You can't always wait until you put your car in for a service or take it in for an MOT to make sure that everything is running smoothly. There are little things that you also must do in between so you don't get any nasty surprises at the garage. The easiest of these is changing your car's oil and thankfully, it's as simple as it is important.

The more you use your car, the more oil you use. As your vehicle's oil levels decrease, the oil that is left becomes dirty and less useful, meaning your engine has to work harder, resulting in speedy deterioration – and some hefty bills.

Therefore, it’s crucial to know exactly how and when your oil needs to be changed. In this article*, we’ll run through the correct ways to check your oil levels, and how to replenish it.

how to check your oil

The first thing to do is make sure your car is on level ground. Afterall, any kind of incline could make the reading inaccurate. The oil dip stick is usually pretty easy to spot, and the handle is brightly coloured in most makes and models of cars – if in doubt, consult the manual.

Make sure you have a clean cloth handy, otherwise this is going to get messy. Simply pull out the oil dip stick fully and use a cloth to wipe it clean. Once it is clear of oil, insert the dip stick back into the tube and push it all the way down until fully immersed. Then simply remove it again to check the oil level.

Towards the bottom of the dip stick you will see a minimum and maximum level marker – if the oil level reaches anywhere in between these markers then all is okay and the car is safe to drive. If it's below the minimum marker, you'll need to top it up.

how to change your oil

Now that you’ve assessed how much oil is (or isn’t) in your car, it’s time to replenish. With the oil cap still removed, place a funnel inside the cavity. This will help avoid spills and splashes, allowing you to get a more accurate pour.

Start pouring slowly and only top up by small amounts. Be sure to check the dip stick at regular intervals. When the level has reached the area in between the min and max indicators, you’re done. Simply replace the cap, close your bonnet and away you go.

commonly asked questions about oil changes

do I need to drain my car oil?

For the majority of drivers, there’s no real need to fully drain your car of its old oil.

The modern cars of today use their oil much more efficiently than ever before. This means that all that’s needed to bring things back to normality is a top up. In the event that you do need to drain you car, it helps to raise the car slightly via jackstands. Then, it’s a case of putting on a pair of gloves, wheeling an empty container underneath the drain valve, opening the valve, and letting the oil flow out.

what type of oil do I need?

Another aspect of oil changes that some drivers tend to forget is that there are loads of different types of oils available. It can be tricky to figure out exactly which type you need, with many different numbers and abbreviations making things much more difficult.

Fortunately, it’s not so difficult when you know what you’re looking for. For a more in-depth look at how to choose the right type of oil, have a read through our article: Car oil explained.

should I check my oil when the engine is hot or cold?

One of the primary functions of oil is to raise and fall in temperature in tandem with the engine. As we know, engines get very hot when in use, only being cooled down by designated coolant liquid and airflow. Oil doesn’t have the same access to these coolants, so its temperature remains very high after it is heated up. Therefore, it goes without saying that you should not attempt to check your oil shortly after driving, as its temperature could pose a health and safety risk.

Plus, as oil gets hotter, it gets more viscous (liquid). This means it is tricker to track down on dipsticks, with the oil running off the instrument much quicker, potentially leading to false readings.

how often should you check your oil?

You should check your car's oil level regularly: it is advised to do so once a month to be on the safe side. A common misconception is that you should only check it when the oil symbol lights up on your dashboard – however, this can often signify a more serious engine problem and should be taken to your nearest garage immediately for a health-check.

how do I dispose of old engine oil?

If you do choose to drain your car’s oil, you’ll need to ensure it is disposed of correctly.

Much like the cooking oil used in your kitchen, car engine oil can’t simply be thrown down a drain. Doing so is a certified way to cause pollution within water supplies and break the law.

The easiest way of disposing of your old car oil is to decant it into the container of your new oil. After that, be sure to clearly label the oil as used, and drop it off at a local recycling centre. You can find your nearest oil recycling centre through the Oil Care website.

need a road-ready motor? we’ve got you covered

While it’s useful to know when your oil needs changing, sometimes, you just want to drive.

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*This information is provided for guidance only. If you’re unsure, speak to a mechanic.

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