Do You Check the Oil when the Engine Is Hot or Cold?
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Should I Check My Oil when the Engine is Cold or Hot?

By 8  am on


As a smart car owner, you know it’s vital to maintain your vehicle’s motor oil. You understand proper lubrication will curb engine dirt, metal friction, and overheating. Still, you’re unsure if you should check the oil when the engine is hot or cold. The professionals from Altra Insurance Services, a premier provider of car insurance Chula Vista drivers trust for exceptional service, explain what mechanics and automakers advise.

Best Engine Temperature for Checking the Oil

Inspect your vehicle’s motor oil when the engine is cold or slightly warm. The ideal choice depends on your car’s make and model year. Traditionally, automakers have recommended a cold engine to assess motor oil level and quality, but many late-model cars have dipsticks designed for warm engine readings. Additionally, on some newer vehicles, electronic oil monitors have replaced conventional dipsticks. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Above all, avoid checking the oil when your engine is hot. Otherwise, you could get a severe skin burn. Moreover, if you take a hot oil reading, it won’t be accurate.

How to Take a Dipstick Reading

If your owner’s manual advises checking the oil when the engine is warm, drive your vehicle for 5 minutes. Next, park the car on a flat surface, turn the motor off, and wait 15 minutes while the engine heat dissipates. If your owner’s manual specifies the engine should be cold, check the oil before driving your car.


Now, raise the hood and find the dipstick. Typically, it will have an orange, yellow, or red circular handle. If your vehicle doesn’t have a dipstick marker, check your owner’s manual for a diagram. Usually, an engine houses the dipstick on its left side.

Wearing disposable gloves, pull the dipstick by its handle, revealing a long metal rod. Wipe the rod from the handle to the tip with a paper towel or clean rag. This way, you’ll get an accurate reading. When you first remove a dipstick, the oil could splash upward, giving a false impression of a high level.

Return the dipstick to its tube, pushing the rod down completely. Then wait a few seconds before removing it again. Note the oil level on both sides of the rod, measured by certain indicators such as:

  • “L” and “H” (for low and high)
  • “MIN” and “MAX”
  • Two pinholes
  • A crosshatched area

If the top of the oil streak is between the lower and upper indicators, it’s at a suitable level.

Now, observe the oil’s texture and color. For prime engine lubrication, the oil should be fluid and black or dark brown. Light-colored, milky oil may reflect a coolant leak. Grit can be pieces of metal from damaged engine parts. With either abnormality, take your car to an auto repair shop. If the oil looks fine, wipe the dipstick again and secure it inside the tube.

Recheck the oil at least monthly. If your car gets frequent use, check the motor oil whenever you stop for gas.

Optimal Way to Add Motor Oil

If the oil level is low, you’ll need to add more, refilling it to the top. Start by checking your owner’s manual for the proper grade of oil, such as 5W-30 or 0W-20. Motor oil is widely available and sold by the quart. You’ll find it at your local auto parts store or gas station. Also, have a funnel to pour the oil safely and prevent it from spilling.

Next, remove the oil filler cap. On some cars, it’s labeled “Oil.” Or the cap may be imprinted with the specific grade of oil required. Be careful to avoid overfilling the engine. Otherwise, the crankshaft will pressurize the oil, causing the engine gaskets to wear down prematurely and leak.

Add the new oil slowly. Initially, avoid pouring in more than half a quart. Between additions, wait about two minutes. Then recheck the dipstick. If the oil is still below the minimum level, add the remaining oil from the quart. This volume should be adequate unless you have an engine leak or no one has checked the oil in several months. If you do need a second quart, add it cautiously, checking the dipstick frequently.

When to Change Your Vehicle’s Engine Oil

Before 2018, most automakers advised changing the oil every 3,000 miles. With cars manufactured since then, more elements have come into play, such as:

  • A vehicle’s age
  • How much use the car gets
  • The type of engine lubricant required
  • Factory specifications
  • Seasonal driving conditions

Currently, the recommended oil change intervals range from 5,000 to 15,000 miles. Refer to your owner’s manual for the best frequency.

Also, most new cars come with automatic oil monitoring systems. This feature displays an alert on the instrument panel when the vehicle needs an oil change. If your car has this feature, a mechanic should reset the system with each oil replacement. If you perform the oil changes, see your owner’s manual for how to reset the system.

In addition to performing regular maintenance, having adequate auto insurance is essential to protect yourself and your investment. For affordable, reliable car insurance, trust the professionals at Altra Insurance Services. In addition to auto insurance, we offer a wide range of insurance coverage, including business, homeowners, and motorcycle insurance. San Diego residents should give us a call today at (800) 719-9972 to learn how our commitment to personal service sets us apart from other insurance providers.

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