When should you check car engine oil level? The four key signs you should take action NOW

RAC explain how to check a cars engine oil level

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Car engine oil is a thick fluid that provides cooling and lubrication for car engines. Oil changes are a fairly basic form of car maintenance, but failure to do so on a frequent basis could cause major damage to your car. Oil should be checked and drained as part of an annual MOT, however, drivers are still advised to keep an eye on levels themselves.

If oil levels drop too low, car engines can seize up and become fatally damaged.

How often should I check my engine oil?

Car engine oil should be checked regularly, with some experts suggesting taking a look at levels weekly.

This should be done when the engine is switched off and cooled down.

Drivers can check their engine oil levels by using the dipstick situated under the bonnet. This often has a round or T-shaped handle.

It’s typically housed in a tube beside the engine block.

The dipstick normally has two markings, representing around a one-litre difference. One mark should be higher up the stick than the other.

To check oil levels, drivers should simply place the dipstick into the tube and then pull it back out.

The oil level marking should be higher up, and if it is closer to the lower marking drivers should consider filling up.

Car engine oil should be filled slowly, with the driver pouring a little bit at a time into the oil cap before checking with the dipstick.

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What should my engine oil level be?

The correct engine oil level varies depending on the make and model of a car, as well as the size of its engine.

The car’s dipstick is the best indicator of where oil levels should be.

This is why it is important to check engine oil regularly.

What signs are there that my engine oil level is incorrect?

There are a number of signs that your car engine oil is running low. However, some can prove the situation is more urgent than others.

Oil check alerts

Oil check alerts, typically located on the car’s dashboard, are the most obvious way of knowing it is time for an oil change.

In many cars, a light will flash up when engine oil levels become too low.

This light is most often red and shaped like an oil can.

Should the light come on while driving, it is important to pull over in a safe spot and switch off the engine.

The oil change light can come on for a number of reasons but is most often a signifier that oil pressure has dropped below a safe level.

Some vehicles also have an oil change reminder light, which comes on when certain mileage is achieved signifying that it is time for an oil change.

The reminder should be reset by the mechanic at every MOT once the change has been done.

However, it may still come on if your mechanic has forgotten to reset it.

The best thing to do in this instance is to check your oil levels using the engine dipstick.

Oil becomes dark in colour

When oil is fresh, it tends to be clean and usually a gold colour.

Over time, this colour begins to become clouded with dirt, causing the oil to become dark.

This is a result of the impurities which are pumped through the engine along with the oil during use.

Checking oil levels regularly with the aid of a dipstick can help drivers keep an eye on the colour of their engine oil.

Tapping or knocking sounds coming from the engine

Unexpected sounds coming from a car engine can be alarming and is associated with a number of problems.

In some cases, it can be the result of low oil levels.

Engine oil acts as a lubricant. When oil levels run too low, moving parts can begin to knock together during use resulting in a tapping sound.

Engine noises can also occur when oil levels are low.

Blue exhaust smoke

Exhaust smoke is typically transparent and smells slightly of petrol.

In the winter months, it may become more visible due to the cold outside air.

However, should a car begin to emit smoke that has a blue tinge, it could be a sign of an engine oil problem.

The blue colour tends to be a sign of engine oil leaking into the engine and being burned with the fuel.

This can be a sign the engine is low on oil, or that there is an oil leak.

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