How to Check Your Oil

If it seems like maybe it’s been awhile since anyone’s paid any attention to the motor in your car, a good thing to do is check the oil. If you drive a lot in town, you should change it every 3,000 miles. If you drive a lot of freeway miles, do it every 5,000. If your car is less than five years old, or has less than 50,000 miles on it, check the owner handbook for the right frequency.

Open the Hood

Open the hood.  Pull the little lever under the left side of the dashboard. The hood will pop up a little bit

Slip your fingers beneath the hood, near the center. You’ll find another lever, either sticking down from the underside of the hood or up from the top of the grill.  Slide this lever to release the hood.

Look for the hood support  – a little rod that’s attached to the car. Lift the hood with one hand, and then raise the rod with the other. There will be a hole in the hood that fits the end of the rod. Put the rod in there, and now the hood stays open. If it’s a car from the seventies or older, the hood will hold itself open. Those were good days.

On a Mitsubishi Mirage, the oil dipstick has a round knob instead of a handle.

Check the Oil Dipstick

Lift out the dipstick. Look for a little ring, usually black, but sometimes yellow, sticking up along the passenger side of the motor. On a Mitsubishi it could be a knob that sticks up.  This is the head of the dipstick. The dipstick spends its days firmly seated in a long tube that runs alongside the motor.

You'll know you have enough oil in the engine when it's closest to the uppermost of the two marks on the dipstick.

Lift the dipstick out of the tube. There will be oil on the end – thick and black or darkly colored. 

There are usually two marks on the dipstick – one at the bottom and one about an inch up.

Wipe the dipstick on a paper towel. Put it back into the tube, Push it all the way to the bottom, and pull it out again.

Let’s see where the oil is on the stick:

If the oil doesn’t reach the bottom mark, you need oil!

If the oil is above the higher mark, you’re okay.

Your motor is happiest when the oil level is at or just below the top mark.

If it’s any more than halfway below the middle two marks, you should add a quart of oil.

Put the dipstick back into the tube and push it all the way to the bottom. Lift the hood a little to free the prop rod, and snap it into place. Slam the hood firmly shut. 

The oil filler cap on this Ford V6 is right next to the dipstick. The cap will usually tell you what kind of oil should be in the engine.

Adding Motor Oil

Before we leave the topic, however, let’s talk a little bit about adding oil. What kind of oil do you add? And how much? And where?

In the picture above, to the left of the dipstick, is the oil filler cap. Most engines are designed so that it points to the front, so you can miss it. Most engines also have the oil type printed or engraved or embossed on the oil filler cap, so you can’t miss it. If you can’t read it, wipe it off with the paper towel we used earlier.

This cap says SAE 5W-20. It may be different on your car. It’s a technical description, but if you go to an auto parts store and look on the motor oil aisle, you’ll find SAE 5W-20, or whatever your cap says. That’s what you want to buy. If your car is newer, any brand will do. If it’s a little older, buy the high-mileage synthetic. It’s a little more expensive, but it will make your motor run better.

Don’t add any other oil than what the caps says. The 5W in the picture above refers to the viscosity of the oil, and your engine is designed for precisely that viscosity. The 20 is the heat rating, and your engine is designed exactly for that. Plus, if you add a different weight of oil than the 5W, or whatever your oil cap says, you screw up all of the oil in the engine. That’s a very bad thing.

Only add one quart – it’s mostly sold in quarts -by pouring it down the oil filler hole (take the cap off first). If no oil showed on the dipstick, add one more quart.

Once the oil’s in, put the oil filler cap back in, and drive the car around the block a couple of times. Then check the oil again. If it’s still low, add another quart.

Now you are the oil master. Congratulations!

Please Note: Do not use this procedure if you are not certain that you can complete it safely, or if it does not seem accurate. Skippity Whistles provides this information as advice, and cannot accept any liability from your usage of it.


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Published by John D Reinhart

Author, technical writer, videographer, actor, and naval historian John D Reinhart is a very busy guy. You can find his novels as

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