Reader is confused by oil level

  • James Halderman
12:00 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 Cars
The oil level should be checked regularly because even new vehicles use some oil; the level should not be allowed to drop more than one quart to prevent possible engine damage. James Halderman photo

Wheels:

Randall writes by email: “I have a 2008 Dodge minivan with a 3.8-liter engine. When I check the oil with the dipstick, I get a different reading every time, no matter how many times I check it. I called the dealer, he said to start the car and run the engine for a couple minutes, then shut it off and let the car sit for a couple of minutes, and then check the oil level. It’s still the same. Do you have a suggestion?”

Halderman: For most engines, the oil level should be checked before starting the engine and after it has been sitting overnight. I have read some engines will not display an accurate oil level unless the engine has been off for an hour or longer. It takes a long time for the oil to travel from passages and locations, such as the cylinder head and overhead camshafts, and back into the oil pan.

Be sure the vehicle is on a level location to avoid an error in reading the oil level. Therefore, for best results, park somewhere level and check the oil in the morning before starting the engine. Remove the dipstick and using a shop cloth, wipe the oil off and reinstall. Be sure that the dipstick is fully depressed to get an accurate measurement. Remove the dipstick a second time and observe the oil level. The oil level should be between full and add. Do not overfill. The add mark indicates that 1 quart of oil is needed.

Have an automotive-related question? Write to Jim at jim@jameshalderman.com.

Editor’s note: Congratulations to James Halderman for being named 2017 Professor Emeritus at Sinclair Community College in September.

View full experience