Guide To Checking Oil and Coolant

Checking the oil and coolant in your vehicle is an important job and a fairly easy maintenance task – if you know how! This guide should tell you all you need to know to ‘do-it-yourself’. Your owner’s manual will advise you when fluids need to be checked and it might be worth noting it on a calendar so that you don’t forget.

Topping up the Coolant:

You need to be sure that the engine is completely cool prior to doing this job – otherwise you could be in danger of injury from scalding liquid spraying out of the reservoir. Coolant is also referred to as radiator fluid or antifreeze and is the fluid that protects your car from overheating. Without it, the vehicle would overheat very quickly resulting in damage to the engine. Make sure you purchase a quality coolant product that fits the manufacturer’s specification for your car.

You need: A good quality coolant product and a plastic funnel.
  1. Open the car bonnet and locate the coolant reservoir. This is likely to be found in a container positioned near to the radiator – check the owner manual to be sure.
  2. Locate the line on the outside of the container that indicates the maximum liquid level.
  3. If the liquid level is falling well below the line, the chances are it could do with a top-up!
  4. Use a cloth or old rag to take the cap off, allowing air to escape a little at a time.
  5. Place the funnel in the top and slowly add the coolant liquid until it reaches the ‘max’ line.
  6. Place the cap back and firmly by turning clockwise.
  7. Close the bonnet and start the engine to ensure it ticks over.

If you encounter any problems with overheating contact your garage as it could be a sign of problems with the radiator, temperature gauge or another serious problem.

Checking and changing the oil.

Again, make sure your engine is turned off and is cool enough to handle. Vehicle engines run at around 150ºC and hot oil can give you a severe burn. The oil is always best checked when the engine has been off for a while so that it has drained down properly and you get a clear reading.

To check the oil locate the dipstick (refer to the owner’s manual), hook a finger through the loop and pull it out.

Step 1. Use a rag or a paper towel to wipe the stick clean so that when you place it back you will get a clear reading.

Step 2. Push the stick all the way back in as far as it will go and pull it back out, this time reading the oil level.

Step 3. The dipstick has markings on it that indicate the acceptable range for the oil level. Check these against the owner’s manual.

Step 4. If the oil level is too low motor oil will need to be added before the car can be driven.

Step 5. Check the colour of your oil too – clean engine oil is normally a golden colour and clear. Dirty engine oil is brown or black. If it is very dark check the log book to see when it was last changed. If it looks milky or frothy it may be contaminated and should be checked by your mechanic.

Step 6. If you are keen to have a go at changing the oil yourself, this task can be done in a few easy steps (again, consult your manual to find where parts are):

You need: A container to take the old oil, a wrench with a 6 point socket, good quality new oil and a new filter.

Step 1. Draining the oil.

Make sure the car is on a flat surface to ensure you get all the oil out. Almost all cars have space underneath to reach under and change the engine oil. Find out where your drain plug is (often called a sump plug), place a container under it and remove the plug in an anti-clockwise direction – you may need a wrench to do this as they can often be tight. When the oil has stopped draining, replace the plug clockwise.

Step 2. Replace the filter.

Move the container catching the oil under the oil filter. Filters can be hard to find as they are not all in a standard position, refer to the owner’s manual if in doubt. Once you have located it remove it from the engine. When removing it make sure that the rubber gasket ring comes off with the filter.

Step 3.  A note on the filter.

Make sure you have bought the correct new filter intended for the make and model of your car and put a thin coat of oil over the gasket ring with your finger. Refit the filter, paying attention to the instructions – most tell you to give the filter one more turn after the gasket has made contact. You don’t want it to be too loose and leak oil or so tight that you can’t remove it.

Step 4. Add the new oil.

Locate the oil filler cap on the valve cover and use a funnel to pour in the oil. Again check your car manual for how much oil you need. Most have a capacity of 4.5 or 5.5 litres. If you don’t know how much to use, add 4.5 litres, check the oil level and add a bit more if it’s low. Replace the oil filler cap.

Step 5. Check it works.

Start the engine and make sure that the oil warning light goes off. Look under the vehicle to make sure no oil is leaking out. Turn off the engine and let it rest for minute to allow oil to drain down to the crank case. Then check the oil with a dipstick by inserting it all the way into the oil tank and removing it after a few seconds to see how far up the oil has covered. Most dipsticks have a ‘full’ mark to check by.

Step 6. Be Green

When throwing the old oil away funnel it back in to the cannister and take it to an oil recycling point.

30/08/2011 14:36:09 Jo

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