. But when left, unlubricated engines and leaks can cost significant amounts in repairs. To save money and protect your car from unnecessary damage, see below to find out how you can correctly check, top up, change and dispose of your car’s engine oil.

Checking your oil levels

Ideally, you should be checking your oil levels every week or whenever you fill up at a petrol station, but most modern vehicles can be safely checked once a month.

When checking your oil, first make sure that your car is parked up on a flat surface and the engine is switched off. Wait around 10 minutes for the engine to cool down and for the oil to settle inside the car. Then, pop the bonnet and locate the dipstick, which usually has a metal or brightly coloured hook at the end of it — if you can’t find it, the owner’s manual will be able to point you in the right direction.

Remove the dipstick from the reservoir, wipe it clean and put it back in. Take it out again and check that the oil level sits between the two lines marked on the dipstick. If it sits below the lowest line, it’ll need topping up.

When checking your oil levels, you should also check the colour and consistency of the oil that comes off onto the dipstick. Fresh oil should be light brown and transparent, but can become thick, black, and sometimes gritty, which are signs that your oil needs changing. Most modern cars also come with a warning light which will tell you if your oil needs changing.

Topping up your oil

Before topping up your oil, you should check the owner’s manual to find out what grade of oil you’ll need. Some cars may also have a sticker which will tell you which oil to use, too. The grade refers to the thickness of the oil when it is hot and cold. Most grades use the formula XXW-YY (e.g. 10W30). The lower the number before the W, the less it’ll thicken in the cold, and the higher the number after the W, the less it’ll thin out in hot temperatures. You can usually buy any grade of motor oil from a car parts retailer.

Most modern motor oil formulas are created for both petrol and diesel engines, but you should always check that the motor oil matches the specifications of your car before using it.

Remove the oil filler cap that’ll be on the engine and pour the oil into the hole a little bit at a time, using a funnel to avoid overfilling and spills. Between each pour, wait a minute for the oil to settle and check it again with the dipstick. Keep doing this until the oil level sits between the two marks I mentioned earlier. Then all you need to do is put the oil filler cap back on and you’re ready to go.

Changing your oil

Over time, the oil in your engine can get dirty and won’t have the same lubricating properties as fresh oil. Usually, your local garage can change your oil for you, but if you’re a little more versed in car maintenance, you can change it yourself at home.

To change the oil, run your car for about five minutes to allow the engine to warm up a little. If the car has been running for a long time and the engine is hot, leave it to cool down for around half an hour or so to avoid burning yourself.

Look under your car to find the drain plug, which is usually at the bottom of the engine — you might need to jack up the car to do this. Make sure you place a container underneath the plug before you open it up, then unscrew the plug with an adjustable wrench and let the oil drain out.

Then, unscrew the oil filler cap underneath your bonnet and remove the oil filter so you can replace it with a new one. You should lubricate the top of the new filter with some fresh engine oil before screwing it into the engine by following the filter manufacturer’s instructions.

Go back under the car and wipe around the drain plug to remove any oil, then screw the plug back in. Pour new oil into the oil filler hole and replace the oil filler cap. Run the engine for around a minute to make sure that the oil drain plug is tightened correctly and there are no leaks around it and the filter.

After turning off the engine, leave it to settle for around ten minutes and then check the oil level, topping it up if needed until it sits between the two markers on the dipstick. Then, put aside the container you used to catch the oil and take your car for a short drive.

When you come back, check that the oil levels are still full. If they’re not, it could indicate a possible leak or mean that your engine is burning the oil. If this is the case, check that the drain plug and filter are secured tightly. If your oil is still draining quickly, you should take the car to a mechanic to identify and fix the issue.

Disposing of motor oil correctly

Engine oil is considered as hazardous waste because it can be harmful to the environment. The government states that all hazardous waste, including motor oil, should be disposed of correctly at a local recycling centre that accepts engine oil. You can check where your nearest recycling centre is here. Some recycling centres even accept car parts so you can recycle your old engine filter, too.

The oil in your engine is important to ensure everything is running smoothly, keeping your car performing at its maximum potential and avoiding a break down. By following my simple guide, you can conduct regular oil maintenance at home.

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