Check engine oil levels yourself

Friday March 2 2018

You do not have to visit a mechanic to check your engine oil levels

You do not have to visit a mechanic to check your engine oil levels. It is a simple procedure that you can do yourself. Photos by Mustafa Ziraba 

By Mustafa Ziraba

The other day, a friend asked me a few bits about checking a car’s engine oil level.
It is one thing that appears simple but difficult to some people, especially those who just never mind about anything on their cars apart from just driving.
Checking oil levels is so simple but again there is a whole generation of drivers who use electronically fuel injected (EFI) cars.
These basically have no business, unless otherwise, to understand how to check engine oil levels.
But all the same let understand this basic function of any driver that everyone must be interested in.

Lift the bonnet
You will be surprised but there drivers out there who cannot open the bonnets of their cars.
Yes, there those weird ones and are not apologetic for not knowing such a basic function.
So after you have opened the bonnet, you will locate a plastic covers, one of which leads to the engine oil component.
The bonnet has a maze of paraphernalia that covers a number of engine compartment.
Looking under the bonnet had traditionally be left to mechanics, but there are lots of simple inspections and tasks that drivers can do on a regular before they visits the mechanic. One of these is checking engine oil level.

The engine has a zillion moving parts that often heat up. These parts grind against each other, which brings about friction. This is when engine oil is most useful to ease lubrication.
Basic physics teaches that friction causes heat. Therefore, if there is no enough oil to lubricate the parts, they will melt and mash up because of the high temperatures, which might lead to engine failure.

Measuring oil
A typical passenger car engine contains between four and six litres of oil, with some holding as low as four and a half litres.
When the engine is turned off, the oil drains down into the oil pan.
This is when sufficient oil is needed and it is recommended that you check the oil level either before turning on the engine in the morning, or five to 10 minutes after shutting it down.
This is when it is most sufficient to get accurate measurement of the oil levels when the oil pan has settled.

Using the dipstick
It is a long piece of metal or plastic sticking out of the engine with a loop at one end.
It is usually located near the centre or on side of the engine. In most cases it is labelled with the word “Oil” or brightly coloured yellow.

How you check oil
After the engine is ready and the car parked on a relatively levelled surface, pull out the loop and draw the dipstick all the way out.
Wipe it clean and then dip it again, making sure that it goes all the way to the bottom.
Then you can pull it out and hold it horizontally to see where the oil levels end.

Most dipsticks have two marked lines. But you should be sure that sufficient oil levels are halfway between the two lines.
Some dipsticks that are more elaborate have points for low, okay, over fill or add, among others.
Too much oil in the engine can cause problems where by the oil fails to be pumped properly throughout the engine.
Consequently, some parts will not be able to be lubricated, which can potentially damage the engine.
If you ever notice this ensure that you drive your car straight the mechanic for immediate fixing.

When oil is low
According to Sulaiman Settimba, a mechanic on Salama Road, indications of low on the dipstick should never go beyond one litre.
“It is still “okay” to drive with this level, but quick turns, hard acceleration or braking can cause the oil to move to one side and uncover the oil pump pickup.

Air is sucked into the lubrication system and the engine bearings lose lubrication for a few seconds. Do this enough times and you will damage the engine, so it is better to keep the oil level closer to the full mark,” he says.
However, he says, if there is no oil on the dipstick, or it is about two litres low then be sure to have already done some damage on your engine.

Oil dashboard light
Even when the dashboard light shows your engine oil levels are fine, it is important to physically check and confirm.
The light might be remotely right to some extent, however, but you should always note that the dashboard oil light monitors oil pressure and not levels.

In most cases, the oil light will switch on when there is a drop in oil pressure, which is caused by a number of mechanical deficiencies among which include low oil levels.
If the oil light switches on because of a sudden loss of oil, you should shut the engine immediately and seek mechanical advice.
However, if the oil pressure drops because the oil level in the pan has been gradually getting lower, the engine would have been damaged by the time the light switches on.
Therefore, checking the oil level every so often is a preventive maintenance measure that costs nothing and is extremely important if you are travelling long distances.
It can virtually save your engine from a bigger problem.

Why oil pressure might drop
Apart from maintaining required oil levels, you must always ensure that your car has the right oil pressure because when its in default your car engine parts might be damaged. There are a number of reasons for low oil pressure, as below:

Just not enough oil
This seems almost too easy, but it is actually the biggest reason why there are oil pressure problems. Car owners will often forget about the oil and forget to have it checked. This should be part of any car inspection.

Engine wear
Like blood flowing through veins, oil follows a system of passages through the engine. And because of wear some of the passage points are widened with oil juts flowing through. This in effect cuts down on oil pressure.

Failure of oil pressure gauge
Auto manufacturers install oil pressure gauges in some car so that the driver knows about the oil pressure in real time. So unless the owner knows about this automated procedure, oil levels can drop, which will automatically lead to a fall in oil pressure.

Trouble with filter
Oil filters play an important role in maintaining oil pressure. Should the filter get clogged it will reduce the pressure. The pressure relief valve of an oil filter makes sure that the pressure does not get too high or too low. However, if the relief valve is damaged, then oil will pass more freely in the engine, thus reducing pressure.