When it comes to maintaining your vehicle, one of the most important fluid levels to keep track of is the engine oil. But how much oil does your car need? Here are some quick answers to common questions about adding oil:
How do I know if I need to add oil?
The first signs that your car may be low on oil include:
- The oil light comes on your dashboard
- You notice oil leaks under your car
- Your engine starts making unusual noises
To know for sure, you’ll need to check the oil level using the dipstick under your hood. Ideally you should check it every 1,000 miles or so.
How much oil does my car’s engine hold?
The total oil capacity depends on your vehicle’s make and model. According to AAA, here are some general guidelines:
- Smaller cars: 4-5 quarts of oil
- Midsize cars: 5-6 quarts
- Large SUVs and trucks: 6-10 quarts
Your owner’s manual will specify the exact capacity for your vehicle including oil filter. The dipstick will also show minimum and maximum fill range markings.
Should I only add as much oil as needed?
It’s best to avoid just topping off your oil. You should add enough to bring it back up to the “Full” line on the dipstick. This will account for the small amount of oil left in your engine after draining at your last oil change.
What type of oil should I use?
Always check your owner’s manual for the recommended oil viscosity and performance rating such as API SN or ILSAC GF-5. Using the wrong type of oil can lead to engine damage over time.
For most modern cars, 5W-30 synthetic blend motor oil is a good choice. It provides year-round protection. Fully synthetic oils like 0W-20 or 0W-30 may be required for some makes and models – check with your manual.
Can I mix different types of oil?
It’s best not to mix synthetic and conventional oils. The polymers in synthetic oil can react with the additives in conventional oil leading to sludge build-up over time. If needed, use a synthetic blend when topping off conventional oil to minimize issues.
Choosing the right motor oil
Use this table as a quick reference for picking the right oil based on your vehicle and climate:
|Best Use Case
|Conventional oil (Mineral)
|Older engines, normal driving conditions
|Synthetic blend (Semi-synthetic)
|Most modern engines, versatile protection
|High-performance engines, extreme conditions
|0W-20, 0W-30 oils
|Required for some newer cars, good in cold climates
|5W-30, 10W-30 oils
|Good all-around viscosity for most regions
|10W-40, 15W-40 oils
|Help deal with high heat, heavy loads
Understanding oil viscosity grades
The viscosity grade gives important information about the oil’s thickness and ability to flow at certain temperatures:
- The first number followed by a “W” indicates the cold weather or “winter” rating. A lower number means the oil flows better in cold temperatures.
- The second number refers to hot weather or high temperature viscosity. A higher number means the oil is thicker and more stable under high heat.
So a 5W-30 oil will have a low temperature viscosity of 5 and a high temperature viscosity of 30. This makes it a good all-around oil for many people. A 10W-40 oil will start thicker in cold weather and stay thicker in hot weather, making it suitable for high load applications like towing.
How often should I change my oil?
The typical oil change interval is every 5,000-7,500 miles. However, some automakers are now recommending longer intervals up to 10,000-15,000 miles, especially when using synthetic oil. Refer to your vehicle’s maintenance guide for the specific interval and always get your oil changed at least once per year even if mileage is low.
Extending oil life
You may be able to safely extend the time between oil changes by:
- Using full synthetic or synthetic blend oil
- Driving fewer miles overall
- Getting regular oil analysis to check condition
- Using premium oil filters
- Avoiding short trips and excessive idling
However, oil does naturally degrade over time from accumulated engine gunk and moisture. Changing it regularly is still important engine maintenance.
Can I change my own oil?
With some basic tools and supplies, most people can safely change their own oil and filter. Key steps include:
- Run engine briefly to warm oil
- Jack up front of car, secure with jack stands
- Locate oil drain plug and drain oil into container
- Remove oil filter and replace with new one
- Reinstall drain plug and lower car
- Refill engine with new oil to proper level
- Start engine and check for any leaks
Just be sure to dispose of used oil properly. Many auto parts stores accept it for recycling. Changing your own oil can save money, but those without DIY confidence may prefer paying a professional mechanic to do it instead.
What’s the best way to add oil?
When topping off your engine oil, follow these tips:
- Only add oil when the engine is cold, with car parked on level ground
- Wipe dipstick clean before checking level to avoid misreading
- Unscrew oil cap slowly to relieve pressure, then add oil gradually
- Use a funnel to prevent spills and carefully pour along inside edge of filler hole
- Stop pouring once oil reaches the “Full” line on dipstick
- Replace oil cap securely when finished
Adding too much oil can damage your engine, so take it slow and double check the dipstick. Top off carefully and avoid overfilling.
When your vehicle needs more oil, be sure to use the right type and carefully add the proper amount based on your owner’s manual and dipstick. With a little auto maintenance know-how, you can easily top off your oil safely and help keep your engine running smoothly.