Q: How do I know if my vehicle needs oil and how do I check it myself?
A: Motor oil should be checked when an engine is cold, and when the vehicle is parked in a level location. For an accurate reading, wait at least 10 minutes on a hot engine to give the oil time to drain back into the pan.
- Pull out the dipstick and wipe it off on a clean, lint-free rag or paper towel. The location of the oil dipstick depends on whether your vehicle has an in-line engine (rear-wheel drive). If you have a transverse engine (front-wheel drive) your dipstick should be located near the front of the engine.
- Insert the stick back into the pipe.
- Pull the dipstick out again and check to see where the level reads on the end of the stick. Note how high the oil film reaches on the dipstick and the condition of the oil, and add or change the oil as needed.
Note: You don't add oil into the tiny tube that the dipstick sits in; that's just asking for messy frustration. Look for a screw-off cap on top of the largest part of the engine. It could be blank or it could be labeled "Oil Cap" or something similar, and it might even indicate which grade of oil you ought to be using in your car. Unscrew that cap and add oil as needed.
Q: How often should I change my oil?
A: The engine serves as the heart of your vehicle, so changing its oil based on the manufacturer's recommendation is perhaps the single most important thing that you can do to keep your vehicle's engine running longer.
The normal interval listed in the owner's manual applies to vehicles driven under ideal conditions. While you may consider your driving habits and operating conditions quite normal, read the fine print.
- Some exceptions to "normal" driving include:
- Frequent short trips (less than 10 miles, especially during cold weather)
- Stop-and-go city traffic driving
- Driving in dusty conditions, on gravel roads, etc.
- Driving at sustained highway speeds during hot weather
- Towing use
- Diesel or turbocharged engine
Many vehicles have oil life monitors and will illuminate a light to indicate when an oil change is due. Due to our climate being considered "severe weather" due to our hilly terrain, dusty roads, and seasonal weather changes, we recommend an oil change every 5,000 miles for conventional or semi-synthetic oil changes. Refer to your owner's manual for your particular vehicle and recommendations.
Q: How do I check transmission fluid?
A: Many vehicles have the transmission fluid checked electronically and require specialized equipment to check. Others need to be raised on a hoist and checked from underneath. Refer to your owner's manual for your particular model. If it is equipped with a standard dipstick, then usually the fluid is checked with the engine at operating temperature in park or neutral gear.
Basic steps are:
- Pull out the dipstick. With the gearshift in Neutral or Park and the parking brake on, let your engine run. Be sure the engine is warm when you pull out the dipstick (don't turn off the engine).
- Check the fluid. Dip the tip of your index finger into the fluid on the dipstick and rub the fluid between your finger and the tip of your thumb. The transmission fluid on the dipstick should be pinkish and almost clear. If it looks or smells burned or has particles in it, have a mechanic drain and change the fluid.
- Wipe the dipstick with a clean, lint-free rag; then reinsert it and pull it out again. If the transmission fluid is clear but doesn't reach the "Full" line on the dipstick, use a funnel to pour just enough transmission fluid down the dipstick tube to reach the line. Don't overfill!
Q: How do I check coolant levels?
A: Fortunately, it only takes a second to check your coolant level. Most cars these days have a translucent coolant overflow tank right next to the radiator. It is white plastic, but you can see inside to tell if there's enough fluid to keep things safe. You'll also see markings on the side telling you the low and high levels to work with.
WARNING! Always check your coolant level with the car is cold; NEVER open a radiator cap or the coolant cover flow bottle cap when the engine is hot. The system is highly pressurized and the fluid inside is very hot. The combination of the two can mean some serious burns if it starts to spray out. Patience!
Once the vehicle has cooled down, engine off, remove the radiator cap. If the coolant appears discolored or rusty, have the system drained, flushed, and refilled with fresh coolant. Refer to your owner's manual for the correct coolant type.
If you happen to have an older vehicle without a visible overflow and fill tank, you'll have to check the antifreeze/coolant level by looking into the radiator. There is no dipstick or other meter to tell you whether you have enough coolant in the radiator on these older vehicles. The good news is that the older systems were much less sensitive to how much coolant you had - or didn't have - in the radiator. As long as you can visibly see the level of coolant by removing the radiator cap and looking into the top of your radiator, your level is fine.